Church Growth
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:
Church Growth is a movement within evangelical Christianity which emphasizes mainly missionary work combined with sociological awareness of the target population. The "seeker sensitive" label for this approach characterizes the would-be converts as "seekers".

Church Growth began with the publication of Donald McGavran's book The Bridges of God in 1956. McGavran was a third-generation Christian missionary to India, where his observations of How Churches Grow (the title of another of his books) went beyond typical theological discussion to discern sociological factors that affected receptivity to the Christian Gospel among non-Christian peoples. In 1965, he organized the School of World Mission at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, which was the institutional homebase for Church Growth studies until after his death. It has been the training ground for tens of thousands of pastors and missionaries of one hundred mainly evangelical denominations.


Two key attributes of Church Growth are a passion for the "Great Commission"

(Matt: 18:16Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them.17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted.18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them inthe name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”) 

and a willingness to apply research to attracting members, including quantitative methods.

The "seeker sensitive" label is associated with some megachurches in the United States where Christian messages are often imparted by means of elaborate spectacles with elements drawn from secularpopular culture, such as rock music. Such churches often also develop a wide range of activities to draw in families at different stages in their lives.

Three key approaches include:

  • The "Attractive Church Model", which was set forth by Rick Warren's book, "The Purpose-Driven Church". In this model, programs (such as daycare, sports programs, classes, and contemporary music and worship) are created which attract people from the community to the church.
  • The "Missional Church Model", which was set forth by Michael Slaughter of Ginghamsburg UMC. In this model, missional activities are developed to which people are drawn to participate. As they participate, they gradually become involved in the life of the church.
  • The "Praise God to Friends and Neighbors Model", set forth by Brian L. Boley's book, "How to Share the Gospel: A Proven Approach for Ordinary People". In this model, members of the congregation begin to praise God to friends and neighbors. As they praise God, they are eventually seen as "God-experts", and people begin to inquire of them about spiritual issues.


  • George Mair in A Life With Purpose: Reverend Rick Warren: The Most Inspiring Pastor of Our Time (2005), p. 93-94:

"Reverend Normann Vincent Peale is, to many, the most prophetic and moving New Age preacher of the twentieth century.  He is also the father of the self-help movement that formed the groundwork for the church Growth Movement.  Peale formed perhaps the most dramatic and meaningful link between religion and psychology of any religious leader in history.  It is this same approachable, therapeutic brand of religion that many mega churches, including Saddleback, put forward today.  It is this kind of religion that is so appealing to the masses of unchurched men and women that Rick Warren hopes to reach.

  • From This Little Church Went to Market, by Gary Gilley, p. 61:

The church growth movement owes much to Robert Schuller. He claims to be its founder, at least in this country (USA), by being the first to launch the marketing approach in Christianity. "The secret of winning unchurched people into the church", Schuller said, "is realy quite simple. Find out what would impress the nonchurched in your community [then give it to them]." Believing that expository preaching is a waste of time, and borrowing the philosophy of his mentor Norman Vincent Peale, Schuller "began to communicate a message of Christianity that focused on meeting the emotional and psychological needs of people." Schuller laid out his philosophy of ministry in his 1982 book Self Esteem; The New Reformation, in whish he called for a radical shift in the church's focus from God to human needs. The most important issue before Schuller was to determine, through some means, the deepest human need upon which the church should focus. He decided that mankind's most fundamental need was self-esteem; a 'need' nowhere mentioned, alluded to or even hinted at in the Bible. He then went on to wrap his theology and church growth strategy around this all-important need. Originally Schuller's church growth philosophy met with scorn and denunciation by conservative Christians everywhere. But while Christian leaders held the theological front against need-oriented Christianity they were out-flanked by pragmatism. It just so happened that Schuller's methodology worked, and those who employed it were seeing exponential growth in their churches. In most arenas truth doesn't stand a chance against success; this proved to be the case in the church growth wars.

If Robert Schuller was the architect of the user-friendly church, then Bill Hybels, pastor of Willow Creek Community church, became the contractor.  Working from Schuller's premise that, as Strobel would later communicate, 'The most effective messages for seekers are those that address their felt need', it remained for Hybels and company to determine which felt-needs required most attention.  Leading the pack, Hybels decided, was not self-esteem, as Schuller taught, although he did not reject it, but rather personal fulfilment (or the pursuit of happiness).  This view was derived from secular psychology, not the Bible, ...  Fulfilment was followed by identity, companionship, marriage, family, relief of stress, meaning and morality.  To Hybels, fulfilment was the felt need that encompassed and defined all others.

