This certainly won't be an all-inclusive article on the fallacies of the Emerging Church Movement, but I hope to give a quick overview as to the problems inherent to this model - at least as I understand them. Obviously, this comes on the heels of the revelation that an up-and-coming "leader" in Fundamentalism has abandoned ship and headed over to the mother of the Emerging Church, Willow Creek Community Church pastored by Bill Hybels (for an overview of Bill Hybels and his philosophy, check out this article). As I've read discussions here and there about this "defection", I've noticed that a number of folks haven't really been introduced to what the the Church Growth Movement and the Emerging Church are all about. I hope to provide a sort of introduction to the whole subject in this article.
The Church Growth Movement has been described as having six basic pillars. They are:
- The preeminence of evangelism
- The necessity of numeric growth
- Targeted people-group evangelism
- The removal of extra-Biblical barriers to conversion
- An audience-centered style of communication
- A decentralized model of church organization
I jotted these 6 "pillars" down on a piece of notebook paper some years ago. Joe Zichterman references them in his audio offering, "Why I Joined Willow Creek Community Church" (found here), so I can only assume that these are the universally accepted "talking points" surrounding the Church Growth Movement. Those who embrace the Church-Marketing model view these things as positive attributes. I'll deal with the first 5 briefly.
The preeminence of evangelism.
In the Emerging Church paradigm there is a huge emphasis on the first half of the "Great Commission". This isn't all bad. As a matter of fact, it looks very good on the surface. However, the Great Commission is a call to go and teach - making disciples. The Emerging Church has it backwards. Rather than going into the world to make disciples, they have made the church appealing to the world. When Hybels started Willow Creek Community Church, he decided to go out to the unchurched community and poll them. He wanted to find out what they wanted in a church...what would bring them in. It's not surprising that the answer was essentially an unintrusive, toothless, feel-good message. So, the "seeker-sensitive" church was born. You can go to church without being confronted with sin. What the Emerging Church calls evangelism is nothing more than "bringing them in"... to the church service. There isn't a focus on actual evangelism - confronting men with the Gospel. What you get instead is entertainment and "feel-good" sermons. If you're curious as to what a "feel-good" sermon is, you can read or listen to pretty much anything that Joel Osteen has put out.
The necessity of numeric growth.
Rick Warren has said, "Anything that is alive is growing. If it is not growing, it is dying". Again, this sounds good on the surface, but is it really the biblical model? Many equate numeric growth with spiritual success in a local church. As a matter of fact, even in certain segments of Fundamentalism this is true. As in all things, I think it's prudent to look at Christ for an example. His ministry on earth didn't exactly typify anything related to church growth. As a matter of fact, Christ seemed to do things that discouraged popularity and a large following. He often told those for whom He performed great miracles to keep silent about it. He told Peter, James, and John to keep quiet about His Transfiguration, and after the disciples made their proclamation that Christ was the Messiah, He challenged them to tell no man! These aren't great methodologies to employ if one has a desire to develop a huge ministry! Besides the example of Christ throughout the Gospels, we can look at many other examples throughout Scripture of men who were faithful preachers of the Word, but never had a large following - some weren't popular at all. Men such as the prophets of the Old Testament or Stephen in the New Testament. I'm not sure that you can find one example in all of Scripture that lends any support to the Rick Warren's statement referenced at the beginning of this section. However, there are many examples that could be used to prove otherwise.
Targeted people-group evangelism.
This is somewhat touched upon in my first point. Those who follow the Church Growth paradigm believe that each individual church is called to reach a specific segment of society. 1 Corinthians 1:27-28 gives us a different picture, as does 1 Corinthians 3:6. The parable of the sower in Luke 8 provides a wonderful picture to Biblical evangelism and "planting". There doesn't seem to be any discrimination. Now, I'm not saying that we aren't all gifted to reach different people in differing stations of life. I grew up in poverty and in a broken home. As an individual I might be more naturally tooled to reach an individual that is currently in or grew up in the same situation than somebody who grew up in affluence with loving, godly parents. I can respond with more empathy and sympathy, but that doesn't mean that I'm going to plant a church targeting that specific group. As a matter of fact, I am uniquely gifted to fill a ministry in my local assembly. In Ephesians 4, the Apostle Paul lays out some of the gifts that certain people within a local assembly of believers might have. These were given "For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ" (Ephesians 4:12)...not for targeting specific groups for the overall purpose of numeric growth.
The removal of extra-Biblical barriers to conversion.
Again, another good statement - at least on the surface. While we should allow the message of the Gospel to be the only point of offence, this philosophy of "no extra-Biblical barriers" tends to extend beyond just the realm of evangelism. There has been a great deal of harm done here due to lousy interpretation of passages like 1 Corinthians 9:20-22. What has happened is that standards of "personal holiness" have been abandoned. Folks will look like the world, dress like the world, talk like the world, and (in short) take on the entire stench of the world all in the name of reaching the world. However, the Word of God calls on us to "Come out from among them..." and "...be not conformed to this world, but be transformed...". The tragedy is that we end up with immature Christians never living transformed lives. The Gospel becomes more watered down and the lines between Christianity and worldliness become increasingly blurred. Is Christianity really supposed to be cool?
An audience-centered style of communication.
In essence, the Emerging Church has allowed the unregenerate to dictate what the "worship service" is going to look like. I would argue that this might be one of the largest mistakes made in the Church Growth Movement. They treat the church as a "hospital to the sinner"... it's not. The church is for the believer. The unregenerate shouldn't feel comfortable there....he should feel completely out of place. I'm completely supportive of using music and drama and the like to enhance the service, but the entire focus should be on the majesty, person, and work of the the Lord Jesus Christ. The New Testament Church met to teach, fellowship, pray, edify, and to hear the preaching of Scripture. In adopting a style of communication that is appealing to the masses, I think these churches completely ignore the examples given us in Scripture. Consider how Christ preached: He called on men to repent from their sins and to deny their selves. He called men to a life of sacrifice and to a focused relationship with Him. Not only that, but Christ was extremely confrontational in His preaching and teaching. Anybody who deliberately adopts a model whereby the services are tailor-made for the world really needs to thoroughly examine the earthly ministry of Christ as displayed in the Gospels.