Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Something Old, Something New . . .

I saw it in the newsletter of a congregation I was once a member of.  It is called "Natural Church Development".  I was curious.  The few comments about the program indicated that they had gotten the materials from somewhere official.  The program information suggested it was similar to a host of "church growth" programs.  I wondered where it had come from and who was behind it.  That sort of information often speaks volumes about things - church programs in particular.

So, I "googled" it.  I discovered that it was a program of the Seventh-Day Adventists.  As I read the materials available on-line, I found that it was pretty much a rehashing of the same-old church growth stuff.  It claimed that it was not, and that it was all about allowing the Word of God and the Power of God to cause the church to grow all by itself.  The only problem was that it identified concern over things such as sound doctrine as "legalism" which was detrimental to the growth of the church and of the eight characteristics of a "healthy" church.

The materials quoted by the pastor of the congregation focus on depending on the Word to work all by itself (which is a special phrase in NCD, they call it the "all by itself" principle).  The other materials talk about being "scientific" about things.  The Holy Spirit is the only one who can make the church grow, but if we get out of the way of the Holy Spirit (by doing things as they ought to be done properly) the church will grow.

The materials tell us that the purpose of the NCD program is not numerical growth or increased money in the coffers.  But then the materials go on to say that those churches that have used three or more surveys by the group - and their 'coaches', of course - have a track record of 51% growth in those areas.

I don't want to repeat the eight points of the program.  You can search that out for yourself.  But a "healthy" church, they report, does not care about "right doctrine".  Spiritual worship is "fun" and filled with laughter.  And small groups are very important (not "cells", mind you), but their focus is not supposed to be about teaching what the Word of God says.  No, "holistic groups . . . go beyond just discussing Bible passages to applying its message to daily life" - whatever that may mean.  And the "holistic" group is really focused on reaching out to those who do not belong to the church.  "The meaning of the term "discipleship" becomes practical in the context of holistic small groups: the transfer of life, not rote learning of abstract concepts."

Oh, yes, and Evangelism is about meeting needs.  "Need-oriented evangelism intentionally cultivates relationships with pre-Christian people".  It is to be need-centered, not message centered.  "Using appropriate ministries and authentic relationships, believers can guide others into the family of God."

The congregation in whose newsletter I noticed this program is always facing a financial challenge.  They operate a day school, K thru 8 -- and it is a good school!  I also noticed that the starter kit for this program is $175.  Never let an opportunity to make some money slip by!

The program is church growth warmed over and dressed in scientific respectability.  It is about butts in the pew and cash in the coffers, not about church or salvation at all.  It is like yogurt, you can flavor it any way you want so that it can seem Lutheran, for example, but it is fundamentally guided by those surveys and how your church is or is not meeting the goals and fitting the paradigm of a "healthy" congregation.

The ELCA is all over this program.  And now, it seems that the Missouri Synod is awakening to it, too.  Pastors beware!

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