Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Success and Cynicism

Some of the stuff that we have put millions of dollars into thinking it would really help our people grow and develop spiritually, when the data actually came back it wasn’t helping people that much. Other things that we didn’t put that much money into and didn’t put much staff against is stuff our people are crying out for. --Bill Hybels
I wrote about this here but I've been pondering these words ever since. As loathe as I am to admit it, what was almost as surprising as Willow Creek's admission of failure was their stated goal, to "help our people grow and develop spiritually." Is that why they are doing this? Really?

It sounds so cynical, but for those of us outside the Church Growth movement, it seems that their only purpose is the numbers and the cash. That has been reinforced when I hear lay people advocating these methodologies or extolling the huge churches they've seen elsewhere. They praise them for how many young people they have, what great giving and future the congregations have. It is the easiest measure of success, the most obvious.

But success in congregations is measured not according to the numbers and amounts, but according to the fruit that is being produced in people's hearts. Success for the Christian can only be salvation, that of growing more Christ-like in word and deed, in humility and love.

It sounds so basic to write this, yet the flesh, pride and worry constantly drive our eyes to admire external things, to emulate them, to every temptation of worldly life and success we see. Lord have have mercy on us!


  1. Doorman-Priest said...

    I have never been a great fan of evangelism - partly, I am sure because I am so bad at it - although I recognise it has its place. I am, however a firm believer in Missio Dei, that mission springs from God. In this "post-modern" age - oh how I hate that term - it seems to me that the church needs to be ever more ready to see where God is already at work and join in. This may take us in strange directions but this is a fantastic witness and a source of growth. In the end it is more effective than some of our more proactive mission attempts that follow our own idea of what mission should be.

  2. Rick Serina said...

    Having been raised in and partly educated by evangelicalism, I would suggest that your reading of them may be a little off.

    The church growth movement and its birthing neo-evangelicalism of the 50s and 60s does not really have an interest in numbers for numbers' sake, but rather in the conversion of souls which, for them, is naively reflected in numbers.

    On the one hand, they have swallowed Finney whole with all of his attendant means, just reshaped and refashioned for a technological age. They believe that the right environment, the right sentimentality created by the right song using the right instrument will produce conversion in the individual sinner. It may not be the same anxious bench, but it is the same operative principle.

    On the other hand, they clearly reject the traditional means of grace in favor of their own. That's why the statistics I read recently indicate Willow Creek was composed of roughly 50% ex-Roman Catholics at one point in their history. That is what evangelicalism, and the church growth movement in particular, feed off: the conversion of the already converted. While we welcome former Roman Catholics and Episcopalians and even Baptists like myself into the Lutheran fold with open arms, we most certainly do not proselytize them with vigor as to a pagan because, well, they are not pagans.

    This and the previous thread of yours are quite intertwined, in my opinion, and quite interesting at that.

    Rick Serina
    Trinity Lutheran-Albany (TX)

  3. Christopher D. Hall said...

    Rick (or Pastor?),

    Thanks for reading and commenting! I always appreciate hearing from those who are kind enough to read this and put up with me.

    I was trying to express how those of us on the outside often do (or are tempted to) read them: as numbers alone folks. Their motivations are certainly (hopefully) different, but for us who do not have the "soul-winning- conversion-oriented, revival" spirit often want to emulate them for the reason of numbers and money. I guess I didn't make that clear...or wasn't thinking clearly in the first place (more likely).

    Thanks again for reading and your helpful comments!

  4. Rick Serina said...

    Sure, sure, and I didn't mean to come off as overly critical, either.

    I do agree that Missouri's attraction to evangelicalism and the church growth movement does not have anything to do with conversionism, but rather to the statistical (and, yes, monetary) growth that accompanies their conversionistic means. To be sure.

    And who wouldn't want numbers and money really? It's just so sexy, you know?

    Rick Serina
    Trinity Lutheran-Albany (TX)

    Yes, I am a pastor, but it is not necessary at all to address me that way