"In his book, Color Your World with Natural Church Development, author Christian Schwarz identifies multiplication as one of the six growth forces relating to the Church, explaining that this is not just a multiplication of believers but a principle that works out in all that we do in church planting. Schwarz says he was once asked by Donald McGavran, recognized as the father of the church growth movement, “What is the true fruit of an apple tree?” Schwarz replied, “It’s an apple, of course.” Then McGavran said, “You’re wrong. The true fruit of an apple tree is not an apple, but another apple tree.”
I have heard this most of my ministry and even have shared it from the pulpit, but is it true? The church growth movement is built on slogans that are not Biblical and which produce more frustrated and burned out pastors than can be counted. First, I am a fan of Donald McGavran and Christian Schwarz. They have brought a lot to the table for healthy growing churches but, they have not always been right. I pastor a small healthy church. Over the last twenty years we have ministered to thousands. Some short term others for longer periods of time. Some have left to go to bigger churches. Some of left to move across the country and some have just up and left. I have move from the church growth mindset to a healthy church understanding and mindset. The church I currently pastor was larger and it was not a healthy place to be as a baby believer. We have changed our focus and our understanding of church and it has helped us. I still believe in church growth but how it grows and what my responsibility is has changed. The purpose of the Apple tree and the purpose of the church may be different than what we have been taught for the last forty years.
Let me go back to that statement about the purpose of an apple tree. It sounds good but is that why God created the apple tree?
Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. Genesis 1.29 Emphasis added
God gave the tree to be food. Yes he put seeds inside so it could be there from generation to generation, but the overwhelming majority of the seeds will never be a tree. The purpose of a tree is for food. Remember God said that, not me.
So if the tree is for food what is the purpose of the church? The church is to provide spiritual food for the believers. When Jesus reinstated Peter after the resurrection His directions to him were, "Feed my Lambs, Take care of my sheep, Feed my sheep." John 21. 15, -17 Emphasis added
As Luke Timothy Johnson points out in his Great Courses lectures, the early church growth was steady but historically was not as dramatic or exponential as church growth propionates want us to believe. It was achieved by a one on one sharing and was not a evangelistic effort of the church. The call for the church to plant churches forgets or ignores the teachings of Jesus, "I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it."
This is not meant to serve as a cop out to do nothing but it is meant to focus on individual discipleship and the real reason for the church. The local leadership here in the local church still looks at how to reach the lost and we count how many are hear every week. We look at strategies for reaching the lost. The reason we meet every week is to strengthen and feed believers so they can be the messengers of Jesus to their friends, family, neighbors and the strangers they will meet.
I am not against planting churches, church outreach campaigns or a lot of our modern tactics to reach a very lost and spiritually needy world. I am against neat slogans that sound good but which misrepresent the kingdom and the Word of God. I am all about healthy churches both large and small that are feeding and caring for Jesus' lambs and sheep.
Finally, Donald McGavran, may be recognized as the father of the church growth movement by many but personally I think it was Jesus. It is His church and He has been building it for the last 2,000 years.
Bob Highlands III
© 2016 Bob Highlands III
© 2017 Bob Highlands III