“Be willing to let people leave the church. And I told you earlier the fact that people are gonna leave the church no matter what you do. But when you define the vision, you’re choosing who leaves. You say, “But Rick, yes, they’re the pillars of the church.” Now, you know what pillars are. Pillars are people who hold things up … And in your church, you may have to have some blessed subtractions before you have any real additions” – The Purpose Driven Church
This quote by Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church and author of the bestselling books ‘The Purpose Driven Church’ and ‘The Purpose Driven Life’ exemplifies why I left the only church I have attended in the eleven years since embracing Christ as my Savior. I count myself as one of these ‘blessed subtractions’ for the simple reason that I don’t share Warren’s vision for the postmodern church. Unfortunately, I appear to be in the minority, as thousands of churches nationwide have adopted the principles he espouses in his books, which many have exalted to near canonical status in laying ecclesiological foundations.
The church I attended has been involved in what is frequently termed ‘the Church Growth Movement’ (henceforth referred to as CGM) for several years. However, I have been blind to it and the devastating effect it has had on us spiritually. At least until late 2005, when God lifted the blinders from my eyes.
My old church has a history of chasing the latest spiritual fads of the last decade including ‘Promise Keepers‘, ‘Prayer of Jabez‘, John Maxwell leadership training and of course Warren’s ‘The Purpose Driven Life’. Fads fade in due time, but the CGM train is only gaining steam. This qualifies it as more than just a fad. CGM has become a full-blown movement in world-wide Christendom. Rick Warren is this movement’s CEO. Oh, there are other prominent names such as Bill Hybels of Willow Creek fame, but because of Warren’s phenomenal success with ‘The Purpose Driven Life’ selling more than 30 million copies world-wide, he is the undisputed Prince of Purpose, riding the CGM beast.
CGM gurus have a distinct vision of the church and how it should operate. The church is likened to a ‘corporation’ with the Pastor as ‘CEO’, Christ as the ‘product’, the congregation as the ‘consumer’ and the fruit of a Christian life as the ‘marketing gimmick’. The better the product is marketed through various worship styles, entertainment venues from the pulpit, life-affirming feel-good messages, and a strong emphasis on product benefits, the more customers the corporation will bring in. It doesn’t matter if the customer has bought the product being hawked. As long as he has been lured into the store, he gets free samples of a life with purpose and is made to feel as if he belongs just as much as those who have already made the ‘purchase’.
In other words, the gurus of growth are focused on people they generally refer to as ‘seekers’. That is, people who are apparently seeking out God but have not yet made that life-changing commitment to Christ. Nevermind that the scriptures clearly refute the idea of seekers apart from regeneration. The Apostle Paul said:
There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. Romans 3:11
But I digress.
Building upon the CGM’s devotion to marketing strategies, Rick Warren and company believe that the ‘felt needs’ of the unchurched (unregenerate) sets the agenda for the church. He encourages pastors to send out surveys to find what people are looking for in a church and cater to those needs.
Feed the flesh, stimulate the lust of the eyes and stroke the pride of life. The following list of enticements help man-pleasers lure people into the seats.
- The smell and taste of fresh donuts and specialty coffee perk up droopy countenances as families stagger into the church cafe first thing on a bright Sunday morning.
- Once in the seats, the senses are bombarded in order to keep the consumer’s attention. Worldly music is cranked up to jet engine level decibels tickling the ears of its hearers. The music itself is varied according to the surveyed demographics of the crowd. The crowd’s tastes define how God is worshiped. The lighting is purposely set to influence mood, The video screen dazzles you with crisp graphics aimed to amuse and inform.
- The feel of comfortable movie theater seating replete with convenient cupholders fill the ‘auditorium’ that also includes a high tech ‘stage’ built to accommodate everything from upscale drama presentations to pyrotechnic-laden rock concerts.
- The messages gear towards the ‘felt needs’ of the crowd touching on such important biblical topics as improving finances, principles of success, and building relationships. The biblical doctrines of sin, repentance, the atonement, faith in Christ, judgment and wrath are either downplayed or eliminated altogether in favor of feel good messages targeted at sensitive ‘seekers’ in order to make them comfortable and more apt to ‘make a decision for Christ’ somewhere down the line.
- The invitation to salvation is quick and easy, sort of like the drive-thru at McDonald’s. In the best circumstances, the Pastor leads the congregation in a repentance free, Gospel-lite sinner’s prayer. The pastor will even guarantee your salvation if you ‘meant it in your heart’.
Once your in the club you get to experience all the bountiful benefits of membership.
- Acquire health, wealth and prosperity.
- Receive a free pass through the pearly gates.
- Discover a life with purpose.
- Obtain insights into the marriage bed
- Get keen financial advice from – the Pastor?
- Learn corporate leadership principles to manipulate the sheep.
- Become savy in marketing techniques to reel in the suck- err, the seekers.
- Indulge guilt free living.
- Absorb life-affirming, ear-tickling messages that motivate towards a happy, successful life.
- Gain free admission to all ‘evangelistic’ entertainment extravaganzas.
- Whatever else the vain imaginings of the carnal mind can conjure.
If your church suffers from even just a few of the above mentioned maladies it may be time to flee for the mountains. The Church Growth cancer may have achieved malignant status, and only the power of God can halt its advance. Don’t take this movement lightly, for it is subtle and deceptive. It has ensnared many a pastor and congregation alike, just as the fruit of the tree appealed to Eve in the garden. If you recognize its fruit, then I believe God has specific instructions on what action to take.
“Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you,” 2 Cor. 6:17
I understand your frustration and saw it coming.
I began to see the beginnings of this in the mid 1970’s – first in Dallas Texas, later in North Carolina. The beginning of the mega-churches seems to have coincided with the genuine Spiritual Revival of former 60’s Hippies and Flower Children. God was doing miracles saving these seekers who found their drugs and alternate religions were spiritual dead-ends. Most of the Hippies were from the massive War Baby and Baby Boom generations. Many had rejected the watered down theology of the Main Line Protestant denominations of their youth, or the pre Vatican Council Catholic Church.
It was the Jesus movement of the mid ’70’s. Hundreds of thousands of truly born again enthusiastic baby Christians looking for relevant church communities that stuck to bible principals. I was one of them; one who had never heard that Jesus is God in the flesh, that His physical body came forth from the tomb, and that the dead will physically rise again on the Last Day. I had 13 yrs of perfect childhood attendance in a Creed based church but never heard these Doctrines taught from the pulpit. My Catholic born again friends rejected what seemed like senseless rules of the old Roman Church. We poured into Independent Bible Based/Evangelical churches. We changed the music to Contemporary Christian – gone were the old hymns.
Unfortunately, our sheer numbers and inability to rightly discern the Word of Truth, made us targets for pastors who loved the church growth and started focusing on messages and presentations that would keep it increasing.
Also, – and I believe this is central to the problem of what has become the Church Growth Movement today – these churches were and are not Creed based, so they have lost their way. Even the Creed based churches of the post WWII era lost their way when the focus changed to Readers Digest based sermons in an effort to be relevant. The early Christians hammered out the Apostles and Nicene Creeds for a reason. They knew how easy it is to get off course and become unbalanced doctrinally. When Orthodox Christian Doctrine is set aside for relevance, it’s a train wreck in the making.
By the late ’80’s I was becoming disgusted. I heard tithing and grace giving being preached as a way for ” letting God work a miracle in your life” (the beginning of man being the Object and God’s purpose is to please man – not the other way around).
I visited pastors homes that were bigger and better furnished than any of the congregants homes. I became worn out with the personality worship of the pastor and the emphasis on a motivating sermon. I became worn out from the continual note taking by the people in the pews and the repeated rounds of Christian seminars (always learning but never coming to a knowledge of the truth?).
The final straw for me was the abandonment of the long held Independent Church belief to remain apart from politics. The little tiny Independent Baptist Church in upstate NY (where I was saved), was adamant about this point. In less than 20 years, Evangelicals were erasing this boundary line. The camel’s nose was in the tent. Churches were being used as recruiting grounds for support of politics. A person’s salvation was being judged by the way he voted. I left before the final evolution you experienced. From your description it sounds similar to my husband’s church. His church has a coffee and breakfast cafe, a disco for the teens (Christian of course!), and car hop service.
I will close with a paraphrase of the Baltimore Catechism:
Q- Who made me?
A – God made me
Q – What is my purpose?
A – My purpose is to know, love and serve Him!
When I refer to the former Hippies and Flower Children as ‘seekers’, I do not mean they were seeking after God. What I do mean is that the drug life style had turned ugly and the Eastern religions only offered an endless cycle of rebirth. Myself and many of my ’60’s friends were truly sincere in our desire to make the world a better place. By the ’70s, most of us had sadly lost at least one friend to drug overdoses and our efforts to effect change through politics was not working. Personally, I had run out of answers. I realized my impotence to effect change. I had reached the point of throwing up my hands and giving up trying to do things in my own strength. When my first child was born, I was struck by the creation of life. On the surface, I had created this life, but I couldn’t even change politics, so I knew this life was not created by me. Finally, about 1972, I did give up. I sat on my back steps and said ‘God, I give up. I don’t even know if your out there or if you can hear me, or if you exist, but I’m giving up trying to find meaning and eternity. I’m done’.
That’s when God came after me, – when I stopped trying to do it myself. I don’t believe that we are capable of wanting God – because basically we are spiritual road kill. Some one who is dead can not will to be alive. Any craving or discomfort a person feels with his status quo is generated by God. That’s why I always felt uncomfortable with my large Dallas church’s involvement with the “I Found It” campaign of the mid ’70’s. In my heart, I knew I hadn’t found it, It (He) found me!
I know how difficult it is to extricate oneself from the situation you were in. You feel like you are the only one who sees what is happening. But you’re not. Jesus said the Holy Spirit is like the wind and it lists where it will. Genuine revivals come and go, at God’s choosing. Then it moves on. Scripture tells me that the majority will never be believers. The fact that these churches are so huge and popping up like mushrooms in soggy ground is an indication that they are NOT God’s work. I agree that the marketing research used for this “growth” proves that it’s not a work of the Spirit.
I say this without even discussing the fact that the doctrine preached makes Man’s happiness the reason God exists. These churches preach a doctrine of God serving Man, instead of the other way around. Their present Green Earth involvement is a continuation of their involvement in the American Politics. This involvement will be abused just as it has been since the ’90’s. These churches are a ready made resource of money and volunteers to promote a secular political agenda. There is a reason our founding fathers wanted separation between Church and State.