Thursday, January 31, 2008

Still no facts on megachurch convert composition

The Hartford Institute for Religion Research puts out a free powerpoint presentation on Megachurches. They show the amazing increase in number of megachurches, and they have grown in size also.

Unfortunately, they don't address what I opened this discussion on, namely that 90 to 95% of all megachurch growth is pure transfer growth according to their own people. Look at their slides on evangelism:

Maybe they do, but this question isn't necessarily asking about evangelism. This just says they invite people to come. Are they inviting Christians, or non-Christians? We don't know, but this chart is not revealing on that question. It does not prove what the title says.
This says they are willing to talk about their faith, but not many seek opportunities. Again, I don't see evidence here that people are witnessing, or if they are witnessing, that the church is winning non-Christians. Our studies show they are not. They go on to say megachurches do other things for outreach:
But none of these things has anything to do with evangelism! This could be a good list of ways to attract more Christians to your church.
This study is an intriguing example of how some studies may appear to show evangelism, but might not actually show that when it comes to megachurches. We still have no authoritative, reliable study on composition of megachurches.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Carson on authenticity

Emergent blogger Bob Robinson went to hear D. A. Carson speak on the emergent church in Akron, OH. He quoted Carson as saying, "the Emerging Church is making a plea for authenticity. That’s good. But since the Emerging Church does not use the Bible as its standard of what is authentic or not (relying more on feelings and cultural acceptability), then the authenticity has to be called into question."

This brings up a good point I've thought about quite a bit. How do we define authenticity in Christianity? And how would we recognize it in today's world? Here is where the pragmatic definition of truth runs into trouble. If we define authenticity in pragmatic terms (truth is what works for me), where do we end up? Pretty hard to say.

The notion of "working" can be pretty subjective. What does it mean when we say something "works?" Is Osteen's church "working" when he attracts 47,000 in attendance? Well, he still hasn't matched Sung Myung Moon's success. Unfortunately, while I believe results matter, in the absence of objective guidelines for what God considers success, results tell us nothing. Carson is right. Only scripture can give us the spiritual standards by which to judge results.

Christians should spend time pondering what God teaches on this question. Exactly what are we looking for when we say "this approach works?" What do others say on this? What can we get from scripture? There must be multiple answers.

This is at the heart of the question when it comes to authenticity. Authenticity isn't just a feeling we get because people are being intense. It has to mean that our service for God is real; that God is working in our midst. How would we know?

Monday, January 28, 2008

Accepting Sin in the Church?

At Monday morning insight Bernie says,
"Another reason why I tend to megachurches, in general, is because they tend to promote "Churchianity" rather than true Christianity (corrupting the Gospel). Keeping the main institution alive takes so much money and time that outreach is severely affected. Then they bring in false teaching about tithing in order to bring in money, to add insult to injury. From experience, they usually also have a "big tent" mentality, which means tolerating all kinds of evil teachings like the prosperity gospel, because they don't want to offend anyone (the donors)."

I wonder about this too. I just bought the new book by Ron Sider called The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience.: Why Are Christians Living Just Like the Rest of the World? That's a good question. Why is divorce just as high with so-called "born agains" as it is with non-Christians, according to Barna? Why is fornication rampant in big evangelical churches? Why is no discipline practiced? Every single I've met from one big area church in our city during the past few years was fornicating--including a pastor's son! Nobody seems to care. When couples in our church fall into sin, they know they can to go this church or several others and nobody will say anything just because they are living together. In fact, nobody would have any way to know.

How much difference would it make for huge churches if they practiced church discipline? What if fornication wasn't allowed in the church? What if churches knew enough about their people to realize they were in sin in the first place? What if the church preached against greed instead of extolling it? Would that decrease church growth, or increase it? And should the church take an interest in regulating behavior? Or should we just preach the truth and let the chips fall?

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Problems with Megachurches

JeffD wonders if there is study showing that smaller churches are closing their doors as megachurches grow. Yes.
William Chadwick has written a book, Sheep Stealing: The Church's Hidden Problem with Transfer Growth. Blogger Tim Challies says, "Chadwick writes about the dark side of church growth. Having done extensive research and having examined the fruits of his own early ministry, the author came to the startling revelation that the church growth movement has succeeded far better in pulling believers from other, smaller churches than in reaching the lost. 'Great effort is being expended, but few are actually turning to Christ for the first time. Instead, the faithful are mostly just changing churches' (from the back cover)."
I read Chadwick's book, and I urge all to read it, even though I don't agree with one of his central claims. He thinks when churches take transfers from other churches this is stealing in the ethical sense. I can't accept that, because it implies that churches OWN their members. But there is a moral problem, when the church is structured mainly to appeal to existing Christians and is not reaching non Christians.

According to Barna, small churches have their own problems, including being more theologically liberal and full of low-involvement members. David Charlton agrees from personal experience "Overall attitude is TOTALLY different. In a larger “church”, there’s much more TEAM in everything, while smaller churches overall attitude is apathetic towards involvement and commitment... Clarity of vision or lack of in smaller churches. It seems like every 'gimmick' under the sun is talked about but action rarely gets done-talk is cheap, and people know that." And, "While you’d think as a servant you’d get pastoral care and guidance in a smaller church, what’s true is just the opposite."

But Barna also says tens of thousands will close in the coming decade in Revolution (a book I didn't like at all). And I'm racking my brain to remember where I read extensive research on how the number of small church closings in America is reaching shocking proportions. If anyone can find this research, give it up in a comment. I'm going to have to work on this and get back.

Related Links"
Bill Muehlenberg’s commentary
David Charlton
Tim Challies

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Is 90% of all church growth nothing but transfers?

Over the past decade, Xenos leaders have led research teams to dozens of the most famous and rapidly growing churches around the country to study their methods and outcomes. These include churches from a wide array of approaches—charismatic, seeker-sensitive, cell-based, emergent, house church, health and wealth, satellite churches, extra-local planting, etc. During our early trips, the teams often commented that virtually none of the members or staff they interviewed had met Christ as grown-ups or at that church.

Curious at this anecdotal finding, we decided to begin counting. In the studies since that time, we have determined that large, growing churches in America are gaining nearly all their growth through transfer of believers from other evangelical churches. To make sure of these results, we interview as many members as possible (at least scores, and sometimes hundreds) randomly at services or home groups. We ask them whether they consider themselves Christians, and where and how they became believers. To our own shock, we have found that the number claiming to have become believers at that church is invariably less than 10% of the sample—often less than 5%! In some cases our teams include dozens of researchers and we interview hundreds of members to reduce the sampling error. I am not going to name the churches involved, because I don’t want to cause problems for them. But readers would be shocked like we were if this research were ever published. So far, using this technique, we have only identified three churches where more than 10% of their own people report that they were converted in that church: Willow Creek Community Church. There, we found a significantly higher 23% of the people interviewed saying they became believers at that church. Several others said they were non-Christians still, which is also a good sign (most studies have failed to discover any non-Christians present). Best of all were Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa and Xenos Fellowship. Both these groups have over 60% converts in a typical meeting (both include 7-12% of their own home-grown kids).

We continue this research today, still looking for other large groups where the majority of their growth comes from conversions. If you think you know of one, let us know in a comment!

I discuss this problem more in Organic disciplemaking.

Do you think these results are valid?

Why do you think this is happening to the American church?

What's the answer?