The Community Church Movement
The Community Church Movement
The community church movement has grown out of a denominational background. The chief models are the Willow Creek Community Church in Illinois and the Saddleback Community Church in California. The textbook for the movement is The Purpose Driven Church by Rick Warren. Some of the characteristics of community churches, are the following:
Contemporary music. At Willow Creek a pop singer has replaced the choir, and a 10-piece rock band has replaced the organ. 2. Eliminating denominational names. Most community churches are disguised denominations, that is, they still hold to Baptist or Methodist creeds and teachings, but the name has been changed. As this movement has infiltrated churches of Christ, the name church of Christ has been diminished or eliminated. 3. Casual emphasis in worship, both in style and dress. 4. Different kind of leadership model rather than elders who have authority. 5. Praise teams and entertainment orientation in worship. 6. A greater emphasis on "self", including one’s own feelings and emotions. 7. De-emphasis on doctrine, and among churches of Christ, an emphasis of the restoration plea. 8. A market-driven program, that is, striving to provide what people want or what they are seeking, rather than what God says they need.
Concern Even in the Denominational World
In his book, Ashamed of the Gospel, John MacArthur writes against the "market-driven" approach to religion. Here is how he describes the philosophy behind the community church movement: "Provide non-Christians with an agreeable, inoffensive environment. Give them freedom, tolerance, and anonymity. Always be positive and benevolent. If you must have a sermon, keep it brief and amusing. Don’t be preachy or authoritative. Above all, keep everyone entertained. Churches following this pattern will see numerical growth, we’re assured; those that ignore it are doomed to decline" (pp. 45-46). "Preaching—particularly preaching about sin, righteousness, and judgment—is too confrontive to be truly satisfying. The church must learn to couch the truth in ways that amuse and entertain" (p. 23). In contrast to such a philosophy of preaching that entertains, the Bible commands preaching that convicts the heart and moves the sinner to repentance(Matthew 4:17; Luke 13:3; Acts 17:30; 26:20; 20:21; 2 Corinthians 5:9-10; Acts 24:25 "And as he was discussing righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come").
- Please note that we can preach the truth, urge people to repent, expose error and still greet people in a warm and friendly manner. Jesus ate with sinners and continued to preach the truth. We can make people feel welcome, but we are making a mistake if we want them to avoid any discomfort at all. The Word of God will naturally cause any sinner to feel uncomfortable at times (Hebrews 4:12; John 16:8; Acts 2:37). Remember, life is not about avoiding discomfort.
- People who wanted sinners to feel no discomfort were labeled as false prophets in times past, (Isaiah 30:10; Jeremiah 8:11).Spiritual growth many times requires being convicted and being uncomfortable (Matthew 5:3-4).
An Old Problem
In his book, MacArthur quotes often from the 19th century Baptist preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon. Spurgeon was probably the most well known denominational preacher of his time. He became concerned with what he saw as a "down-grade", meaning that he saw faith going downhill (we would say the "slippery-slope"). The Downgrade controversy began with Spurgeon’s publication of two anonymous articles by a fellow Baptist, which lament trends away from biblical fundamentals, compromises with the world, and the unwillingness of even otherwise orthodox preachers to oppose those whose soundness was questionable. He saw evangelicals using entertainment as a tool for church growth, and he believed that was subverting the church’s priorities. He feared that frivolous diversions and carnal amusements in the church would eventually destroy people’s appetites for real worship and preaching of God’s Word. Paul seems to have described the same worldly attitude in 2 Timothy 4:3, and Isaiah saw the same problem among his contemporaries (Isaiah 30:9). We need to remember that there is another kind of "worldliness" besides drinking and fornicating. It is the worldly desire to be seen as sophisticated, to fit in, to no longer be different, to be viewed as "cool", "hip", "on the cutting edge," and on what the world would call "a winning team" (Romans 12:1-2). Indifference toward doctrine is only one step away from indifference to immorality (Romans 1:23-24).
Among Liberal Churches
Various schools supported by liberal churches of Christ are known to be promoting the Community Church, these are Abilene Christian University, Harding University, Oklahoma Christian University, Lipscomb University, and Pepperdine University. The Downtown Church, the joint world of the Highland Church of Christ, and Harding Graduate School of Religion, has borrowed from denominationalism by employing the use of a praise team to replace the song leader, the clapping of hands during the singing; the presence of icons in worship, and testimonials from the congregation. Other practices that are usually associated with the movement in liberal churches are, drama presentations, observing religious holidays, dedicating babies, children’s worship, and the adoption of instrumental music in worship.
