Catalyst One Day was an eight hour gathering of a few thousand pastors and church leaders (and maybe some secular business people) put on by the fellas from North Point Ministries in Atlanta, GA. This particular event was held a couple days ago at Granger Community Church in Granger, IN, the town in which I live. Andy Stanley and Craig Groeschel were the speakers and Steve Fee led a few songs. The purpose of the gathering was...well, I'm not exactly sure. I can't find a stated objective anywhere in the materials they gave us. I think it was a leadership conference, you know, like a John Maxwell thing. But at the end of the day, based on what I experienced, I would say that the purpose of Catalyst One Day was to give everyone present a bunch of pragmatic principles to grow the size of your organization.

What I found most irritating was the lack of biblical support for anything and everything they asserted "works" and is "effective" and produces "results." Additionally, the goal of all of these methods and pragmatism was never stated. Now let me give reason for my aforementioned criticisms.

Andy Stanley's first talk was called "Gaining and Sustaining Momentum." The thrust of his speech was that if you want to successfully create and keep momentum, which he defines as "forward motion fueled by a series of wins," then everything you do must be "new, improved, and improving." Now, let me just say that I went into this conference very objectively. In fact, I was really looking forward to hearing Stanley. This was my first time ever hearing anything from him (I've never read his books or listened to any sermons by him or anything). I have heard of so much good that has come out of North Point over the years and have sort of celebratized Stanley in my mind. So when I heard him say, with no biblical support and no stated goal, that everything you decide to do as church leaders must be "new, noticeably improved and continuously improving," you can imagine where my heart went, which longs for the incorporation of ancient practices and historically informed worship, not primarily because that's what I found "works," but because that is what I have found best facilitates proclaiming the Gospel, combating the culture of self-seeking entertainment, developing and qualitatively growing biblical community, and the list goes on.

But no, during and after Stanley's talk, in addition to wondering why He gave no biblical support, I was left with the following questions: If we must continuously come up with new and innovative methods, doesn't that cause the demand on us to continually increase to outdo our last program, project, or product? When does it end? Isn't God eternally unchanging and not "continuously improving"? To what end do we "improve": Growing in number by attracting lots of people? Shouldn't the source and standard of our "improvement" be Christ and His righteousness? Shouldn't the goal be reaching as many people as possible with the Gospel and seeing lives transformed by the power of the Gospel? What is the product; the most attractional, cutting-edge technology itself? Shouldn't that just be a medium to proclaiming the Gospel?

None of these questions were addressed (and he can't justify not addressing these questions by having a short "Q & A" time after his talk; one of the first rules of argument is to defend your assertions by answering anticipated objections before they are stated). Now, I know what Stanley's response would be, as well as most of yours, "In a conference filled with a bunch of pastors and church leaders, it is assumed that the goal of all of this innovation and continual improvement is to more effectively and relevantly minister to people. I would argue, however, that without someone like Stanley clearly stating that goal, and not only stating it but spending adequate time showing us what that looks like, most of the people present (represented mainly by church leaders of smaller, struggling churches who look up to the mega-successful ones like Stanley and other celebrities) will perceive the unstated goal as growing the size of your church. And that is what they'll strive for.

Think about it, let me quote a couple excerpts from the bios of these guys printed in the conference packet: "North Point Ministries is now one of the fastest growing and most influential Christian organizations in America. Each Sunday, more than 20,000 adults attend services at one of NPM's three campuses in the Atlanta area." "Steve Fee...[has] been featured at Passion and Catalyst conferences, and also as worship leader at North Point Community Church in Atlanta, one of the nation's fastest growing churches." "Craig [Groeschel's] creative leadership skills are changing the way church is done worldwide. Under his leadership, LifeChurch.tv has become one of the country's first multi-campus churches, with over 50 weekend worship experiences at 13 locations throughout the United States."

Tell me, what are we "less successful" pastors going to think after reading this and then listening to these "gods" give unsupported pragmatic principles with no stated goal? I'll tell you what we will think: We will think that success is measured by the number of people we attract and continue appealing to. This is typical Contemporary mega-church methodology, and it is initiated by their inability to measure the true spiritual growth of their customers. Okay, I'll tone it down.

Biblical "continuous improvement" is conforming to Christ's righteousness. The challenge for church leaders should be ensuring that their people are improving in this way. Read my post on "Measuring Qualitative Growth." There you will find (attempted) biblical exposition of what true Church growth should look like.

Let me say something nice. I enjoyed Craig Groeschel's simplicity and candor. Despite the fact that he only used two Bible verses (questionably in context), one to begin each of his talks, I could sense that much of what he had to say was biblical in principle. There was a short moment where Groeschel said (as an aside), "We're doing everything we can do, short of sin, to connect people to Christ." That was the closest anyone came to stating the goal of doing church ministry. Unfortunately it only lasted a few seconds.

I will also say that I appreciated what Andy Stanley said in his second talk, "Don't Be That Couch," in which he stated that we all have ugly, old couches in our houses (old, ineffective programs in our churches) that carry with them sentimental value due to years of emotional attachement. But the truth is, as attractive and effective as that old couch was at one time, in reality it is now an ugly, useless piece of junk. We need to identify those things in our churches, reveal to everyone who is attached to them the reality of their ineffectiveness, and get rid of them. So many churches nowadays, especially old and dying churches, are old and dying because they refuse to get rid of their old couches.

So if you have interpreted in what I have been writing thus far that I don't like cultural relevance through innovative technology and media, that is untrue. I think we should engage the culture in ways that meet people where they're at. But I also think the Gospel is such a radically different story than anything of this world, that it will be offensive and won't make sense to worldly people, i.e., until the Spirit circumcises their hearts. Where I think the Contemporary Church has compromised the Gospel is by accommodating to the stylistic preferences of the culture for the sake of entertaining them, giving them what they want, and thus growing off the charts in numbers. The new thing, in fact, since the mega-church is so huge now that they can't even facilitate their numbers in one location, is to notch their belts with the number of off-site, satellite campuses they can accrue. They don't raise up new Gospel proclaimers and plant churches. No, in order for a mega-church's numbers to become increasingly impressive, it launches multiple venues of the same church, broadcasting their celebrity preacher to each of them, and eventually gaining so much notoriety that their preacher is invited to speak at a conference.

One more thing, the only time the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the sacrificial atoning work he accomplished at the cross, was mentioned at the Catalyst conference was in a song that Steve Fee sang, "All Because of Jesus" written by Steve Fee.

I have so much more to say about this, but I'm sick of writing about it. I'd love to discuss this controversial matter. Feel free to totally disagree with me and comment. Call me an overly analytical pot stirrer with no love in my heart if you will. We're all beggers.

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