Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Gospel Growth Conference: Day I, Session II

Session II: Phillip Jensen "Church Growth Paralysis"
[10/30/07 7:50pm)

I. An Advertisement for Matthias Media!
"Most things in Australia are odd or poisonous…" is how Jensen started his lecture his time. He gave a great description of the purpose of Matthias Media. He described how the Christian population in Australia is 1-3% of the population. It is a very pagan country. It is very hedonistic, pleasure seeking, materialistic and the like. He mentioned that they constantly laugh at England because they sent them to a prison or penal colony in Australia and they didn't realize that they were sending them to "heaven". He described Aussies generally as a people tha are not positive, don't have a "can-do" attitude. Their attitude is a "can't-do one, but hey it doesn't matter" (at this time many in the audience laughed...but it was a sad comment really). He said that Christians in Australia are Calvinists, Reformed (as the 39 articles were meant to be)…unlike most Anglicans and Episcopalians they believe in the 39 articles. He described how whent he Oxford movement of liberalism took place it didn't touch Australia's Christian community. He said that they spread throughout the world, but that the movement, being composed mainly as upper class Englishmen, didn’t go to Australia because they were a penal colony...it was below their worth. So they are basically time warped Anglicans that were separated from the liberal movements within Anglicanism. He also described J. I. Packer is an under cover Sydney man...even though he doesn't know it.

Then he came back to describing how they are odd as a publishing house. "They don’t publish books," he said. They look at the world and scriptures different than we would look at the world and scriptures; therefore, they have something different to contribute to churches.

They produce tools to help people minister. For example Islam in the Backyard. This is a booklet that answers the question, "What can you give to fellow Americans about Islam?" In the process of informing people about Islam they share the gospel with people through this resource. They produce interactive Bible studies…they produce materials that help people minister. Not a book…rather tools to help ministry. First, they produced a book called just for starters as follow-up material for a Billy Graham Crusade back in 1979. These resources are a way, "to get congregation members to do one on one ministry. Their aim is to have hundreds of people trained to just read the Bible with their neighbors."

These resources are a way to , "Provide weaponry to do the work of ministry."

II. Explication of Revelation 1:9-3:22
1:-11 Jensen explained that this is one letter to seven Churches…Christ is in heaven walking among them…seven churches is a representation of the complete church. Pergamum (2:9-10, 1-16), Thyatira (2:19 forward), Sardis (3:1 forward), Philadelphia (3:8 forward), Laodicea (3:17 forward). He pointed out the reversals in these passages...(1) life vs. death, (2) poor vs. rich, (3) protected vs. not safe, and (4) those that have arrived vs. the wretched. Notice that in all cases Jesus' view is the right view.

He then pointed out that none of these passages are about church growth...nor the words, "I have seen the numbers and it is good." These passages are about godliness, holiness, righteousness, persevering with, "the Word that you have heard."

I. We All Want Church Growth
"We all want church growth…no one wants a stagnate church. We all want to reach more people. We all want church growth," he said. He discussed how church growth is such a powerful concept that it can confuse our head seriously.

Do we really want church growth? If growth happens in a way that changes the church you may not want church growth. He talked about how at a friends church they prayed for growth, but then after a Billy Graham "Crusade" many people were added to the church and it wasn't what it used to be anymore.

II. The Value of the Church Growth Movement
Our motives are very mixed. Many times growth is really only about significance. He discussed the perspective that a community can’t laugh at us as much when there are hundreds of us as opposed to ten to fifteen of us. Significance then rubs off on the pastor. The more significant our church the more significant, "I am." He then postulated a pastors thoughts that, "Then I could write books and move around the world displaying our signficance...because people with large churches come and tell others how to grow churches."

A lot of times the "Church Growth Movement" has been about competitiveness…you want to grow more than the church down the street. It is in the heart of the American way…NOT the Christian way.

III. The Failure of Church Growth Movement
A. Values...
In the late 20th century there began this movement called the Church Growth Movement. It told churches what they wanted and how to get what they wanted. Those that were successful were doing good things and those that weren’t successful had hope (he also mention that despite criticism of Billy Graham he was in fact converted in 1959 at a Billy Graham crusade).

The "Church Growth Movement" (CGM) helped us face reality. Helped us count numbers, and accurately. Clergymen tend to count poorly and often average off numbers. He said then that he doesn’t pay attention to numbers…he pays attention to the audited accounts (that people pay for tithes...that shows how many are really there). This movement gave churches a start to look seriously at who was coming to their services with statistical sophistication.

