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Church Growth is a movement within evangelical Christianity which aims to develop methods to grow churches. Various church leaders have proposed different ways to grow churches. One prominent example is the "seeker-sensitive" approach, which aims to make churches more accessible and sensitive to the needs of spiritual seekers.
The church growth movement began with the publication of Donald McGavran's book The Bridges of God. McGavran was a third-generation Christian missionary to India, where his observations of How Churches Grow (the title of another of his books) went beyond typical theological discussion to discern sociological factors that affected receptivity to the Christian Gospel among non-Christian peoples. In 1965, he organized the School of World Mission at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, which was the institutional homebase for Church Growth studies until after his death. It has been the training ground for tens of thousands of pastors and missionaries of one hundred mainly evangelical denominations.
Two key attributes of Church Growth are a passion for the "Great Commission" and a willingness to apply research to attracting members, including quantitative methods. Scholars and leaders from many denominations continue to meet annually to discuss the implications of these insights as the American Society for Church Growth.
The "seeker sensitive" label is associated with some megachurches in the United States where Christian messages are often imparted by means of elaborate creative elements sometimes akin to secular popular culture, such as popular music styles. Such churches often also develop a wide range of activities to draw in families at different stages in their lives.
Four key approaches include:
- The "Attractive Church Model", which was set forth by Rick Warren's book, "The Purpose-Driven Church". In this model, programs (such as daycare, sports programs, classes, and contemporary music and worship) are created which attract people from the community to the church.
- The "Missional Church Model", which was set forth by Michael Slaughter of Ginghamsburg UMC. In this model, missional activities are developed to which people are drawn to participate. As they participate, they gradually become involved in the life of the church.
- The "Praise God to Friends and Neighbors Model", set forth by Brian L. Boley's book, "How to Share the Gospel: A Proven Approach for Ordinary People". In this model, members of the congregation begin to praise God to friends and neighbors. As they praise God, they are eventually seen as "God-experts", and people begin to inquire of them about spiritual issues.
- The "Soul Winning Model" (see the Book of Acts) has always been trumpeted by Bible-believing Christians, but heavily more recently with the announcement of a National Church Growth Conference being held at Clays Mill Road Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky. Host Pastor Jeff Fugate is a keynote speaker in Independent Baptist circles and is well known for his old fashioned stand and his zeal for the bus ministry.
Criticism and praise
Apologists respond that most advocates have a real concern for the salvation of the individuals represented by the numbers. Some Church Growth groups distance themselves from the "showbiz" approach of megachurches and believe these may be counterproductive.
Willow Creek Community Church recently conducted a major survey that shows heavy involvement in "seeker sensitive" programs and activities contributed to church growth but did not necessarily translate into spiritual growth and maturity unless the church had a clear path for believers' development.
Advocates argue that the most important thing in Christianity is the salvation of souls, which means that a successful church will – by definition – be a growing church.
Others argue that a proper balance between numerical growth and depth of spiritual growth is needed.
- "American Society for Church Growth" (official website).
- Newton, Phil A. (May 2007). "The Package Matters: Problems with the Church Growth Movement". Areopagus Journal (Apologetics Resource Center) (Troublesome Movements in the 21st–Century Church).
- Prewett, Rebecca (1994). "Online Conversations About… Seeker-Sensitive Churches". Retrieved 2007-10-03.
- Armstrong, John H. (May–June 1994). "Problems related to seeker‐sensitive worship". Reformation & Revival Journal (Carol Stream, IL: Reformation & Revival Ministries) 3 (3). Retrieved 2007-10-03.
- Colson, Charles ‘Chuck’ (December 5, 2007). "Rethinking Church". BreakPoint. Informz.
- Schacke, Rainer (2009). Learning from Willow Creek?. Göttingen: Cuvillier. ISBN 978-3-86955-104-3.
- Hornsby, William ‘Billy’, The Attractional Church, Faith Words – Hachette.