C. Peter Wagner, one of the main leaders of the church growth movement, says, "I don't think there is anything intrinsically wrong with the church-growth principles we've developed...Yet somehow they don't seem to work...maybe something else is needed."
The 1996 General Conference stated emphatically that the primary task of the church is evangelism. The problem seems to be that we have exchanged evangelism for church growth. The two are not synonymous. They should be and can be, but in our churches today are usually not. The biblical definition of evangelism is to bring people to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and we are failing miserably in that task.
I recently was in a meeting of our conference committee on "Witness and Worship," which is a combination of three former committees: worship, stewardship and evangelism. We've already watered evangelism down by making it a "part" of a committee. In that meeting a pastor made the statement, "We need new ways to do evangelism, not the old fashioned ways like revivals." I was shocked because I believe what we've been doing, in the name of evangelism, for many years is new - and its not working.
In an article in "Uplook," David Dunlap asks the question, "How much church growth is for real?" Since 1973 the church growth movement has taught that understanding and meeting the psychological needs of people would lead to growing congregations. Some churches say this strategy has worked but many others say it is a miserable failure.
According to Christian researcher George Barna, the church in America has hardly grown at all since 1980. He says the proportion of Americans who claim to be "born again" has remained a constant 32% over that period of time. Barna says that studies indicate that 80% of the churches that are growing are doing so by transfer and not conversions.
Dunlap says, "Church-growth movement leaders are beginning to admit that its principles of growth are ineffective at bringing people to Christ."
Dunlop continues, "Some critics of the movement feel what is lacking is clear: powerful preaching of the Word of God. The church-growth movement has been based in part on the assumption that people are not interested in traditional exposition of God's Word. Instead, entertainment that is 'attractive' to nonbelievers has replaced the offense of the cross."