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Excerpts from

Faulty Premises of the Church Growth Movement

By Pastor Bob DeWaay

Please read the entire article at

Emphasis added

“They are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.” (1John 4:5, 6)

“It is my deep conviction that anybody can be won to Christ if you discover the key to his or her heart. . . . It may take some time to identify it. But the most likely place to start is with the person’s felt needs.”
1 (Rick Warren)

...the Apostle John... says that the world will not listen to a true, unsullied Christian message. Rick Warren says that anybody can be won to Christ if we discover a message that will interest them through promising to meet their felt needs. These concepts are contradictory. The Biblical idea is that we must speak God’s unchanging message of the gospel whether the world hates us or not:

“If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:19).

The Church Growth idea is that we must study man (using the latest sociological, psychological, and anthropological insights) to determine how to create a church that will grow and a message that will be popular through appealing to a target audience. Someone is wrong here....

...the modern church growth movement... was founded primarily by two people, independently. Those people are Donald McGavran and Robert Schuller. Donald McGavran wrote The Bridges of God in 1955. C. Peter Wagner claims that this book, “launched the Church Growth Movement.”3 Rick Warren cites McGavran’s book as being influential early in his ministry.4

About that same time Robert Schuller started his ministry in California which became the Crystal Cathedral. Later, in 1970, Schuller founded the Robert Schuller Institute for Successful Church Leadership, where he has trained many key leaders in the Church Growth Movement including Bill Hybels and Rick Warren.5 ....

...the Church Growth Movement... has convinced the majority of church leaders that if their local organization is not growing, this is a sure sign they are “unhealthy” and failing. Rick Warren says, “Forget church growth, Church health is the key to church growth. All living things grow if they’re healthy. You don’t have to make them grow -- it’s just natural for living organisms.”
7 So, according to this thinking, failure to grow is a sign of disease or sickness. Having convinced pastors and other church leaders that they are failing, Warren and others leave them desperate for a solution. The following email I received from a CIC reader reflects this:

"We are going through a restructure where questions have been raised about what the "vision" is, whose "vision" is it, and must we all rally behind that "vision" or do we each get a piece of that "vision" by being allowed to input into that "vision." The answers provided at my church are ambiguous...." [The rest of the illustration available HERE]

Many churches feel the type of pressure that is reflected in this email. ... The problem is that church leaders end up feeling like SOMETHING has to change. To meet this challenge leaders usually create a plan of their own or buy someone else’s plan that promises to give the congregation appeal in the community....

Leaders present a mission statement that reflects this vision; then all the remaining resources of the congregation, financial and human, are poured into the vision.... Whatever happens, the new vision will not focus on the preaching of the gospel. Gospel preaching often has already been determined to have failed and it’s offensive to the unregenerate mind anyway (1Corinthians 1:22-24). ...

Consistently on the cutting edge of Church Growth theory, research, and development is The Fuller School of World Mission and Institute of Church Growth founded by Donald McGavran and further developed by C. Peter Wagner.
8 Ideas that have come from this movement include the concept of “people movements” that suggests a more group oriented version of becoming Christian than individual repentance and faith.... Peter Wagner writes, “The ethical issue is one of pragmatism.”11 Long before “outcome based” became a buzz word, McGavran, Wagner, and others determined to base their movement on what is proven to work....

To clarify the problems of the Church Growth Movement, I am going to examine some of its key premises and compare them to the Bible. We will see that several of the most basic assumptions that underlie this movement are false.

False Premise # 1: That God’s Will for Every Local Congregation is Numerical Growth

...Paul preached in Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:14-51)... “And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48). ...

The advocates of church growth set up standards that require pastors to get people into their churches even if they have rejected the gospel. This causes them to search for some new message and new method that appeals to people’s unregenerate minds.

Is an organization with this new message and new method the “church” as described in the Bible? ..

"The dangers inherent in the church growth movement are many, and the crucial issue in assessing those dangers is whether we are talking about becoming Christians or about building institutional membership. The greatest danger in the movement may be that it obviously succeeds. If one tailors the church to identify with its culture and engages in the pseudo-gospel of “possibility thinking,” promising to assuage guilt with the minimum of pain and connecting that promise with marketing techniques, there will be success. The question is whether the result will bear any similarity to the church.19 [Ralph Elliot]

The church consists of the “called out ones,” not those who enjoy having a religious experience with people who are just like themselves.... True fellowship is not the gathering of religious consumers with similar “felt needs,” but it is fellowship around the person and work of Christ. Consider what John wrote:

"What we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, that you also may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. (1John 1:3, 6, 7)"

...By Church Growth standards the greatest failures of all time were Noah and Jeremiah. Noah preached (see 2 Peter 2:5) for a hundred years and no one believed him. Jeremiah’s message was totally rejected. Events of history proved him right during his lifetime, but even then those left in Jerusalem still would not listen to him and carried him away to Egypt (Jeremiah 43:1-6)...

Further proof of the falsity of Church Growth premise that numerical growth of any given local congregation is always God’s will is found in a study of the churches in Revelation. [See Church Health Award” from Rick Warren or Jesus Christ?]

