The Results Driven Church

I have though been slowly working through Ian Stackhouse’s “Gospel Driven Church”, which has been quite thought provoking (a review will follow in due course). In this rather long and rambling post I want to take up one of his ideas, which is that in the desire for (numerical) “growth”, new churches (i.e Restorationist / Renewal churches) have adopted a pragmatism which has resulted in the compromise of previously held principles. In other words success is measured by numbers rather than faithfulness to the gospel – a results driven mentality. This is possibly an overly harsh diagnosis, but I feel that he has at least discerned a trend that must not be allowed to develop unchecked.

One of the attitudes that the new churches have been glad see the back of is defeatism. In some evangelical churches, success is almost measured by how small your congregation is. If people are leaving, it consitutes proof that you are being faithful to the gospel. These churches have a “remnant” mentality, like saying with Elijah “I am the only one left” (1 Kings 19:14)

This defeatism was replaced with idealism. The new churches saw themselves as “new wineskins” (Mark 2:22), able to throw off legalism and dry rituals and replace it with a vibrant kingdom model of church, with genuine fellowship, dynamic worship, spiritual authority, prophetic direction, apostolic oversight, powerful teaching, impacting the community with the gospel. The expectation was for imminent revival, and the return to a “New Testament model” would be key to success.

But 20 years down the line, and the wide-spread revival hoped for has not materialised. What’s more, many were left bitter and disillusioned following failures and even abuses in these new churches. Ian Stackhouse suggests that to compensate for the shortcomings, pragmatism became the new modus operandi. What is working elsewhere? Alpha, Cell Church, Seeker Sensitive, Purpose Driven, Spiritual Mapping etc – whatever the mega-churches were doing ought to be copied as it is obviously working (or more commonly put “God is blessing it”). The end result is churches that have diluted their original idealism and settled for being a successful franchise of a mega-church.

But if pragmatism is not the answer, what is? Surely we don’t want to retreat back to a defeatist mentality? But neither can we return to the naïve optimism of those early days. Ian Stackhouse has his own proposals, which I will discuss when I review his book, but I want to make a humble suggestion of my own. We can return to idealism so long as it tempered with realism. In other words, getting back to the original vision of a glorious church, but honestly acknowledging that we’re not there yet, and that we’ve got lessons to learn from the church of ages past. After all, even the “old wineskin” denominations were once the latest thing themselves.

A Case Study
There are lots of ways this could be expanded on, but I’ll briefly mention the “Ephesians 4 ministries” by way of example, as it was a key part of the original Restorationist vision. It is possible for a church that has succumbed to pragmatism to pay lip-service to these ministries without actually fully embracing them. I was interested to note that Dan also has the Eph 4 ministries on his mind at the moment, as he draws attention to Terry Virgo’s excellent comments on apostles and integrity of doctrine.

Apostles – The pragmatic church gets all the training pamphlets and DVDs it needs from the model mega-church, and fulfils its part in global mission by sending some spare money to parachurch organisations. Apostles are therefore redundant, and simply function as conference speakers.

Prophets – The pragmatic church sidelines the prophetic from meetings as its not “seeker sensitive”. They don’t need direction as their manuals tell them all they need to know about how to step up to the next level of growth.

Teachers – The pragmatic church makes sure it doesn’t scare new people away with Biblical exposition. A humorous short talk or a slick multimedia presentation is the order of the day. The church may claim to be “Bible-believing”, but it will have an increasingly “Bible-illiterate” membership.

Pastors – The pragmatic church does merely what is necessary to keep people attending and tithing. The emphasis is on keeping people happy rather than helping them to grow in holiness. The pastor’s job is to maintain the membership database rather than to run the discipleship program.

Evangelists – Despite the emphasis on growth, the pragmatic church would rather find a method that can be easily scaled than looking to find those who will create fresh ways of confronting the lost with the gospel. Who needs evangelists when you can show DVDs of Nicky Gumbel?

