The Diminishing Returns of the Evangelical Movement

I’ve been a Christian since 1980, and a Pentecostal/Evangelical pastor since 1985. I’ve been a pastor on both coasts of the continental United States. First, in Carlsbad, California: a beach city in North San Diego County. Then in the infamous and beautiful New England port city of Salem, MA. I’ve ridden the waves of the Church Growth movement, Charismatic and Neo-Charismatic revivals, the Emergent conversation, and the still developing post-Evangelical discussions. I’ve also watched the slowly decreasing interest in Christianity in our American cultures, and the diminishing church attendance that is the result of that apathy. 

Through each of these movements I’ve noticed that the focus so-often has been upon the health and life of the believers in the churches. The Church Growth movement pounded home the mantra that “healthy churches are growing churches”. Charismatic revivals occurred in a variety of locations from the Toronto Airport to Pensacola, and each time my Christian friends ran to these churches to experience revival and (unsuccessfully) bring it home with them. The Emergent Movement developed among acquaintances, and many of the leaders became close friends. As it later splintered into the various factions determined by orthodoxy or the lack thereof, I watched the splinter groups battle for the minds of struggling church goers. 

Through this all, I have seen the beauty of the Christian church in America, and I have seen the dark underbelly of greed and corruption. And yes, I know where some of the bodies are buried, and who buried them. I have been one of those bodies, and I thank God for resurrection.

I am currently studying the influential events, techniques, and the developing theologies of American Evangelicalism and I’ve found myself pondering the fact that this eclectic movement has focused upon its own health, and personal spiritual revival for the last 40 years, yet here we are in a cycle of diminishing returns for our investments. (Even that business focused terminology of “diminishing returns” seems a bit sickly, quite frankly.)

I have some thoughts about this that are fairly simple, but who am I to question the wisdom of the elders? (Oh, wait, I guess I am one now.) But, at the moment I want to toss a discussion point out there: How is that we have focused so much Evangelical attention upon church growth and discovering ways to attract people only to have most of us (I include myself) fail miserably?

4 thoughts on “The Diminishing Returns of the Evangelical Movement

  1. I don’t count myself as “Evangelical” (with a capital E) — I am a deacon in the Orthodox Church — but I was involved in the charismatic movement and church growth movement in the 1970s and 1980s, and at one stage was writing a book on them.

    Here in South Africa there were two national charismatic renewal conferences, in 1977 and 1980, and somewhere in between the rot set in. It was the era of cassette tape “ministries”, and the message coming from the USA, which lots of people in South Africa listened to in their cars going to work, became divisive instead of unifying, and a whole bunch of leaders who gave their name to various “ministries” thought their name was more important than that of Jesus.

    And that was the point at which the charismatic renewal left the non-Pentecostal denominations (RC & Protestant) and migrated to a bunch of Neopentecostal non-denominations. Everyone and his aunti was starting a new non-denomination. See Post-colonial Christianity is a Neopentecostal Megachurch.

  2. When human nature gets in the way God’s nature is tossed out of the window. Rinse and repeated over the decades and now we all look like one over washed (brainwashed) over used colourless rag with stains that we cant get rid off easily . What was once a Godly way of life was pushed out and substituted for something a little more socially appealing . Tele evangelism aka the silencing of the lambs showed a different way, an easier way so convenient that we’ve lost being close to the right way . . It seems so corporate , so mechanical to me that it’s become one unreal encounter after another . ”here just pay me and i shall be the director of your christianity.” is what these guys may as well be preaching. False doctrines have spread to all four corners of the earth so rapidly its uncontainable like a cali wild fire. It is almost overwhelming to have to deal with. I think we must go back to the basics. right now i have a better time doing church with total strangers on the street than i do attending at some greedy money hungry 501c3 corporate structured Church . . . . sorry for the rant . . .

    1. Bro! You’re preaching it like an old time revivalist. The old-jeremiad-tear-it-down to build it back up approach. 🙂 It may well be exactly the approach the church needs in these rather drastic hours of diminishing interest in the gospel we have been offering the world.

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