False Premise # 2: That the Needs and Sensibilities of the Unconverted Should Determine the Strategy of the Church.

Let us return to Rick Warren’s statement cited at the beginning of this article: “It is my deep conviction that anybody can be won to Christ if you discover the key to his or her heart. . . . It may take some time to identify it. But the most likely place to start is with the person’s felt needs.”21 This principle of “felt needs” is bedrock to Church Growth principles. It is related to the idea of “relevance” and “satisfy the customer” is one of marketing’s oldest principles. If a person feels a need and is convinced that your product meets that need, they will be satisfied if they buy the product and it performs as expected. ...

What Church Growth thinking does is take the easier approach. Rather than convince people they have a need, they start with needs that people already feel. Having determined what those are, they design a church that meets those needs. If the church succeeds in adequately meeting the needs, it has satisfied customers. Satisfied customers are the best advertising for future potential customers....

Let us analyze this Biblically. The greatest need that all people have, because they are children of Adam (the homogeneous unit that matters most) and are under God’s wrath against sin, is for the blood atonement that only Christ provides. The unconverted do not feel this as a need unless they have already come under the conviction of the Holy Spirit (John 16:8) which happens through the preaching of the Law and the Gospel. The unregenerate in any neighborhood are not going to say they feel a need for the blood of Jesus to wash away their sins. This is a need they must be convinced they have, and will not be convinced unless the Holy Spirit does a work of grace in their hearts....

Warren’s claim that anybody can be won to Christ if we figure out some key is false. There is no Biblical warrant whatsoever to this claim; and there are many passages that refute it. The passage in Matthew 7 about the narrow gate refutes it. The concept of the saved remnant found in Romans 9 and elsewhere refutes it. The fact that even Jesus, who as God knows the heart, lost Judas the “son of perdition” disproves it. The Biblical doctrine of election taught in dozens of passages (such as Romans 8:28-33) disproves it. ...

The nuts and bolts of missiology have to do with the study of man. This is from a website that promotes missiology: “As missiologists reflect on the global march of the Church, they use tools from the social sciences to understand various dynamics. Insights are drawn from cultural anthropology, ethnology, sociology, geography, and political science.”
23 ...

The bad theology that underlies Church Growth thinking is man-centered. It does not take serious the depravity of the fallen human race. It apparently assumes that people have the power and inclination to become Christian without a prior supernatural work of grace.24 ... But Paul rejects this type of reasoning all together:

"Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things freely given to us by God.... But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them...." 1 Corinthians 2:12-16

...Paul ... was dependant on the work of the Holy Spirit, not the wisdom of man. The work of the Holy Spirit was to change hostile sinners into loving worshippers through the gospel:

"For indeed Jews ask for signs, and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block, and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God." (1Corinthians 1:22-24)

Ironically, in the Church Growth Movement C. Peter Wagner offers signs and Rick Warren offers wisdom, but who is going to publicly proclaim the gospel? ...

Faulty Premise # 3: That the Lack of Adequate Church Growth World Wide Proves the Need for a New Reformation

In 1982 Robert Schuller issued a call for a new reformation in his book Self-Esteem, the New Reformation.25 Since 1982, at least three other calls for new reformations have been proposed. The next one, chronologically, came in 1993 at a “Re-imagining” conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota. This conference called for re-imagining God according to feminist ideals. Then in 1999, in his book Churchquake, C. Peter Wagner announced a New Apostolic Reformation.

Now Rick Warren is calling for yet another new reformation, this one based on his PEACE plan to wipe out the biggest world problems. ... [See Warren's P.E.A.C.E. Plan & UN Goals]

Schuller wrote, “Where the sixteenth-century Reformation returned our focus to sacred Scriptures as the only infallible rule for faith and practice, the new reformation will return our focus to the sacred right of every person to self-esteem! The fact is, the church will never succeed until it satisfies the human being’s hunger for self-value.”28 ... His reasoning is that since all humans hunger for self-value (remember the felt needs concept), the church must feed their appetite for this if it is going to succeed. ...

The lack of popularity of Christianity does not prove the need for some new reformation. It proves that Jesus was absolutely right when He said that His way was narrow and that few walked on it. The Church Growth Movement has shown a willingness to lay aside the clear teachings of Scripture in order to find success in this world. The “reformations” of this movement are all “deformations” and should be fully rejected.

Please read the rest the of this much-needed message -- along with the endnotes -- at

Other articles by Bob DeWaay: The Gospel: A Method or a Message?

True and False Unity | Redefining the Church

Faulty Premises of the Church Growth Movement

 “Church Health Award” from Rick Warren or Jesus Christ?

Bob DeWaay is the Pastor of Twin City Fellowship, a non-denominational evangelical Church in Minneapolis, MN:

"We are a body of believers who attempt to live our Christian faith according to Acts 2:42 by devoting ourselves to prayer, fellowship, searching the Scriptures, and the Lord’s Supper. Our mission is to equip the saints for the work of ministry and to reach the lost with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We do this through expository preaching, study of the Scriptures, publications, our website and neighborhood outreaches."

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