He then discussed how practically at his church he would see in the first week or two of the first term was the high point of the year, and the number in attendance only went down (slowly) throughout the term...then it would spike right before finals, and likewise the second semester (session) it happened again. He would get depressed because he was looking at the numbers on a day to day level. The CGM helped him then to pay attention from year to year. He noticed the congregation would grow by 5% each year. He would get depressed if he looked from week to week, but the CGM taght him to look over a 10 yr period. The CGM also gave new categories of growth Biological, transfer, and evangelistic growth. The CGM helped face reality as to why you are growing or declining. So there are values.

B. Failures...
But the CGM was a failure.

IV. Church as an Assumption
Jensen read the literature of the movement…became an adjunct professor at the local seminary...and read even more (because there is a lot that was and is produced). He noticed that in all the literature that they always assumed a view of both church and growth without ever defining either. They just assumed it. This is the logic, "We know what a church is, and you church is and we will help grow it." But it was never defined. It was just assumed what it was and that it was positive. Under God there are very good reasons for a church to decline and under God many churches should decline and even disappear.

The CGM looked at tactics not strategy: how to fill a parking lot, the building, or the character of the advertising, etc. All superficial and all unimportant. Size, and not the penetration of society was it's focus. All churches can be growing and still the percentage of the population of Christians in the community and those that are being reached for the gospel could be declining. You just feel good because yours is growing.

V. What is the Biblical Idea of Growth
Generally churches embracing the CGM just care about their own churchs' growth. "It’s a fascination with me," he said the thought process is that, "I don’t care about your church’s growth." He said it is Ayn Rand’s philosophy. Everyone looks at themselves and everything in the world is okay. It is atheistic, not Christian!

VI. What is the relationship between Church, Growth and Evangelism?
He discussed that churches should be concerned with the number of people in area are being converted. Not the CGM's view that all the conversions should be taking place in one church (my church) rather than 40 other churches in the area. It’s deceptive because it’s about me and my church…it’s seductive because it makes me grand!

If you look athe world the way you see it it may not be the way Christ sees it. America is a very mobile society. No one seems to come from where they are at the moment. In Sydney, they grow up there die there and think that it was "heaven" all along. We are always moving. Statistics are good, but then when you’re in practical ministry it’s not any good. Most of the growth is transfer growth. People coming from other churches that don’t preach the gospel don’t count as transfer rather to CGM churches inflate their ego by saying that they are “evangelistic growth” because they aren't certain.

Year after year a friend of Phillip saw people converted but his church never grew. It was because the people that were saved would move to another community because their lives had changed. His friend's community was not a safe one and a lot of illegal activity took place there. When people would accept Christ they would move to other communities because their life had changed more in the direction of holiness. Jensen described this friend as "a champion" but because of the "Church Growth Movement" he became very discouraged.

Church is a concrete reality…before you are a Christian or are very old you see a building and your parents say that’s a church and you see people going to it and your parents say that’s a church. So you know what it is before ever reading the Bible. Your first experience is what it is and sets an expectation from the get go (he drew a parallel to Mac & PC users...that your favorite is what your first was...it's not a perfect analogy, but here it is). Church growth is about what you are doing…but it’s not necessarily what Jesus Christ was doing.

He then gave an exhortation to test a congregation's spirituality, "Leave the rain shelter [building] behind and you’ll see how spiritually connected your congregation is."

Is the church in the OT, only mentioned 2 x’s in Matthew…our experiences are too powerful to read the Bible. Most CGM literature assumes that any expression of organized religion will work...and leaves the church and what true Christian growth completely ambiguous. You can apply their principles to Roman Catholic churches, and the Boy and Girl Scouts!

How do we understand growth. What is it that we are working to grow? Where will you see growth happening from God’s perspective. What is our expectation? When our children grow we measure them at the door way, but we don’t assume that they will grow higher than the door way. We have an expectation for church growth. What’s the right size, is there a right size, what does God expect from us in growing a congregation? What's the relationship between church, growth and evangelism? What is the relationship between the church and evangelism: Aiming at outsiders and insiders…special services?? Are the special services a church or is that different than church? What of para-church organizations…can a para-church be a Christian movement? Are they really churches that don’t call themselves that so they don’t lose support of real churches?

What of worship services on Sunday mornings and evangelistic services in the evening? What are we supposed to do as a church? If you haven’t figured this out then you don’t know what you are doing. And this is what most church growth movement literature shows.

VII. The Failure of Utilitarianism
Failures of pragmatism…comes from removal of absolutes that are replaced with outcomes. Growth can be at the expense of other churches.
[Unfortunately, at this point I had to go set up and work at the hospitality kitchen...so I missed the rest. This talk was really an introduction to what they hope to cover in the lectures over the next couple days.]

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