After yesterday’s introduction of Cerulean Sanctum’s “award that no one wants to win”—the More Cowbell Award—I’ve selected the first winner.
This august movement has its roots back in the 1930s when an itinerant preacher considered how best to expand the Church in foreign lands. Donald McGavran hammered out his ideas over the years and later taught them to a new generation while at Fuller Theological Seminary. There, these ideas were co-opted for use in American churches by C. Peter Wagner. It was during the 1980s that this means of increasing the numbers of people in the pews took hold. Our churches are radically different today because of this.
So the very first More Cowbell Award goes to:
It is hard to imagine the depth of penetration of the Church Growth Movement into the Church in the United States. Virtually every church has been affected by Church Growth principles. Everything from seeker-sensitivity to power evangelism to being “purpose-driven” has its roots in this movement. This is not to say that every aspect of the movement is suspect, but the whole of it has brought the American Church to a very precarious place.
A few months ago I interviewed for a pastoral position at a large, mostly affluent, suburban church. The church had a reputation for “excellence” (a Church Growth buzzword, for sure) and the pastor genuinely cared about people. But in the course of interviewing, the pastoral search committee asked me to define “spiritual growth.” I began by explaining to them the one thing it did NOT mean: more butts in the seats. At this there was dead silence. Why? Because that is how the search committee defined spiritual growth It was not the depth of disciples being made, it was the number of them—no matter how shallow they might be or what that shallowness might mean to the health of the church.
I recently purchased a chain saw. Since I have a heavy duty need for it, I bought a professional model. When a good chain saw is running with a sharp chain, the cuttings resemble large scrolls, like long, thick, pencil-shaving curls. When the chain is sharp, there are not a lot of cuttings. When the chain is dull, though, you get mounds of sawdust. It covers everything and there’s plenty of it. It clogs up the air filter on the saw and gums up the works. Work with a dull chain too long and you increase your likelihood of dangerous kickback, a condition that can have fatal results.
Like a saw with a dull chain, the end result of the Church Growth Movement is lots of sawdust. This movement’s emphasis on growing a church by any means possible has left our churches dull and filled with people who lack the heft of the cuttings created by a sharp chain. Yes, there are more of them, but they tend to have no depth. Because they never move on to Christian maturity, they gum up the works of the church and clog up the ministry with their perpetual desire to be fed with milk. They’ll cover up everything and if you try to clean them up, they’ll only fly off to someplace else and stick there.
It’s time to abandon the Church Growth Movement and get back to making disciples with some heft to them. Numbers can’t be our only guide to maturity or success.
*For an in-depth explanation of the More Cowbell Award, please click here.