Simplistic Generalisations At Many Church Growth Conferences


Printer Friendly version.

Simplistic Generalisations At Many Church Growth Conferences.pdf


At many church growth conferences, the following generalisations are frequently stated:


1.       Churches which are growing faster and are more popular than others are more filled by the Holy Spirit, more obedient to Him and more pleasing to Him than other churches are.

2.       Churches which are growing slowly or are small must be greatly resisting the Holy Spirit in some way.


In numerous situations, the above claims are correct. But there are so many exceptions to these above generalisations, we are very foolish if we evaluate all churches on the above criteria.

For example, if we check generalisation 1 above, we find that some of the fastest-growing churches in Western countries in the last 10 years or so have achieved this not by being more anointed by the Holy Spirit and more obedient to God than others. They have achieved their growth mainly through attracting many still unconverted tares and through transfer growth of immature Christians from other churches. Thankfully, however, some of these churches have seen some real new converts occurring through their ministry. But because of the relatively carnal worldly nature of and poor teaching at such churches, few if any of these converts mature in Christ.

Note also the Mormons, the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mary-worshipping cult of Medjurgorje in the Roman Catholic Church are growing much faster than some Pentecostal, Charismatic and Evangelical local churches. According to the simplistic reasoning of Generalisation 1, this means the heretical cults of Mormonism, J.W’s. and Medjurgorje are more filled by the Holy Spirit, more obedient to Him and more pleasing to Him than are these Pentecostal, Charismatic and Evangelical churches. How ridiculous!


Examples of heretical groups growing faster than more godly groups


The history of the Church provides examples of groups teaching false gospels and major heresies are growing more rapidly numerically than more Spirit-filled, more Biblical groups. Here are some examples:

Some Gnostic groups grew rapidly in the time of the early Church. For example in the Second Century A.D., the Marcionite Gnostic sect attracted multitudes of followers throughout the Roman Empire. Their leader Marcion had left the Church to form his own new paganised so-called “churches”. Marcion had a charismatic personality, was very prosperous and had very good management skills. Refer to the section “A new form of the Marcionite heresy” in Chapter             “New-Model Evangelicalism” for more details about the Marcionite Gnostics.

From the 200’s A.D. onwards, the cultic worship or veneration of Mary, so-called “Saints”, martyrs, relics, images and so on continued to increase until most churchgoers in the Middle Ages were caught in the bondage of such heretical practices to some degree.

The Arian cult almost took over the Church


In the 300’s A.D., the Arian heretical cult grew rapidly to become a very big powerful group in the Church in the Roman Empire. The Arian cult was begun in about 318 or 319 A.D. by Arius, a priest of the Church in Egypt. Arius taught that God is not a Trinity and that Jesus Christ was a created being. Arius said Christ was first in importance among God’s creations. Arius stated that before Christ “was begotten or created or appointed or established, he did not exist.”[1]

The Church Council of Nicea held in 325 A.D. met to decide whether Arius’ views about Jesus Christ and God were correct. There were three main groups at this Council. The first group were a large minority who supported Arius’ views. The second sizeable minority was led by Bishop Athanasius. This second minority taught the more Biblical view about Jesus Christ. They stated that Christ existed forever, was God, was equal to the Father as a Member of the Trinity and was of the same substance as the Father. The third group was a compromising majority led by Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea. The modern church historian Earle Cairns said, “The largest party was led by the gentle scholar and church historian, Eusebius of Caesarea, whose dislike of controversy led him to propose a view that he hoped would be an acceptable compromise…Over two hundred of those present followed his views at first. He taught that Christ was not created out of nothing as Arius had insisted, but that He was begotten of the Father before time in eternity.” [2]

Between 325 to 381 A.D., the Arians in the Church continued to attack the more Biblical view of Athanasius and his supporters. The preaching, teaching and writings of the Arians grew so popular, it seemed at one stage that they were going to take over the church. For by about the mid to late 300’s A.D., the Arian cult became one of the largest groups, if not the majority, in the Church in the Roman Empire.

The Arians may have regarded their greatly increasing influence and popularity as evidence of God’s approval, supernatural power and blessings being upon them. Elwell states: “An observer in that day might well have thought Arianism was going to triumph in the church. Beginning with Constantius the court was often Arian. Five times Athanasius of Alexandria was driven into exile, interrupting his long episcopate.” [3]

At Antioch in 341 and at Arles in 353, church councils condemned the more Biblical teaching of the earlier Council of Nicea about Jesus Christ. When Constantius became sole emperor in 353, the opponents of Athanasius and of the more Biblical view of Christ prevailed in the Church. In 353, Constantius forced a general church council to be held to condemn Athanasius’ views. [4] When Valens was Emperor between 364-378 A.D., he supported Arianism.[5] In the 300’s, Ulfilas, the Arian missionary had great success in converting the pagan Visigoth tribes to Arianism. [6]

Those with a more Biblical view of Jesus Christ rightly attacked Arianism. They accused the Arians of reducing Christ to being a type of divine being or created “god” who was inferior to the eternal God and therefore also of teaching a type of polytheism. Polytheism is belief in more than one god.

The Arian teaching was very appealing to many pagans who joined the Church after Emperor Constantine I became a Christian. These pagans had been brought up to believe in Jupiter or Zeus – the supposed Father of the gods – and in many other gods, goddesses and demigods. The Arian cult heresy was more appealing to true converts to Christ who lacked solid Biblical foundations and to unconverted “Christianized” churchgoing pagans, than was the Biblical teaching on Jesus Christ and the Trinity. Arianism was therefore a contemporary version of the Gospel. But by becoming more relevant to contemporary society, the Arian “gospel” became a dreadful heresy.

