In the 1970’s the work of Donald McGavran, Peter Wagner, Win Arn and others in the church growth movement, influenced most of us who were in church leadership. We went to numerous conferences and devoured church growth resources in order to apply the principles of church growth to our congregations. Carl George, Rick Warren and Bill Hybels have continued to influence us with their insights in reaching the unchurched. Their methodologies have been most helpful in many ways.
However, Will Mancini in Church Unique, claims that we need to shift from methodology to identity. Methodology questions ask, “What can we do to reach more people?” Identity questions ask, “How do we reshape our self-understanding so that we can be like Christ in the world?”
Mancini urges us to move away from an “attractional” mind-set to an “incarnational” one. Attractional means that the church’s basic strategy for reaching the unchurched revolves around getting people into the church building. In contrast, the incarnational approach focuses on living and sharing the gospel “where life happens.” A church’s language about the people it wants to reach quickly exposes an attractional or incarnational mind-set. Are they ‘prospects’ (a sales term), or the ‘lost’ (judgmental). Rather than referring to the unchurched as lost people perhaps we could see them as seekers, or just friends we want to share God’s love with. The difference in word choice may seem subtle, but it moves the idea of evangelizing from something we do – church-inspired and project-oriented – something we embody – personally inspired and life-oriented.
Mancini also talks about Growth Idolatry, a preoccupation with numbers. “Growth idolatry is the unconscious belief, on the soul level, that things are not OK with me if my church is not growing.” This creates a performance trap, measured most easily by church attendance.
The ever-present vision for campus expansion and larger buildings is the epitome of the attractional model. Growth idolatry strongly persuades us that kingdom growth must mean numerical growth of our local church. Gordon MacDonald posed the issue in this way: “I have wondered if our evangelical fervor to change the world is not driven in some part by the inability to change ourselves.”
Mancini concludes: “The primary culprit of popular church growth methodology – the iniquity of church growth – is not the teaching in and of itself but the tendency to nurture growth idolatry in the pastor’s heart.”
Dallas Willard, in answer to a question of mine about performance reviews, said that the tendency for church Boards is to concentrate on the ABC’s of church life and to neglect the D. A = attendance, B=buildings, C=cash. These are easily quantified. D=discipleship. How do you quantify helping people to love God and their neighbor as themselves as they seek to follow Jesus? How do we define success in the church?