Even when these churches arise in the denominational world, the philosophy often is that the mainline group isn’t warm or compassionate towards unbelievers. Doug Varnado, preacher for the Hendersonville Community Church, was recently forced out as a faulty member at David Lipscomb University because where he serves began employing, on a periodic basis, recorded instrumental music in worship. In an interview he noted, "It’s unimportant if the church adds instrumental music on occasion. More important, is a faith community that shows compassion for people seeking God at the end of the 20th century". The trouble with this statement, and others that seek to downgrade doctrinal matters, is that true compassion means truly bringing people out of darkness into God’s light, which includes God’s view of things, including how He wants to be worshipped.
- Often people will try to justify the absence of any doctrinal or convicting preaching by saying that they want people to feel comfortable in the assembly and eventually these topics will be addressed. First, I have found that once one adopts this attitude, those topics never get addressed, for there is never a "convenient time" once you have bought into the idea that people should always feel comfortable (2 Timothy 4:2).
- True compassion means recognizing the facts that a person is lost, that they believe things that are false, and that until those issues are addressed, they can’t be saved (Acts 17:22ff; 3:14). It is noteworthy, that Jesus didn’t put-off confronting people with what stood between them and eternal life (Mark 10:21).
Various liberal congregations have dropped the designation "church of Christ", arguing that people are turned off by such terms. But such a name is Biblical (Romans 16:16). I have found that dropping the name virtually equals dropping what the name represents, that is, the church that is following Christ, New Testament Christianity, and the church that Jesus founded. Secondly, such is a deceptive practice. It is better to be honest and upfront with people, than try to lure them in under false pretenses ( 1 Peter 2:1 "putting away all guile").
Targeting Your Audience
Far from going out and trying to save everyone (Mark 16:15), the community church movement often targets a select group of people whom they are trying to attract. MacArthur notes, "Why do you suppose nearly all the user-friendly churches identify their ‘target market’ as young suburban professionals and other moneyed groups? Why are so few of these churches targeting the poor and inner city? The answer may be obvious. One leading pastor in the movement says, ‘A pastor can define his appropriate target audience by determining with whom he would like to spend a vacation or an afternoon of recreation’. It would be hard to imagine a ministry philosophy more at odds with the Word of God than that" (p. 126). Paul actually found that "suburban professionals", rejected the truth (1 Corinthians 1:26; Matthew 11:5).
Willow Creek, which is held up as the model of church growth, recently did an internal audit, in which they found that only 2% of their growth consisted of new converts. The rest of the people simply came from other churches in the area. MacArthur observes, "User-friendly, entertainment-oriented, market-driven, pragmatic churches will probably continue to flourish for a while. Unfortunately, however, the whole movement is based on current fashion and therefore cannot last long. When the fickle winds finally change, one of three things may happen. These churches will fall out of vogue and wane; or they will opt to change with the spirit of the age and very likely abandon any semblance of biblical Christianity; or they will see the need to rebuild on a more sure foundation" (p. 188). (See Acts 17:21; Ephesians 4:14). Such congregations have made the mistake of giving people what they think they need, instead of what God says they need. "Those who advocate a contemporary style of worship tell us that if we want success and growth in the church, and if we want to keep our young people, we must do things in new and different ways. But, consider this: When the ‘new’ wears off and the ‘different’ becomes customary, what happens then?" (The Spiritual Sword, October 2000, p. 27). One cry that was heard in the denominations and is being heard in liberal churches today is that "We are bored" with the same old songs, prayers, and preaching, but people also become bored with entertainment as well. People were bored with the Olympics, claim to be bored by the present World Series and so on. The truth of the matter is, as long as one is selfish, eventually everything will seem boring to you. I like the following comment: "Instead of attempting to renovate worship for our own benefit, what we need to do is cultivate our appetites for pure, New Testament worship (John 4:24; Habakkuk 2:20)" (p. 27).
Mark Dunagan/Beaverton Church of Christ/503-644-9017