The Church Growth Movement: innovating like it’s 1894

I was struck by three things while watching the opening minutes of NewSpring’s now infamous Christmas Eve service: first, by the vast effort that had been put into the production; second, by what must have been the incredible expense of the whole enterprise; and third, by the utter irrelevance of the entertainment experience to the faithful proclamation of Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sins. As a taste, here is the opening set:

For those who cannot (or do not wish to) watch the video, here are the lyrics to the song:

Hang all the misletoe
I’m going to get to know you better
This Christmas
And as we trim the tree
How much fun it’s going to be together
This Christmas

Fireside is blazing bright
And we’re caroling through the night
And this Christmas will be
A very special Christmas for me

Presents and cards are here
My world is filled with cheer and you
This Christmas
And as I look around
Your eyes outshine the town, they do
This Christmas

etc.

Try to reconcile this performance with Luke’s account of Christ’s commission to the church:

 Then He [Jesus] said to them, “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.” And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures.

 Then He said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And you are witnesses of these things.

Luke 24:44–48

Christ has tasked His church with preaching repentance and remission of sins in His name to all nations. Nothing less, and nothing more.

It is perhaps a little unfair to single out NewSpring. They would no doubt say that they are being ‘innovative, using modern methods to communicate a timeless message’. In this, NewSpring is merely representative of the Innovation Cult that has subjugated so much of the visible church.

Still, even if one were to grant the premise that ‘innovative’ and ‘modern methods’ may be used, what exactly does a performance of Chris Brown’s This Christmas have to do with the ‘timeless message’ of (one presumes) repentance and the forgiveness of sins? Anyone? It is abundantly clear that NewSpring – and the other churches of the Innovation Cult – are rebelliously off-mission.

Have you noticed how the most self-professedly innovative churches all look just the same? (An unsympathetic observer may be tempted to think that they exhibit rather less innovation than they do slavish imitation.) This uniformity is an inevitable consequence of the seeker-driven method, for in their desire to make themselves attractive to the cultural zeitgeist, these churches conform themselves to the image of the world. The great irony is that they thereby denude themselves of the one thing that the world does not have.

If the leaders of the Church Growth Movement had any sense of church history prior to their own, they would realize that their supposed ‘innovation’ is nothing other than failed 19th century revivalism of the kind repudiated by C.H. Spurgeon in his 1894 sermon, The Lord Leading; David Following:

Oh, what would some preachers do to get the people to hear them at all? Ah, what are they not doing, dear friends? As things now go, I should not wonder at all if we were to have, in some of our places of worship, a part of Mr. Barnum’s show, in order to attract a congregation! We have all kinds of fiddling, and tinkering, and I know not what, going on to get people to come and hear what is called the gospel. “Oh,” said one, “but he brought so many to the place!” Yes, if they had had a clown out of the theatre, he would, no doubt, have brought still more. If that is all that you want – simply to gather a crowd together – it is not so very difficult if you are not squeamish about the means you employ.

But, oh! when God sends the people to hear the gospel and nothing else, and they come and listen to what a man has to say to them about heaven and hell, life and death, the cross of Christ and the way of salvation, that is the sound of a going in the tops of the mulberry trees.

C.H. Spurgeon, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons (vol. 40; London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1894), 79–80.

Spurgeon preached repentance and forgiveness of sins in Christ. He has his (eternal) legacy. Those whom he was critiquing held their circuses and attracted great crowds, yet now are completely forgotten.

Spurgeon’s insight is that it is no great feat to gather a crowd, if one is willing to use any means. He spoke hyperbolically of P.T. Barnum’s ‘Greatest Show On Earth’, but the Church Growth Movement seems to have missed the joke. It employs pastors of the ‘creative arts’ who transform worship services into entertainment experiences with song-and-dance routines, worthless stunts and assorted other madness. Even children are enticed with sacrilegious novelties such as fire engine baptistries, replete with sirens and confetti cannons.

The Church Growth Movement’s huge numbers are therefore no impressive feat, readily achievable as they are through mere human effort. And, having attracted such crowds through means that appeal to the unregenerate nature, the megachurch leader dares not tell them plainly that their sin condemns them before a just and holy God. He cannot proclaim repentance and remission of sins. He is unable to give the unadulterated Gospel of Jesus. He is utterly constrained in what he may say, for a crowd so easily gathered will just as readily scatter at the foolishness of preaching the cross of Christ.

This is why the doctrine and preaching of the seeker-driven megachurch is necessarily so powerless and pitiful. This is why those churches are full of false converts and starving sheep. The seeker-driven method militates against the message of the Gospel. The two cannot long coexist.

The seeker-driven megachurch – failing to preach Christ to 10,000 people at a time

The entire Church Growth Movement is thus seen to be founded upon a false premise, for the ‘timeless message’ of Christ crucified and raised from the dead may only be communicated through the means that Christ Himself has ordained. And that means is the foolishness of preaching that message.

You cannot entice people to be saved, for they are dead in their sins and – apart from the working of the Holy Spirit – incapable of any move toward God. And the Holy Spirit does not, will not work repentance and faith through an entertainment experience. No, Paul says, ‘faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ’ (Rom. 10:17, ESV). Jesus, then, comes to us only through His Word, Baptism, and Supper.