The Way Forward
So has the original idealistic vision been swallowed up into a purely pragmatic outlook? I don’t think so, at least not in the circles I am in. However, we should beware as the transition can be gradual. Church planting is perhaps going to be key to making sure we avoid this trap. With every new church, there is a fresh return to the original vision, an idealism mixed with faith, and people who are willing to make personal sacrifices to see the kingdom advance. Existing churches will also be reminded that they don’t just exist for their own benefit as they release people to be part of a wider global mission, and new people are raised up to serve in their place. This will result in growth that is not just numerical, but spiritual, or as Ian Stackhouse puts it, growth that is intrinsic to the gospel, not extrinsic.

Anyway, that’s enough for today… I’ve got loads of thoughts running round my head on this topic at the moment, so perhaps some more posts will follow later this week.

9 thoughts on “The Results Driven Church

  1. Excellent post. I haven’t read the Stackhouse book but I think I had grasped the thrust of his argument.

    As always the Church seems to swing between extremes. Remnant-mentality characterised by cynicism, and a touch of hyper-Calvinism maybe (“He is sovereign so bad things happening are okay”). And revivalist mentality characterised by a touch of fundementalism, hope and despair, hope and despair etc etc.

    I like your conclusion – that church planting is key to keep us in a healthy mindset. New churches must establish their fresh vision, and established churches must continually keep “fresh wineskins” to support those churches that they are planting. We’re on a mission!

  2. I find this topic very interesting. I have been part of a couple of big churches, the last one as it morphed from its original vision into a more seeker sensitive easier to swallow kind of play church. Where do you think legalism falls into play? It seems that it’s easier to install some ‘rules’ for everyone rather than actually help them to meet with God and experience true conviction, repentance, and change. As long as everyone is following the rules, everything looks great and you have the perfect model church. If certain people don’t like your rules, just politely shake their hands on their way out the door. I have to admit,this method works very well for a large church, it even saves valuable time in counselling as every type of problem has a preset prescription of particular rules to apply. I wonder how many of these churches reach a plateau numerically speaking as they lose their original grand vision though. It seems as a church grows more shallow, their doors become revolving and there are almost as many people leaving as new people coming at any given time.

  3. I think that legalism is the easy option Jul. It’s only when churches are truly open to the Holy Spirit that things become dangerous. When the Holy Spirit is hovering over a meeting, worship leaders may have to change their songs, they may have to cut some songs because prophecies are coming forth that are changing the direction of the meeting. When the Holy Spirit is hovering over a meeting pastors have to bite their tongues at ‘dodgy’ doctrines that may be expressed and uttered in the prophetic or in tongues or words of knowledge that are uttered. He may have to bite his tongue and grip his seat because control of the meeting seems to be slipping out of his grasp.

    And so on and so on.

    It’s interesting you mentioned “saving time”. I heard that comment made by a leader at my home church once after we had made the paradigm shift from charismatic to fully blown cessationist. He said that when we were charismatic, the leaders never knew when they could be woken up in the night to have to come exorcise demons or pray for healing, and they just didn’t “have the time” to keep doing that. With all due respect I think that’s outrageous!! Saving time?! Life in the Holy Spirit demands ALL our time!

    If its choosing between a messy “real” church that is true to its vision and longing for more of God, or the perfect “model” church where “No Surprises” are promised on Sunday – well … you know which I’d choose!! 🙂

  4. As usual I agree with your finely balanced assessment Mark!

    I like the idea of fresh mission keeping the church ‘rooted’ in truth. Mission is always a response to the activity of the Spirit and it is he who maintains and preserves truth and wholeness in the community.

    I also agree with your comment about looking to the past. The Church is not an anhistorical revelation of the Spirit’s activity and, as much as we need to be grounded in future mission, we also need the anchor of past wisdom and revelation.

    Within the more historic churches this is why Tradition is so important. Not because it ‘trumps’ the bible, but because it actually helps guide interpretation of the bible and provides a ‘common playing field’ to unite ALL Christians in future mission.

