Did you know that the Church of Christ had such a place? Well, we do, located in Houston, Texas. What we now call "Church Growth Specialists" six in number, are involved; all of them professional preachers, of course. In a full-page ad in "Image," a new paper among us, we are given some advertising about this new specialty.
First, we are told: "Now You Can Learn How Churches Grow." It is fitting that such esoteric information came from the Center For Church Growth. Perhaps brethren do not always mean what they say or imply (and I slip here as often as anyone), but the statement implies that only "NOW" -- at long last, what has hitherto been a mystery, this knowledge, is at last or "now" available to all. For a price, of course. Money is always involved in these matters.
Do you want to know how churches grow? No need to read your New Testaments for only "now" has the full revelation been compiled. Lay aside God's word, for it is apparently of little help except as it is used by those who have packaged the secrets in useable form. For these hundreds of years people have thought that the Bible would provide all needed information for our service to the Lord, but apparently it has not been adequate. Supposedly secrets are revealed so that "now" you can learn how churches grow.
Of course, we cannot learn anything about how churches -- institutional, organized, functional units or entities -- grow from the New Testament! They had no such thing then! Jesus did not build an institution or organization. He did not die and shed His blood for a corporation or functional unit which has identity, character, and responsibility, separate and distinct from the individuals who compose it. In our day this is the thing to which many have given a name. It is called "the local church." This idea, or concept, is now being put in place by the Church of Christ (in all its segments and factions). The Church of Christ is moving at full speed into organized, institutional religion just like all other denominations. More and more people among us are openly acknowledging this reality. Some preachers proclaim it boldly and a few are willing to come out openly in defense of such as from the New Testament.
While it is now mainly centered on what is called "the local church;" as the organizational, functional unit, in time the combination of these units into some sort of super structure or organization is as certain as the truth that "history always repeats itself;" We should not be surprised that our religious neighbors -- Baptists, Methodists, Christian Churches, etc. -- can't see any essential difference between their denomination and ours. Their question is valid: "Why should we leave our denomination and join yours?"
There isn't anything in the New Testament about "how to grow a church," to use their lingo; that is, how church institutions grow. You can read about preaching the gospel and people believing and obeying it, thus being numbered with the disciples or saved -- the church (ecclesia) of Christ. But there is no institution or formal organization, with specific identity, character, and responsibility to be found. This is the "church" our "church growth specialists" have in mind. It is usually called "the local church" or "the local congregation;" sometimes referred to as "the local collectivity" or "the local fellowship."
These brethren have put together "a dramatic six hour series on church growth principles, with vivid case histories, to be made available on videocassettes in the fall of 1985." Now, at last, we can have a "revelation" that was not available to the likes of Paul, Peter, John or the early disciples. But, then, they did not need such "church growth principles" since they did not have an organization or institution like "the local church" of today; with its Board of Directors, staff, corporate treasury, church building, family life center, corporate works, corporate worship, and corporate control over the individuals who compose it. In that day and time the Christians belonged to Christ, they did not belong to any corporate church! They preached Christ, they did not preach the church institution. Each Christian -- as an individual -- was independent and free under Christ to follow Him. The apostles and other disciples of Christ were commissioned to preach the gospel and "make disciples," not build or "grow" churches!
We are told that this series will feature:
1. "The Dynamics of Church Growth." I guess this will describe "the relationship between motion and the forces affecting motion" since that is the dictionary definition of "dynamics."
2. "How to Reach Inactive Members." I suppose it is essential to activate all the "parts" of the organization as fully as possible. The "members" are the "parts" who receive the activation! From what I can learn it seems to be a fact that an ever-increasing number of the members are "inactive." At best they are pew-sitters or spectators, mere attendees, on occasion, at the corporate meeting or "worship." It is time that someone came up with a solution to this growing problem. Do you not recognize in this that "the local church" organization has assumed responsibility for the activation of its members?
Individual responsibility is gone and each one "serves under the control of the organization." The "local church" organization runs, activates, and controls your life and service to God. You are required to attend the appointed services, at the appointed times, at the appointed places, to go through the planned "services" and thus do your duty as "a faithful member of the church." That will take care of everything for you. Your role and responsibility is reduced to two things: (1) obey and (2) pay! Our laity are enslaved and don't even realize it. The "church growth specialists" will promote this corporate enslavement to its highest level for the glory of the corporation!
3. "How to Turn Around a Declining Church." This one is badly needed nearly everywhere today. The Church of Christ "membership" has declined "steadily over the past 15 years, primarily because of a significant increase in our drop-rate," according to our own Dr. Flavil R. Yeakley, Jr., in his 1980 book, "Church Leadership and Organization" Dr. Yeakley is somewhat of a "specialist" himself along these lines.
