The Huffington Post on … Church Growth

by The Ecclesiologist

The Huffington Post’s religious section recently ran an article on church growth from Pastor Tim Suttle.  The article can be read here.

Pastor Suttle points out the role sentimentality and pragmatism play in many contemporary church growth models.  What’s wrong with sentimentality and pragmatism?  Suttle writes:

The fundamental problem with the one-two punch of sentimentality and pragmatism is, of course, the church’s job is not to affirm people’s lives, but to allow the gospel to continually call our lives into question. The church’s job is not to grow — not even to survive. The church’s job is to die — continually — on behalf of the world, believing that with every death there is a resurrection. God’s part is to grow whatever God wishes to grow. Growing a church isn’t hard … being faithful as the church, that’s a different story.

He concludes:

If I’ve learned anything as a pastor, it is this: faithfulness flies in the face of sentimentality and pragmatism, and if you pursue it you have to expect small numbers.

While I am no defender of much of the church growth movement, I do think Suttle may be throwing the baby (going to the nations, baptizing them and making disciples of them) out with the bath water (contemporary church growth strategies).  I know many lazy, aloof pastors who love articles like this.  It excuses them from getting out of their studies and making disciples.  Small numbers are no more a touch stone of orthodoxy than large numbers.

Suttle is right, faithfulness is key, but faithfulness must put its hopes not only in suffering (cruciform leading) but also glory (following a resurrected Jesus).  His article is all “not yet” and not enough “already.” Though ministers will certainly face suffering, ministers must also hope that one day “The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (Hab. 2:14).

Being anti-Church growth movement can be just as dangerous as being obsessed with the movement.