Church Growth is Heresy

November 18th, 2006 / 3 Comments

Every once in a while I come across an idea that forces me to reevaluate how I understand the Church, such was the case with Stanley Hauerwas’s description of church marketing as heresy.

How does Christianity recapture the truthfulness of the Gospel against church growth which is a perfect exemplificiation of capitalist marketing techniques within democratic polities to sell Jesus, which of course is false! We need to come out and start calling Willow Creek heresy

His argument is that the central doctrines and practices of Christianity are being overshadowed by the church’s concern with attendance. The result of this is an increased ambiguity with what it means for the Church to practice being Christian. Certainly the watered down ’self-help’ theology of many of the mega churches (and the wanna-be mega churches) is a tangible example of the negative effects of focusing on church growth - whereby the church is reduced to representing itself so as to be attractive to people that don’t want to be there.

A more theologically appropriate attitude is for the Church to understand itself as witness. Witness to the new way of living as a result of, and response to, the death and resurrection of Christ. Living as a people who understand their need for forgiveness, and the freedom that comes in forgiving others. The practice of witness may not be as useful to those who are church window shopping, but it is vital to a church that must set itself apart as an alternative to the self-centered, individualistic, violent norm of society.

The quote comes from the question and answer section of a lecture given at Calvin College.
An archived recording is available. (the quote is found in the last 5 minutes of the lecture)

Comments (3)

  1. casey / November 19, 2006 /

    Witness through life, not numbers. Though…always have the open chair. That’s balance baby.

  2. Ken Shepherd / December 12, 2006

    I would agree that explicitly marketing and package the church as some product is unbiblical. I do think, however, there’s ample room for the church to be gentle as doves and wise as serpents in how they relate to the community at large. What’s more, I think pastors and church leaders should look at their numbers and the trends of their congregation and ask themselves “are we reaching the people with the Word?”

    What should NOT be done is watering down the witness for the purpose of ballooning or retaining membership. But the truth must be spoken in love. The Gospel has a bite to it, and it must be handled with truth and grace. Only the Holy Spirit can help us to make sure we have both in balance.

  3. darryl, yes and no, your relationship sholud probably change to the rock. Imagine if you went up and took the rock and through it into the ocean, because you thought it would be fun to skip rocks on the beach. so this is where i think it gets tricky, because it is still someone’s god, so the respect and the balance needs to be there. I don’t treat it like it’s my god, but i don’t think i can just treat it like a stone (or in the case of money, can’t just treat it like pieces of paper maybe :)

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