Since the need is so great at this point, this should make this series a "hot seller" and the dollars should come rolling in. This kind of thing is big business in our day among all the denominations. They all need help. I am sure that what these brethren have packaged in this series will work as well for the local Baptist Church organization or institution, or any other denomination, as it will for our own denomination. Hence, the market for the product is almost unlimited.
4. "Seven Attitudes That Build Churches." I just knew there would be "seven" of them. "Seven" is that Bible word for perfection, you recall, and it carries certain connotations for superstitious religious people. This is smart sales psychology. Did you know that it is "Seven Attitudes" that builds churches? I did not know that. I really thought maybe the gospel of Jesus Christ might have some part in such. But, then, they have in mind building "the local church" organization, as a functioning unit, and not the multiplying of disciples, primarily.
5. "How Small Churches Grow." There must be some secret here that has always eluded me, I have always been a part of a "small church" and none of them ever even approached the big-time status of a "large church" like Madison, Broadway and others. At last I may be able to find out why we never made it to the "big leagues" of church growth.
In a way the revealing of the secrets for "How Small Churches Grow" is rather sad; that is, in the prospect that this information means that there is the potential for no more small churches if they will all learn and apply these secrets! I have always rather enjoyed the smaller churches for several reasons I will not name here. But the large or "big" church operation is the way it is today. The demand is for "bigness" and any really high-powered, ambitious professional "church growth specialist," sometimes called "The Pulpit Minister," wants to build a "big church." It is not any longer the preaching of the gospel and the saving of the lost that counts, except as what little of it that is done contributes to the main objective -- building a big church operation! The secrets will soon be out and small churches can then know the methods for moving to "big church" status.
Now we come to the climax, the one real success secret for "how to grow a church" into bigness! The sixth in this series zeros in on the key to it all. Now I understand why I have always been associated with a small church. These "Church Growth Specialists" logically build up to the ultimate cause. Go back and read the titles again. They all describe the mechanics of "church growth" But they are all practically worthless in and of themselves. They offer no hope for real success, they will not work without:
6. "The Preacher as a Catalyst for Growth." There you have it! There must be a "Catalyst." They do not have in mind a mere preacher of the gospel, who is out trying to reach the lost with the message of salvation. No way. The "preacher" they refer to is a special breed, a "catalyst" no less. Probably like a dynamic, successful city manager or maybe like Lee Iococa has been to General Motors. These guys are prima donnas. They are rare! They are priceless! (It is reported that one such "catalyst" in Arkansas is paid $90,000 per year!) If the church organization, that is, the Board of Directors, sometimes called "The Eldership" wants a really good "Catalyst" or promoter, they will have to pay him well. The high-powered kind do not come in droves; nor are they cheap.
This is a relatively new profession in the Church of Christ Church. Other denominations have had them much longer than we have. You see, these fellows are "church growth specialists" and these wheeler-dealer type "catalysts" can come in and gear-up the organization for growth. They are polished and come with the latest approaches on how to build a big church organization. They have learned from the business world and from successful organization management principles what the "catalyst" can do to move a small church into the big church league. Some have been very successful if success is measured by increased membership (headcount is a vital statistic), bigger and bigger buildings that are more and more elaborate so as to impress the worldly minded; sub-organizations such as a Family Life Center, Youth Ministry, Singles Ministry, and other indicators of this kind. Of course, as is usually true in such actions on our part, the other denominations have been first in using all these "church growth principles." We just copy-cat whatever they do, repackaging it for Church of Christ consumption. And it seems that our churches are gullible for about anything new or sensational, if it gets action -- activity.
The word "catalyst" comes from the field of chemistry. And my dictionary does not use it with reference to people, but this is often done. The "catalyst" is what brings it all together and makes things happen; the generator, the spark plug! Perhaps these preachers could use this as their title: "Joe D. Master, Catalyst for the Sensational Church of Christ, located on Mt. Upward Street, in Materialism City." That is a unique title and is apparently accurate. Wonder if any of our Schools of Preaching are preparing our preachers to be "catalysts." Perhaps they can soon offer a degree in "Catalyst Ministry."
One brother recommends this material with this enthusiastic judgment: "The use of this material will make more changes in the brotherhood than anything in the last 100 years." Isn't that a fantastic claim? Wonder what kind of changes he has in mind? Probably more preachers will "change" from just being a run-of-the-mill preacher to being a professional "catalyst." That is where it's at, brother!
This would all be funny if it was not such a serious matter. I guess these brethren really believe this stuff. They would have to in order to take it seriously. Building churches is the thing in our day, even more important than preaching the gospel and saving the lost. These are my brethren and I love them. But my prayer is that God may forgive them for they know not what they are doing.