Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Deception of a Church's Desire to be Big & Culturally Relevant

All the talk about multi-site churches and the seeker-sensitive philosophy of ministry seems to be founded on two main arguments "reach more" and "bigger". These are good intentions, but as the familiar phrase goes, "the path to hell is paved with good intentions." Here's a quote from the church growth literature that makes my stomach turn:
"Do you know where your sermon begins? If you have ever been to Disney World, you know the answer to our question. It begins in the parking lot with music, inviting pathways, interestingly named sections of the parking lot, hospitality people roaming around looking for ways to serve with a smile. It isn't long before you know you are a king and queen for the day. Why can't your parking lot say, 'Come on in. We're ready for you'?...The word edutainment is becoming a common word among clued-in educators. Sesame street began the trend in 1969 when it launched a truly revolutionary method of combining education and entertainment. The trend in children's education continues to become more entertaining with programs such as Barney and Blue's Clues."
Easum, Bill; Cornelius, Bil Go Big: Lead Your Church to Explosive Growth (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2006), 98-100.
Barf! I was raised watching Sesame Street, but my folks were a blessing to my sister and me by taking us to the mountains for holidays and not Disney World. So the question is, "Would you rather have a church that's real, teaches substance and truth, and worships God in the manner that He has set up, or would you like a gimmicky plastic veneer on light substance and doctrine?" I don't know about you, but I prefer the mountains to Disney World. So, what's up with this obsession with big? Well, in 1962, years before the current debates, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones spoke relevant biblical truth with clarity to our situation:

“Nothing is so opposed to the biblical teaching as the modern idea that numbers and powerful organization alone count. It is the very opposite of the great biblical doctrine of ‘the remnant’, stated, for instance, so perfectly by Jonathan to his amour-bearer as they alone faced the hosts of the Philistines, in the words: ‘Come, and let us go over unto the garrison of these uncircumcised: it may be that the Lord will work for us: for there is no restraint to the Lord to save by many or by few’ (1 Sam. 14:6). Still more strikingly, perhaps, it is taught in the incident of Gideon and the Midianites, where we read of God reducing the army of Israel from thirty-two thousand to three hundred as a preliminary to victory (Judges 7).

“God has done His greatest work throughout the centuries through remnants, often even through individuals. Why is it that we forget Micaiah the son of Imlah, and Jeremiah, and Amos, John the Baptist, the mere twelve disciples; and Martin Luther, standing alone, defying some twelve centuries of tradition and all the power of a mighty church? This is not to advocate smallness or exclusiveness as if they had some inherent merit; but it is to suggest that the modern slavish attitude to bigness and organization cuts right across a central biblical emphasis. Indeed it suggests ignorance of, and lack of faith in, the power of the Holy Spirit."

Lloyd-Jones, D. Martyn The Basis of Christian Unity (Carlisle: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2003), 75-76.

I think it's excellent that many in the seeker-sensitive, church growth, and multi-site movements want to reach more with the gospel and see their churches experience numerical growth. That said, this desire can actually become a poison. This thinking can poison our trust in Christ's power to build His church through the power of the Holy Spirit. Our lot is faithfulness and obedience, not apparent success achieved through cultural accommodation.


Ryan said...

Good stuff, brother! I think desires such as this can end up replacing a hunger for Christ Himself. It's by seeking Him, knowing Him, abiding in Him, and enjoying Him that things like numerical expansion can come about. But it's not about Christ being a means to an end, either; HE is the end.

Hope you and Lindsey are well--I hope we can chat sometime. Much grace, Ryan

Noah Braymen said...


I'll try to give you a call again sometime.

By the grace of God we are well...we'll catch up. Happy thanksgiving!

In Christ,

BilCornelius said...

As the co-author of Go Big, my prayer is that your readers would go beyond your comments to examine the entire book, plus study the ministries of the authors, to discover we have a heart for the lost and for seeing discipleship develop past mere talk, but to becoming an active part of changing the world and drawing others to the Father. This is not an intent to debate, for that is a waste of time, but rather to challenge others to read the entire body of work. To be honest, it just hurts to see our work so misunderstood and used in this way on your blog. -Bil Cornelius, co-author, Go Big.

Noah Braymen said...


I have read the entire book, and I still think this post is a honest reflection with the content. I do appreciate your directing people's attention to the book. I believe there are fundamental flaws within the philosophy and approach of the church growth movement that underestimates the power of Scripture and the gospel, and that's why I'm coming on so strong.