I Want to Be a Clone


Is it just me or has nearly every church in this country been cloned?

In the last few months, my wife and I have visited about a half-dozen different churches. Just a decade ago, the differences between those churches in their musical choices, sermon styles, liturgy choices (including no liturgy at all), and the like would have been profoundly different. Even their emphases on particular doctrinal aspects of Christianity would have been prominently on display during a worship service, and uniquely geared to the denominational beliefs of the church. Today, though, it doesn’t matter if you go to a Free Methodist, Friends, Vineyard, Baptist, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, or any other denomination because what they show you on Sundays and through the week is identical. Say what you will about the worth of denominational factionalism, but if our churches are all aspiring to a lowest common denominator sameness, is that an improvement?

Now you can make a claim for ecumenism here, but I think it goes far beyond that. Evangelicalism is enmeshed in the church growth movement to such a degree that denominations are jettisoning their cores in order to embrace the flavor of the week. I continue to be astonished at the rate with which The Willow Creek Association is consuming churches, asking them to ascribe to Willow Creek’s ministry models without question. But is anyone asking the pivotal question: What if Willow Creek’s ministry model and philosophies are wrong?

This is not going to be a diatribe about Willow Creek or Saddleback or any of the other churches out there like them. Well, maybe I’m not being honest here, because I’m commenting on the fact that so many church out there are exactly like Willow Creek and Saddleback. Honestly, is there a church out there in the evangelical ranks that has not done 40 Days of Purpose? Does a men’s group exist in an evangelical church that has not read through Wild at Heart? Is it possible to attend a worship service in an evangelical church today and not sing a worship song that isn’t copyrighted by Vineyard Music?

What is with all this sameness? I know some would argue that this is great and that the techniques used by many megachurches are filtering down to everyone; the churches that go this direction certainly do enjoy the growth.

Yet the numbers show a disturbing issue. About 42% of Americans attend church on the weekends. This has remained fairly steady for more than seventy years. If the megachurches and their Willow Creek and Saddleback models are truly bringing in unchurched Harry and Mary, then why is this number not increasing like crazy? Or are the “church growth” churches merely cannibalizing the congregations of churches around them who haven’t signed up to be a Willow Creek Association member?

So if the overall number of people in America who are at least attending church on Sunday (and I’m not even going to attempt to determine how many of those are actually born again) is not increasing, then what have we gained in the church growth movement by embracing these ideas? Even more alarming, by embracing these ministry models, did we lose something instead?

That latter question should bother us all. I get the feeling that the baby has been thrown out with the “new ministry paradigm” bath water. Have we sold out the Lord for a trend?

I am seeing an increase in the dissatisfaction levels of Christians who have been so for many years who witnessed their churches being “cloned” right out from underneath them. I know that I am struggling mightily just trying to find a church in my area that isn’t a church growth clone. Where do you go to get back to that “Old Time Religion?” Are we in danger of forgetting how well that served us?

Now there are some out there who think this is an End Times creation of an apostate church. I have not signed on to that view just yet, but it is something to keep an eye on. The ease at which this trend is spreading is truly astonishing. It seems like every church leader is mouthing the same church growth gobbledygook no matter where you turn. And churches are adding “Community” to their names faster than they can take down the cross in the sanctuary. It seems like madness.

Or is it just me?