Church Growth in a Consumer Culture: What is the Calling of the Local Church?
September 9, 2003, 7:30-9:00 PM
Edman Memorial Chapel, Wheaton College
Today's evangelical churches wrestle with questions about worship style, ministry focus, and evangelistic techniques. Many successful ministries rely on seeker-friendly approaches and intentionally strategize ways to attract target audiences. Other pastors and theologians challenge this approach, believing that the local church ought to avoid appealing to the seeker as consumer. What then, is the mission of the local church? Are marketing techniques appropriate for growing the body of Jesus Christ? Ought churches strategically appeal to the needs and preferences of the unchurched?
From left to right: Douglas D. Webster, D. Steven Long, George G. Hunter III, Jim Van Yperen, S. Craig Bishop.
"The local church must strategize its appeal to unchurched people." vs. "The local church must avoid a marketing approach that targets the unchurched."
Dr. S. Craig Bishop
BranchCreek Community Church
S. Craig Bishop, D.Min., currently serves as Senior Leader at BranchCreek Community Church in Harleysville, Pennsylvania. He was one of the founding fathers of the church twenty-eight years ago. Dr. Bishop coaches a team of local community pastors on the principles of Church Growth and serves nationally as a Champion Church Leader teaching Purpose-Driven concepts to pastors and local congregations. Dr. Bishop is currently writing two books: Christian Principles in the Workplace and The Church as a Learning Organization.
Dr. George G. Hunter III
Professor of Evangelism & Church Growth
Asbury Theological Seminary
George G. Hunter, III, Ph.D., is Professor of Evangelism and Church Growth at Asbury Theological Seminary in Asbury, Kentucky. As a young seminary student, he had an experience with surfers, beatniks, and body builders that sent him on a lifetime quest that has placed him among the world's leading authorities on communicating the Gospel to secular people. He has authored ten books that relate to this subject, the latest being, Radical Outreach (Abingdon Press 2003). Dr. Hunter is co-founder of the American Society for Church Growth and founder of the Academy for Evangelism in Theological Education. In 2001, Dr. Hunter was named Asbury Seminary's first Distinguished Professor.
Dr. Stephen Long
Associate Professor of Systematic Theology
Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary Northwestern University
D. Stephen Long, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, Northwestern University. He is author of several books; the recent is The Divine Economy: Theology and the Market. Before coming to Garrett Evangelical in 1998, Dr. Long was Assistant Professor of Theology at St. Joseph's University. He is an ordained United Methodist minister in the North Indiana Annual Conference and has served churches in the North Carolina Annual Conference and in Honduras in the Caribbean Council of the Methodist Churches.
Dr. Douglas D. Webster '73
First Presbyterian Church San Diego, California
Douglas D. Webster, Ph.D. '73, has been Senior Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of San Diego since 1993. Dr. Webster received his M.A. in 1975 from Wheaton and his Ph.D. from St. Michael's College, Toronto School of Theology. He has taught at Tyndale Seminary in Toronto and Bethel Seminary in San Diego. He is author of several books, including A Passion for Christ, Soulcraft, The Living Word, and Selling Jesus.
Jim Van Yperen '78
Executive Director & Co-Founder
Washington, New Hampshire
Jim Van Yperen '78 is Executive Director and co-founder of Metanoia Ministries, a non-profit Christian ministry dedicated to growing redemptive community in the evangelical church. He received a M.A. degree in Cross-Cultural Communications from Wheaton in 1980. Mr. Van Yperen is author of numerous resources, books newsletters magazine articles, and resource kits. He has served many conflicted churches, including six churches as an Intentional Interim Pastor-leading each church out of Conflict into a living community of Christ.
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These short pieces can be quickly scanned for an overview of issues and ideas.
A news article from the Associated Baptist Press provides a quick overview of the issue discussed in this debate.
Those in favor of church "marketing" rely on Biblical teachings about evangelism and church growth. The "Go Ye Chapel Mission," a church planting ministry based in New York, provides a brief defense of marketing approaches.
The "Purpose Driven" church movement, rooted in Pastor Rick Warren's ministry at Saddleback Community Church, often embraces marketing approaches as a component of church outreach. For a statement by Pastor Warren on church growth, see
One of the critiques of church marketing has come from scholars associated with the Ekklesia Project. One of our scheduled speakers, Prof. Steve Long, is affiliated with this group. Here is a brief excerpt from the book Christianity Inc., by Michael Budde and Robert Brimlow. Prof. Budde is a founder of the Ekklesia Project.
http://www.sojo.net/index.cfm?action=magazine.article&issue=soj0205&article=020532f (To see this page, copy this URL into address box of browser & click 'return'.)
One of our event speakers, Pastor Doug Webster, has written a brief article that provides his reflections on some contemporary approaches to church growth. http://www.fpcsd.org/resources/articles/ChurchGrowth-Organic.PDF
And we would be remiss if we didn't note that The World Congress of Fundamentalists, meeting at Bob Jones University in South Carolina, passed a resolution in July 1999 condemning marketing practices in the church.
Our speakers recommend the following excerpts as providing a good overview of their respective positions.
Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Church (Zondervan), pp. 155-160.
George Barna, The Habits of Highly Effective Churches (Regal), pp. 113-119.
George G. Hunter, III, Church for the Unchurched (Abingdon), chapter one.
D. Stephen Long, The Goodness of God (Brazos), pp. 256-260.
Douglas D. Webster, Selling Jesus (IVP), preface and chapter one.