According to the Association of Religion Data Archives (www.thearda.com) the population of the United States grew 9.7 percent from 2000 to 2010, from 281,421,839 to 308,745,538. For the Christian church simply to keep up with American population growth at that same rate, we must see 27,323,699 people come to Christ over the next 10 years. But here is the astounding number: it will take 2,732 fast-growth American churches converting 1,000 a year for 10 years, just to maintain our present percentage of Christians in the population.
Notice that this number is only for maintaining the Christian percentage and allows for no growth. We may get excited about fast-growth churches, but the great majority of our churches remain in decline or barely holding their own. Many of us celebrated in 2008 when we heard reports that on an average day that year, 79,000 people converted to Christ. But we quickly realized that, in the same year, the world’s net growth rate was 300,000 people per day.5
Though we can learn from fast-growth churches, trying to replicate their blueprint may only lead to continued frustration and decline long-term. Why? Because Christ’s Great Commission calls us to go to the lost world. Ultimately, while we can win some, we cannot win the world by getting them into our churches. God plans to win the world by sending the church out of the church building into the world.
In 2007, Willow Creek Church, the foremost promoter of the seeker-sensitive model of attractional worship, published Reveal: Where Are You? with findings from a multiple-year study of its own church programs. Willow Creek pastor Bill Hybels called the findings earth-shaking, ground-breaking, and mind-blowing.” Over the years, Willow’s philosophy of ministry had been: the church creates programs and activities; people participate in these activities; and the outcome is spiritual maturity. But shockingly, the report reads: “Increasing levels of participation in these sets of activities does not predict whether someone is becoming more of a disciple of Christ. It does not predict whether they love God more or they love people more.”6
Allow me to issue a clear word of warning to church leaders and worship leaders. If we think we have cornered the market because people are knocking down the doors to get into our church, we must be very careful.
If those who attend are only there to listen and leave, we are doing nothing more than perpetrating the institutional church. Our members may even be bringing their friends to worship services, and that is good, but not good enough if their intent is to sit and soak. The model may be new, but it is still institutional. It may be a leaner, simpler structure with less programs and events, but it just might be the same church-ianity we are trying so hard to flee.
HOW CAN WE GET OUT OF THIS CYCLE OF CREATING SPECTATORS AND CUSTOMERS IN OUR CHURCHES AND GET BACK TO GROWING DISCIPLES WHO MAKE DISCIPLES????? Leave a comment!
— Mark Powers
5. Mayfield, Missional Pivot Points, 22.
6. Hawkins and Parkinson, Reveal: Where Are You? Page Unknown.