Tucked away in the Redeemer Church Planting Manual is a section on church growth principles. It’s a different list than you normally read in most literature on church growth.
New books annually seek to distill new sets of “church growth principles.” The lists usually contain anywhere from six to twelve factors which must be present for church growth. Let me be so bold as to suggest there are only three:
- Sound doctrine.
- Continuous renewal by the Holy Spirit.
- A contextualized philosophy of ministry.
What’s striking about this list is how different it is. You don’t often read about sound doctrine and renewal by the Spirit in church growth literature. These may be assumed, but usually the lists are more pragmatic and full of leadership or marketing principles. We’re often told that church growth relies on the application of leadership and organizational principles.
Yet, if you look at Acts or the pastoral epistles (the first church planting manuals), the three items above have to be at the top of the list. I’m often struck by the fact that in the places where the church is really growing today, as described by Phil Jenkins, you can’t credit business or organizational principles for the growth.
Business principles aren’t wrong – all truth is God’s truth – but I wonder if we tend to over-rely on them. And if so, maybe there’s a deeper issue at work. David Wells provocatively writes:
While the inspiration of Scripture is cheerfully endorsed, there is not a lot of confidence that this Word of God can accomplish its purposes. It is almost as if it is assumed that the God who first inspired this Word unfortunately did not foresee the massive changes that have come to late twentieth-century America. The Scripture that we have is, by itself, inadequate to address the pains and upheavals that erupt so frequently in our souls. It is insufficient for the nurture, management, and growth of the Church. To make it effective, we do not resort to tradition or a formal magisterium, as do Catholics, but to business know-how and psychology. When the Word of God is hitched up to these modern enterprises, then we think that mighty things can happen…
We share the same struggle that Christians in every age have known. Can we or can we not believe that the biblical Word is God’s means for accomplishing the impossible, that self-serving sinners can be turned into God-fearing and Christ-honoring people?
Maybe this is the sin beneath the sin. Leadership principles aren’t bad, but maybe we’re depending on them to do what only God is supposed to do.