Bethany House Publishers
Most active Christians probably would agree that God’s people are called to worship together in local congregations. They also might agree that they would like to see their home churches growing and getting larger, bringing the gospel to those who do not know Christ. Michael Fletcher, in his book Overcoming Barriers to Growth, shares his vision concerning this:
I want to see the church change the world, and average, everyday believers being the ones used by God to do it! . . . We don’t have time to sit in board meetings and fight over who is in charge. We have a world to change!” (p. 21)
Fletcher’s book is based on his pastoral experiences with a church of more than 4,000 active members, as well as being the leader of Grace Churches International, a consortium of 189 churches in 43 countries. Overcoming Barriers to Growth is an attempt to help pastors and congregations work through problems that stymie growth, especially at what Fletcher sees as two critical barriers or stages. The first barrier to church growth is when a small congregation hits the 200 member level, and the second barrier when a medium-sized congregation hits the 700 to 800 member level. The rest of his work fleshes out pragmatic steps churches and pastors should take to overcome these twin barriers.
In the opinion of this reviewer, there are a number of positives in this book, especially Fletcher’s statements that faith, prayer, and obtaining a vision from God are essential ingredients for any blessings or growth. Similarly, there are many principles Fletcher provides to assist churches in formulating a polity or structure to ensure a strong foundation for growth. A prime example of this is when he discusses how small churches with a “shepherd model” of leadership must shift to a “rancher model” or group leadership when they get larger (Chapter Three).
However, while there is great deal of information and practical suggestions in this relatively short (139 pages) work, none of them really settle or answer questions that critics and supporters of church growth principles have debated for the last twenty years. Foes of “church growth” philosophies (not opposing churches actually growing) will complain that Fletcher’s book is much too anthropocentric instead of theocentric. That is, there is far too much emphasis on human strategies and programs and not enough emphasis on God’s leading and guiding.
One example of this is that although Fletcher emphasizes seeking God as the beginning point in the discussion, there is very little scriptural support for the principles that follow. As one reads through this work, it seems that much of what is discussed is based more on sociological principles than theological exegesis.
A second area that is problematic relates to the scriptural supports actually used. One prime example must suffice here. Fletcher repeatedly insists that the vision for a church can only come from one person, the pastor. “All of this dreaming, praying, believing, and seeing happens in the heart of one person. That is why the formation of vision is a solo project” (p. 27). Fletcher continuously gives this as the foundational starting point for churches to grow:
The first question for leadership is “What?” What is God’s plan for this house? What is the vision, the mission for which this church has been established by God? The answer, as I have already shared, is given by one person – the senior leader. (p. 34, emphasis added)
Many would object here, including this reviewer, that this is a very autocratic and possibly dangerous polity. In Acts 13:2 we are told, “While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabus and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’” The “they” referred to here is the group of leaders in the church of Antioch, not just one person. Time after time, Fletcher cites Old Testament examples of various prophets, including Moses, as examples of God leading through only one person. However, most would argue that Old Testament examples are not normative for how God leads and guides His church today. No corresponding New Testament citations can be given to support his view on this.
One Old Testament passage that does relate here is Proverbs 11:14. “In the multitude of counselors there is safety.” This pertains just as much to the formulation of a church’s vision as it does in carrying it out. More examples could be given, but in the end both supporters and detractors of church growth principles probably will not come away from reading this book with changed minds. As with anything, take the good that you find and leave behind whatever you feel is not biblical or appropriate. – Joseph P. Gudel, Christian Book Previews.com
Know What Lies Ahead for Your Church
Each local church is unique and has its own personality. But almost every congregation will face the same numerical barriers, according to decades of church growth research. These barriers can sidetrack good churches and leave their pastors and leadership teams wondering why attendance has slowed, plateaued, or even declined.
Drawing from tried and true success with his own church and from years of working with other churches worldwide, Michael Fletcher explains that internal changes--not external--are the key to clearing these hurdles.