May God therefore cause us to pray the Lord of the harvest to send out faithful labourers into His harvest – workers who will rightly divide the word of truth, preaching the Law in all its ferocity to frighten comfortable sinners, and the Gospel in all its sweetness to comfort frightened sinners. May the Holy Spirit grant seeker-driven leaders – and we ourselves – to repent and truly believe the words He breathed through Paul:

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written:

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
And bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.”

Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

1 Cor. 1:18–25

Photo credit: The Greatest Show on Earth!, peddhapati.
Video credit: NewSpring. Reproduced for the Fair Use purposes of criticism and comment.

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Doulos

δοῦλος Ἰησοῦ χριστοῦ. Simul iustus et peccator.

10 thoughts on “The Church Growth Movement: innovating like it’s 1894”

  1. All that proceeds from the Enemy, in and out of the Church, is based on counterfeits to God’s provision of life in Christ. I would argue that the Church Growth Movement resulting in the mega-church paradigm is extremely powerful, in Satan, but powerless in Christ as it supplants the Gospel of Christ with everything else that is enticing to the sin nature.

    The reason the message of the Bible should never be compromised is because it is the only source of power against the sin nature in terms of knowledge and understanding for living a life that yields to God and rejects the Satanic system and the internal draw of the sin nature. If living for God were easy, everyone would do it…it isn’t easy and that is why God gave us an instruction manual with directives.

  2. This is the same church that has included the song “Highway To Hell” by AC/DC, “Wrecking Ball” by Miley Cyrus, and “Firework” by Katy Perry as well as other secular songs in their worship sets under the guise that it “brings people into the church that might not normally come”. We know what these secular artists stand for.

    Satan is alive and well in the modern church! What should be bringing people into church is the leading of the Holy Spirit and the preaching of the word of God. “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day. Matthew 21:13 “So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh”.

    My message to NewSpring is to heed Galations 5:16 – “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect”. Romans 12:2

    In Matthew 21:13 Jesus drove out the merchants from the temple saying, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.'” I can only imagine how He feels when churches like NewsSpring play songs like “Highway To Hell” in His fathers house.

    .

  3. Amen and to the comment above as well!

    The seeker sensitive model gets the whole thing upside down. Exactly, what difference does it make how many are in the multitude, if the gospel is never preached?!?! And you can’t sugar coat it. Those who came for the candy will bolt out in all directions when they see the true gospel. But what is the point in alluring them by appealing to their flesh, just to tell them they must crucify it with Christ when you give them the gospel, and then they all run away? The goal is, and let me make this clear for those who seem to be a bit… er… confused here… the goal is: salvation, and it works by giving… (drumroll….) the GOSPEL! You can’t lure them in with candy, bells, neon lights, and whistles folks. The message and the wrapping it comes in should match. The point is that people get saved, so they need the gospel. You want to attract the sincere ones so you make the brochure match the destination. That is how you get results. Even if you draw 100, and 20 get saved, at least there are twenty. But if you draw 100,000, and never preach the gospel, 0 will get saved, and 0 is less than 20. Heck, it’s even less than 10, or 1. If they do preach the true gospel, most who came for flesh tickling will quickly find their way to the nearest exit. Are you seeker sensitive types picking up on this yet?!? But I know something many don’t. And it’s this. Seeker sensitive church ‘CEO’s are not sensitive about the numbers of people getting saved. Shocking, I know. They are sensitive about how many people warm their pews and keep warming their pews. (church ‘growth’) And sensitive about them dropping in their $ as the plate gets passed. Or should I say $$$. And, that is all they care about. In fact, they don’t even believe the gospel, the bible, as being the truth. It gets even worse. Some are even intentional deceivers, wolves in sheep’s clothing to lead astray, workers of satan. They do exist, and infiltration has been successful. You can’t use the methods of the world to draw people out of the world. You use the methods of Christ to lead them to Christ. (yes, you can quote me) ( ; Jesus said that no one can come to Him unless the Father draws him. Just another note, uh… the Father is not going to use neon las vegas lights to draw you. So brace yourselves, get on your knees, and repent. You’ll never regret it.

  4. Where is this church at? Are they on Facebook or have a website? I like doing research on things like this is why I’m asking. I certainly don’t want to go there.

    1. Hello Donna, thank you for visiting. The performance of the Chris Brown song was the opening to NewSpring’s Christmas Eve service. You can watch the whole service on the NewSpring website, here. If you were referring to the circus photograph I used, please see my reply to Gavin. Numerous actual examples of church-as-entertainment can be found at The Museum of Idolatry.

  5. I have a question,….where did the photograph used for this article come from ? Is it actually a photograph from the church service itself or is this a manufactured photograph,….. a photograph of something else entirely just used as illustration ?

    1. Hello Gary, thank you for stopping by. The photo is of a circus and is meant to be illustrative of Spurgeon’s point. It’s by ‘peddhapati’, and is entitled The Greatest Show on Earth! You can find the original here, as mentioned in the photo credit at the end of the article. Numerous actual examples of church-as-entertainment can be found at The Museum of Idolatry.

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