    The weakness of Restorationism/Renewal churches (which links in with all protestant/’separatist’ ekklesiology) is that they tried to develop a ‘new ekklesiology’ apart from (although not necessarily ‘away from’, although some consciously did!) the historic expressions – which, at best, leads to a ‘two tracked’ (or pluri-tracked, looking at all the ‘options’!) system and, at worse, a failed attempt to re-invent the wheel (‘there is nothing new under the Sun’!).

    Interestingly students of history will see that ‘classic’ protestants/reformers such as Luther and Wesley realised this and sought to maintain identity within the historic expressions.

    However, due to ‘innovation’ within the last couple of hundred years (the ‘fruit’ of the reformation/enlightenment…) we have the situation where some churches think in terms of Apostles, Evangelists, Prophets, Pastor-teachers and others in terms of Bishops, Elders/Presbyters, Deacons. Some in terms of primacy of the Bible, some in terms of primacy of the ‘Worship experience’ and some in terms of the primacy of Sacraments. The variances could go on….

    This all goes to create a headache for missional partnership and a vital expression of Christian unity, but it is a self-caused pain we must now suffer since missional partnership is not optional in Christ!! In truth such ‘variations’ are a testament less to the divine agency of the Spirit (contra the various ‘prophetic claims’) as to the blindness of Man!

    I simply refute the notion (pace Terry Virgo) that the Spirit of the Living God, who is the prime agency of Christian Unity within the One body of it’s Lord and Saviour would ‘lead’ any group or person to ‘set up camp’ elsewhere under new headings as a denial of the validity of the rest of the body. But of course if one is wedded to a separatist ekklesiology (as the brethren/baptists who founded NFI were) then such ‘outworkings’ are a matter of cause-and-effect 😉

    I’m not unsympathetic to the ‘realities’ of history (the difficulties within traditional denominations, the sluggishness of historical churches etc…) and, of course, would long to see transformation of what is at error (on all sides)- but anyone who has separated (=divided) the body of Christ (whoever they are) will have to give an account to their Lord as to why division was preferable to unity…

    The Christian faith, if anything, is a classic example of future hope worked *through* present weakness and anyone who wishes to bypass present tensions in a bid to ‘realise the future’ (as the ‘idealists’ do) must understand that present tension *becomes* the way to the end (surely this is what the cross represents par excellance?) and once this ‘cruciform’ path is ignored the ‘goal’ becomes a willow-the-whisp distortion (whether result driven or otherwise).


  5. Julie, I think you have a point when you say “If certain people don’t like your rules, just politely shake their hands on their way out the door.” – its a consumeristic mindset on both the part of the leaders and those leaving. If you don’t like the product, try another vendor. If some customers don’t like your product, simply sell to those who do.

    Your comment on “shallow” churches with revolving doors is also perceptive. It is my concern to see churches growing ‘deeper’ as well as bigger numerically. There is a danger that as a church gets too big, the leaders end up so overworked with organising meetings, that they jump on any ways they can ‘mass produce’ church to cut down their work-load.

    In theory, us charismatics shouldn’t fall into this trap because we believe in “every member ministry” which scales quite nicely, but in practice it doesn’t always work out that way.

  6. Richard, I thought you might weigh in on this one!

    I guess I am “wedded to a separatist ekklesiology”, as I grew up in an independent evangelical church (Baptist by name but not part of the Baptist Union). I had no Christian friends from any other tradition until I went to university. So naturally I don’t really feel like I have “separated” from anything much, and its only since attending New Wine the last few years that i’ve started to learn some of the basic Anglican vocabulary (curate, canon, diocese etc). Perhaps one of us could blog at some time in the future on the pros and cons of being in a “traditional” denomination (having to work in partnership with many of radically differing views) versus being in an independent church (free to do it your own way and partnering with churches you share a common vision and value system with).

    Also, I liked your closing paragraph … very profound.

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