Monday, July 31, 2006

21st Century Numerology

I read a fascinating little article today which caused me to say, "Amen" more than once. The article, found here, was written by Matt Friedman, a professor at Wesley Biblical Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi.

In his article, Professor Friedman analyzes a report by "Church Growth Today" (found here) which names the Top 50 Most Influential Churches in America. An interesting list, Friedman correctly points to some flaws and qualifiers regarding the list.

First, the report only consulted non-Roman Catholic clergy and only included non-Roman Catholic churches on its list. Is it that unreasonable to expect at least one congregation of the largest denomination in the country might make the list? What is "Church Growth Today" afraid of? Yes, Roman Catholic ministry tends to be very different from much Protestant ministry, but that doesn't invalidate an entire denomination.

Second, the report only consulted the pastors of the nation's largest (non-Roman Catholic) congregations. In other words, the report tells us how large church pastors influence one another, but may not say much about how influential these churches are among the majority of Christians in America, who do not worship in these "megachurches".

Finally, Professor Friedman properly asks if this poll is a fair and accurate measure of actual ministry. A rural congregation of 50 might be doing miraculous ministry in its context, and may be producing far more tasty fruit than a large megachurch; this little church may ultimately have far more influence than a megachurch.

Why does it seem that so many Christians in America are obsessed with size? Why do so many of us play the numbers game? Why are we at times seemingly unable to focus on people?

Now, that said, many of the churches which made the list are doing wonderful things. There's no denying the influence of Willow Creek and Saddleback. Southeast, Resurrection, Mars Hill, Frazer, and Windsor Village are all doing tremendous things. Some of the churches on the list have serious theological problems. Some present a very watered-down Gospel.

The point is that a tree which produces a great deal of fruit is not necessarily a tree which produces the best quality fruit or the tastiest fruit. Let us not get too preoccupied with contemporary numerology, which emphasizes numbers, at the expense of faithfully harvesting excellent fruit.

7 comments:

Jan said...

What are their "serious theological problems"?

Keith McIlwain said...

"Gospel of wealth" kind of stuff for one or two of them..."Hyper-Pentecostalism" for others..."Name-it-and Claim-It" stuff...things of that nature.

Brett said...

Keith, I agree with the first part of your blog, but to making broad-sweeping statements about a nebulous group of diverse churches is dangerous. I've seen hyper-pentecostalism and "name-it-and-claim-it" going on in our own denomination and in very small rural churches. The facts are that the article was not well founded. And the facts are that many small churches do great Kingdom work. And the facts are that some large churches do too.

Keith McIlwain said...

I agree with you 100%, Brett (now, listen for the hoofbeats of the horses of the Apoclaypse). There absolutely IS hyper-Pentecostalism, name-it-and-claim-it, etc. in our denomination, and likely in our very Conference. My claim only was that some of the named churches are excellent, while others have problems. But those problems didn't seem to matter as much as size to the folks who made the list...that was my point.

Chris said...

Hhmmm....is there some coincidence that Keith would post this on the anniversary of Germany declaring war on Russia, 1914? Perhaps my brother is in conflict with our larger church brethern.

Keith McIlwain said...

No conflict; my point is that church size doesn't necessarily indicate faithfulness or quality. Many non-megachurches, like Concord or Cornerstone, might well be more theologically sound and be producing tastier fruit than some of these congregations.

M Lewis said...

The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection was, I believe, on the list of most influential. Having visited the church and its staff on several occasions, I pray that it might be even more so.