Liberal modernist Protestants and Jehovah’s Witnesses today teach similar though not the same heresies about the Trinity and Jesus Christ to what the Arians taught.


Great lessons for us today


The backsliding and spiritual decline which occurred in the Church in the 300’s A.D. in relation to the spread of Arianism has many lessons for us today.

First it shows it is wrong to compromise in relation to changes to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Many churches and churchgoers these days are not willing to oppose false amended “gospels” and major heresies in case they offend the teachers and followers of these. The former believe unity in the church is more important than preventing compromised “gospels” being preached. This over-emphasis on unity is the reason many false “gospels” have replaced the true Gospel in numerous modern Evangelical, Pentecostal and Charismatic churches.

We should have unity with born-again believers who differ from us about less important Biblical matters. But it is sinful to compromise about major foundational teachings in relation to the Gospel of God and Jesus Christ.

Hebrews 13:9 commands: “Do not be carried about with various and strange doctrines…” Note in Revelation 2:14-16, Christ rebuked some at the church at Pergamum for accepting the false doctrine of the Nicolatians and Balaam: “But I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality. Thus you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitians, which thing I hate. Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth.”

Secondly, the spread of Arianism in the 300’s A.D. shows us God sometimes allows dreadful heresies to gain the support of large parts or even the majority in the Church at certain times. Therefore, the popularity of individual preachers, teachers, their tapes, books, television shows or how many people they have in their churches proves nothing about whether God is pleased with what they teach.

In 2 Peter 2:1-2, Peter predicted that false teachers would secretly bring in destructive heresies into the Church and many would follow these: “But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who brought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And MANY will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed.”

2 Timothy 4:2-4 prophesied similar things: “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.”


Lack of response to Spirit-empowered, godly Biblical ministry


Let us now examine Generalisation 2 “Churches which are growing slowly or are small must be greatly resisting the Holy Spirit in some way.”

But note Jesus’ words to the twelve Apostles and the seventy elders about the preaching of the Gospel reveal that in some cities or places, there would be little response to the Gospel. Refer to Matthew 10:14-15, Mark 6:11 and Luke 10:10-11. Matthew 10:14-15 says: “And whoever will not receive you nor hear your words, when you depart from that house or city, shake off the dust from your feet. Assuredly, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgement than for than for that city.”

Also note Matthew 11:20-24 and Luke 10:13-16 reveal people of the cities of Chorazin and Capernaum responded very little to Christ's ministry. Matthew 11:20-24 records: “Then He began to upbraid the cities in which most of His mighty works had been done, because they did not repent: ‘Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgement than for you. And to you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades; for if the mighty works were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgement than for you.’”

Matthew 13:54-58 shows there was a poor response to Jesus’ ministry also in Nazareth. Matthew 13:54 and 57-58 records: “And when He had come to His own country, He taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished and said, ‘Where did this Man get this wisdom and these mighty works?’…So they were offended at Him. But Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is not without honor except in his own country and in his own house.’ And He did not do many mighty works there because of their unbelief.”

Luke 4:28-29 reveals Jesus’ ministry was so opposed in Nazareth the people tried to throw Him down a cliff: “Then all those in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, and rose up and thrust Him out of the city; and they led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw Him down over the cliff.”

Would any Christian be foolish enough to suggest that the lack of success in the Lord Jesus’ ministry in relation to making disciples in Capernaum, Chorazin and Nazareth was a result of Him resisting the Holy Spirit?

Noah was a righteous believer who walked blamelessly with God (see Genesis 6:9 and Hebrews 11:7). Noah was a preacher of righteousness (see 2 Peter 2:5). But note only seven others out of multitudes of people listened to his Spirit-empowered preaching.

Jeremiah 1:4-5 and 7-10 records how God appointed Jeremiah as His prophet: “Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying: ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you were born I sanctified you; and I ordained you a prophet to the nations’…But the Lord said to me: ‘Do not say, I am a youth, for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of their faces, for I am with you,’ says the Lord. Then the Lord put forth His hand and touched my mouth, and the Lord said to me: ‘Behold, I have put My words in your mouth. See, I have this day set you over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out and to pull down, to destroy and to throw down, to build and to plant.’” But read the Book of Jeremiah and see how very few if any Jews responded positively to his preaching. All other Jews opposed him.

The above examples of the Apostles, Jesus Christ, Noah and Jeremiah show that a lack of “success” in ministry at various times and places does not always mean the preacher is resisting the Holy Spirit.


[1] Henry Bettenson, “Documents of the Christian Church”, Second Edition, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1963, page 39.

[2] Earle Cairns, “Christianity Through the Centuries”, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1967, page 144.

[3] Walter Elwell (Editor), “Evangelical Dictionary of Theology”, Baker, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1984, page 75.

[4] William G. Sinnigen and Arthur E.R. Boak, “A History of Rome to A.D. 565”, Sixth Edition, Collier Macmillan, London, 1977, page 485.

[5] Ibid, page 486.

[6] Elwell, page 15.

All original work on this site is Copyright © 1994 - . Individuals may take copies of these works for the purpose of studying the Bible provided a copyright notice is attached to all copies.   Questions regarding this site should be directed to the .