All of this comes to a critical junction when we begin to talk about the Church. While we might describe individual life in the Kingdom in terms of submission to God’s lordship, our description of corporate life never really gets beyond simply stockpiling individuals. Churches are successful when they gather individuals; perhaps helping those individuals to have ‘Kingdom experiences,’ but the conversation does not elevate to the level of discussing power structures in the Church, or power structures in the wider culture.
The proponents of ‘Church Growth’ have essentially set aside Kingdom theology on a corporate level. There is an unquestioned assent to the suburban ‘bigger is better’ mindset. The Churches who buy in to this theological framework begin to reflect the suburban culture: taglines and advertising campaigns that are designed to exploit and promote individualism and consumerism, programs and staff that are designed to meet people’s demands for comfort and entertainment, heavy investment in facilities designed to meet people’s consumer expectations.
A theology of Church Growth often explicitly promotes strategies that sacrifice Kingdom purposes in order to gain attendance at weekly events; two simple examples of this are the specific targeting of fast growing suburban communities, and the explicit targeting of groups that are culturally similar to the planting team. In targeting a rapidly growing suburban community for a new Church, the planter is able to advertise and gather a crowd of people who are new to the neighborhood, and have yet to find a church. Instead of asking ‘where is the Kingdom needed and how can I participate in its coming?’ the planter is asking, ‘where can I establish the largest possible weekly service with the least amount of work and relational connection?’
Even more problematic is the targeting of specific classes or ethnic groups because of the planter’s affinity for them (I will refrain from using the term ‘explicit racism’). In attempting to reach people with whom they share similar cultural backgrounds they are able to provide people with a religious experience that does not require any jarring cross-cultural relationships. Instead of asking ‘what should a Kingdom people look like with respect to ethnicity and class?’ the planter is asking, ‘how can I gather the largest possible crowd with the least amount of discomfort and conflict?’
In both cases a fundamental shift is made in the mindset of the Church from seeking God’s will no matter the cost, to seeking large crowds at weekly events no matter the cost. In short, a Church Growth theology assumes that God’s will in nearly every and all circumstances is to have as many people as possible gathered together in large rooms for an hour or two once a week! Within a theology of Church Growth there are very few Biblical concepts that are not sacrificed at the altar of this golden calf. Our description of the Kingdom in terms of financial well-being, cultural influence, and sheer numerical size is the major factor encouraging evangelical churches to commit to suburban missions.
In an urban context, everything is slower. As Bob Lupton has said, “There are too many people with a fifteen year strategy and a two year commitment;”10 this does not sit well with proponents of Church Growth. Struggling with issues of racial tension, reconciling the radical cultural differences between socio-economic classes, navigating language barriers, as well as combating illiteracy, addiction, neglect, abuse, even hygiene problems, simply are not on the radar screen if our goal is Church Growth. It is simpler and easier to achieve numerical success in a context where systems are healthier, people are wealthier, and the culture is homogenous. It is for this reason that Evangelicals are committing to suburban missions; we are committed to the theology of Church Growth.