Wednesday, September 6, 2006

Right Reason: Coming Soon to a Church near You

Is this a fair characterization of the "purpose driven" church or is it unreasonably critical? From Right Reason:
This morning's Wall Street Journal [9/5/06] contains a page one article, "A Popular Strategy for Church Growth Splits Congregants," which describes the divisive effects of the church growth movement, a strategy for church growth now found in thousands of Protestant churches. It involves changing worship styles and music to emphasize the personal and contemporary, with the goal of attracting "seekers," those with an interest in spirituality but no attachment to a church.

The church growth movement raises some disturbing ethical questions. When its practitioners create new churches with a focus on attracting seekers, I have no ethical objection (though I might or might not have theological ones). Usually, however, the movement tries to take over existing churches that are relatively traditional. (They call this "transitioning.") And that requires deception. The traditionalists must continue to pay the bills even while the church they support is being dismantled and rebuilt as something they may find repugnant.

Since most congregations would not agree to the takeover if they were aware of it, the movement's strategy is to fly "under the radar," as Rick Warren, one of its chief advocates, advises. It urges pastors "to trust very few people with their plans" and, inspired by marketing techniques, to pursue change slowly enough that people are caught in a sorites paradox, eventually agreeing to something they would never have agreed to if they had understood at the beginning where the changes were heading. Those who realize what is going on and object are to be ostracized, encouraged to leave, and even blackballed. (The Journal cites Roddy Clyde, a pastor and church growth consultant who urges pastors, when objectors leave, to "call their new minister and suggest that they be barred from any leadership role.")
A sociological, and not necessarily unfavorable, description of the Willow Creek approach to church growth can be found here.

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