From Christianity Today Apr. 9, 2014, by Ed Stetzer:

A Catalyst that Fostered a Movement: Thoughts on Bob Buford and Leadership Network

 It was Bob Bufords influence that led to the rise of significant teaching churches, which has essentially replaced the Church Growth Movement and remapped evangelicalism and beyond. ... New movements like Calvary Chapel and the Vineyard reinvented the church.  They changed the ways that churches worshipped and approached culture. Soon other churches took the new approach to worship and culture, and started to add a new approach to leadership.

"About that time, Bob Buford decided to find what he called "islands of strength" in the church and invest in them. The hope was that it would lead to an exponential return. The investment paid off.  Buford helped take a new approach to ministry, a reinvention of American Protestantism, and fused it with leadership savvy, the principles he learned from Peter Drucker. Of course, Drucker was interested in the megachurch himself. He once told Forbes magazine, "pastoral megachurches are surely the most important social phenomenon in American society in the last thirty years."  Together, Buford and Drucker made a huge impact on the direction of the church. Simply put, your church probably sings like a Calvary Chapel, but is led like a Saddleback. Those two men are part of the reason why."

From Church Growth Today According to Dr. John Vaughan of Church Growth Today, America's 100 largest churches now begin at 8,000 average weekend attendance (evangelical denominational and Independent churches). America's 200 largest churches now begin at 5,500 average weekend attendance. The weekend attendance of both the smallest churches and the largest churches in Church Growth Today's "America's 100 Largest Churches" have grown five times larger than at the beginning of the decade (2000-2010).

Large Protestant churches in the United States:

Church City State Pastor(s) Membership Denomination Multi-site? (w/number)
LifeChurch.TV Edmond OK Craig Groeschel 46,000 Evangelical Covenant Yes (15+1 online)
Lakewood Church Houston TX Joel Osteen 44,333 Non-denominational No
Saddleback Church Lake Forest CA Rick Warren 38,789 Southern Baptist Convention Yes (9) including Manila
Calvary Chapel of Fort Lauderdale Fort Lauderdale FL Bob Coy 30,000 Calvary Chapel
Christian Cultural Center Brooklyn NY A. R. Bernard 29,000 Non-denominational No
Second Baptist Church Houston TX Dr. Homer Edwin"Ed" Young 28,579 Southern Baptist Convention
Eagle Brook Church Hugo MN Bob Merritt 28,000 Non-denominational (Baptist originally) Yes (5)
First Baptist Church Jacksonville Jacksonville FL Mac Brunson 28,000 Southern Baptist Yes (3)
Prestonwood Baptist Church Plano TX Jack Graham 25,000 Southern Baptist Convention Yes (3)
Thomas Road Baptist Church Lynchburg VA Jonathan Falwell 24,000 Southern Baptist Yes (3)
North Point Community Church Alpharetta GA Andy Stanley 23,213 Southern Baptist Convention Yes (5)
Willow Creek Community Church South Barrington IL Bill Hybels 23,213 Non-Denominational Yes (7)
Greater Allen A. M. E. Cathedral of New York New York City NY Floyd H. Flake 23,000 African Methodist Episcopal
Central Christian Church Henderson NV Jud Wilhite 22,000 Christian churches and churches of Christ Yes (7)
Southeast Christian Church Middletown[a 1] KY Dave Stone 21,000 Christian churches and churches of Christ Yes (3)
Christ's Church of the Valley Peoria AZ Donald J. Wilson 20,000 Non-denominational
Gateway Church Southlake TX Robert Morris 20,000 Non-denominational Yes (5)
New Birth Missionary Baptist Church Lithonia GA Eddie L. Long 20,000 Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship No
New Light Christian Center Church Houston TX Ira V. Hilliard 20,000 Non-Denominational
West Angeles Cathedral Los Angeles CA Charles E. Blake 20,000 Church of God in Christ

Hillsong Sydney is an Australian Christian Church with 20,000 members.

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