by Flavil Yeakley, Jr. 1

Church Growth Magazine 15 (October - December, 2000): 3-4.

"People who have an “anti-Church of Christ" bias tend to be in the segment of the population that is the least likely to convert. Around one-third of the people in America are active members of some denomination. Most of them are uninformed about us, not prejudiced against us. But the statistical record clearly shows that those who are satisfied members of some denomination are the least likely to convert.."

God's purpose is fulfilled when we make disciples who make other disciples and plant churches that plant other churches. People become disciples of Christ when we share with them the good news about Jesus. All Christians are supposed to be involved in this process. We may not all be soul winners," but we can all be involved in the effort. All Christians can use the gifts God gave them in order to serve others. 

Friends sitting on the grass, enjoying an outdoors music, culture, community event, festival.

Through this service they can build the kind of relationships with friends and relatives that provide the context in which people are most likely to be receptive to the gospel. If you knew enough to become a Christian, you already know enough to tell someone else why you did what you did. That may not be enough to bring them to the point of conversion, but it can take them one step closer. If you tell them what you know how to tell them and get them to study with someone else for the rest, all of you working together will lead many of the lost to Christ and salvation. That is the kind of church growth strategy that works.

Some things that Christians talk about a lot do not produce church growth. For example, people will not come to your church just because you change its name. Some Christians think that there is a major prejudice against the “Church of Christ" name. I would, of course, defend the right of a congregation to use any name that is consistent with biblical teaching. But it is not wise to change just for the sake of change. People are not staying away because of the “Church of Christ" name. Some may be staying away because of what they think that name represents. They may object to our teaching about baptism, weekly observance of the Lord's Supper, singing without instrumental music, our practice of using only males as preachers or elders, or something else. But changing the name without changing these doctrines and practices will not attract those who are prejudiced against us.

People who have an “anti-Church of Christ" bias tend to be in the segment of the population that is the least likely to convert. Around one-third of the people in America are active members of some denomination. Most of them are uninformed about us, not prejudiced against us. But the statistical record clearly shows that those who are satisfied members of some denomination are the least likely to convert. Another third of the population are claimed by some denomination, but they do not attend church services. These are more likely to convert, but they are also more likely to be uninformed about us, not prejudiced against us. The remaining third of the people in America are not claimed by any local congregation affiliated with any denomination. These are the most likely to convert if approached in the right way. But these are also the most likely to be uninformed about us and to have no prejudice against us. Regardless) just changing the name of a congregation is not going to attract people.

Some Christians think that people would be attracted to our congregation if we just had a new building in a better location) more parking space, an attended nursery, contemporary music led by a "praise team," two services, small groups instead of Sunday or Wednesday evening services, etc. Some of these things may remove barriers to growth. But churches do not grow just because barriers are removed. There are at least two major problems with this kind of thinking. First, it puts the emphasis on the church rather than on Christ. And second, it defines success in terms of attracting as many people as possible to the church. Some people think that this is what the Church Growth Movement is all about, but they are wrong.

Donald McGavran, the father of the Church Growth Movement, said that the goal of the church should be to "win the winnable while they are winnable." He recognized that there are some people who are receptive to the gospel and others who are not. The strategy that he recommended was to "occupy resistant fields lightly." He wanted the church to have a few missionaries in resistant fields so that we will know when a resistant field becomes receptive. But he wanted the church to focus most of its resources on reaching those who are receptive. Some people say, "Everyone in the world has the right to hear the gospel once before anyone has the right to hear it twice." That slogan has a certain appeal, but it suggests the wrong strategy. It suggests that the church should place the highest priority on going to people who have never beard the gospel. McGavran suggested that going to people who are the most likely to be receptive should have the highest priority.

The final authority, of course, is what the Bible says, not what Donald McGavran said. But the Bible clearly teaches that some people will be receptive to the gospel, but others will not. In 2 Corinthians 2:14-16, Paul uses an unusual figure of speech to explain the nature of sharing the gospel of Christ. He said that our task is to spread "the fragrance of the knowledge of him." Paul said that in our lives and in our message, others are to experience "the aroma of Christ." But he also said that the response to that aroma will be dramatically different among two classes of people. Among those who are perishing, we are the smell of death. Among those who are being saved, we are the fragrance of life.

In 2 Corinthians 4:3-4, Paul explained why some people are not receptive to the gospel. He said, "And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God." That is what happened to the Pharisees. In John 8, Jesus explained to the Pharisees why they did not believe. In verse 37, Jesus said that it was because "you have no room for my word." In verse 43, He said, "Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say." And in verse 47, He said, "He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God."

Romans 8:28-30 teaches that some people are predestined to be saved. When Paul and Barnabas preached the gospel in Pisidian Antioch, Luke tells us that "all who were appointed for eternal life believed" (Acts 13:48). When Paul was in Corinth, God appeared to him in a vision and said, "I have many people in this city" (Acts 18:10). But the people of Corinth had not yet even heard the gospel. They had not yet believed or repented. They had not confessed faith in Christ. They had not been baptized. However, God still called them "His people."

There are two classes of people. Some have good honest hearts. They are seeking truth. God has predestined that when they hear the gospel of Christ, they will believe it, obey, and be saved. But there are other people who do not love truth. When they hear the gospel, they will not believe or obey.

The church is not supposed to be attractive to everyone. The purpose of the church should be to attract, reach, teach, and convert all of those who love truth. But if the church does this, it will be repulsive to those who do not love truth. If there are things about our methods, customs, or traditions that get in the way of reaching the honest truth seekers, we should change. But if we are changing in the hope of attracting everyone, our strategy is misguided.

1 Flavil Yeakley, Jr. is director of the Church Growth Institute at Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas. He has authored numerous books, and conducts a variety of training workshops in the field of church growth. Presently, Flavil is serving as the President of the North American Society for Church Growth. This article was published in Church Growth Magazine 15 (October - December, 2000): 8 - 9.