If members of the churches of Christ had only two alternatives--a discipling church or a non-evangelistic church--many would regard the discipling church as the lesser of the two evils. Churches of Christ that oppose the discipling movement need to face the most powerful and persuasive argument in favor of that movement and they need to face it head on. That argument is the pragmatic argument based on a comparison of results. Discipling churches are growing faster than other churches of Christ. They claim that this proves that they are right.

The gap between the growth of the discipling churches and other churches of Christ is significant, but it is not as great as the discipling churches have claimed. Other discipling churches are not generally growing as fast as the Boston Church of Christ. They are not generally growing as fast today as they were a few years ago. Furthermore, figures published by the Boston Church of Christ indicate that their net growth rate is not as high as they have claimed. If you count all those they have baptized and subtract those they have sent to mission fields, the result indicates a retention rate of only 65 percent, not the 75 percent they now claim or the 95 percent they used to claim. Some of these, of course, have moved away from the Boston area. The

Boston congregation, however, has not yet demonstrated a good retention rate among those who are converted in Boston and then move away. Their net growth rate, therefore, is not as high as they have claimed, but it is still higher than the growth rate of other churches of Christ.

It is important to notice, however, that other churches of Christ are not declining rapidly the way the discipling churches claim. It has been a cause of some concern to me that my own research has been used by the discipling churches to support their claim that other churches of Christ are declining rapidly. I have been doing survey research on patterns of growth and decline among churches of Christ in the United States for almost 20 years. These surveys probably provide the best available estimates of growth rates among churches of Christ in this nation. These surveys indicate that the rate of growth declined from 1965 (the date of the earliest survey) to 1980. But that was not a decline in total membership. Churches of Christ grew in this period. It was just the rate of growth that declined. The surveys indicate that in 1965 the rate of growth may have been as high as five percent per year. There was an average decline of one third of one percent per year from 1965 through 1980. If these survey estimates are accurate, growth stopped in 1980. Between 1980 and 1984, there appears to have been a decline of around 2.5 percent. In 1984, however, the pattern started to change. In 1985, there was a very small growth of 0.02 percent. In 1986, there was a more substantial growth of around 0.5 percent. These improvements do not reflect growth in the discipling churches. They have been studied separately. Churches of Christ that are not identified with the discipling movement have started growing again. The gap between the growth in the discipling churches and the growth in other churches of

Christ, therefore, is not as great as the discipling churches have claimed. That gap, however, is real. Discipling churches are growing faster than other churches of Christ and that fact is the most convincing argument in favor of the discipling movement.

The Problem of Pragmatism

The problem with the pragmatic argument based on a comparison of growth rates is that it proves too much. The discipling churches do not really believe that numerical growth is always proof of divine approval. Paul Yosnggi Cho's Full Gospel Central Church in Seoul, Korea, has over half a million members. That makes that congregation the largest congregation in Christendom. Leaders of the discipling movement among churches of Christ do not regard the growth of Cho's congregation as proof of divine approval. The Jotabeche Methodist Pentecostal Church in Santiago, Chile, and the Congregacao Christa in Sao Paulo, Brazil, have experienced amazing growth--but leaders of the discipling movement among churches of Christ do not regard that growth as evidence of God's approval.

In the biblical record, some of God's greatest servants had little to show in the way of visible results. Noah was a preacher of righteousness who preached for a hundred years while building the ark, but he converted only his wife, their three sons, and their wives. Jeremiah was a faithful prophet of God, but he was ignored and persecuted by the people of his generation. Success from God's perspective cannot always be measured in terms of immediate numerical church growth.

Christians should not be overly impressed by the pragmatic argument based on a comparison of growth rates. Church leaders, however need to recognize that this pragmatic argument is very persuasive to many

people. They need to be prepared, therefore, to explain why the discipling churches have grown faster than other churches of Christ.

Comparing Results

A part of the reason discipling churches are growing faster than other churches of Christ is that the discipling methods they use get a large number of members actively involved in evangelism as teachers. Churches that are not willing to practice gift projection or employ high pressure methods are not as likely to get that many members involved in this role. It remains to be seen, however, whether this approach can be sustained over a long period of time. Denominations where the discipling movement started did not find that this approach worked for more than about one generation. There are such tremendous time pressures in this approach that it tends to result in a major burn-out problem. The discipling movement has no real ministry to the weak. People either become super Christians at once or they drop out. In the denominations where the discipling movement started, internal problems killed or seriously limited the movement within little more than one generation.

Characteristics that are unique to the discipling movement do not account for most of the growth experienced by discipling churches. Among churches of Christ, discipling churches are not growing primarily because of what they are doing that other churches of Christ regard as being wrong. They are growing primarily because of what they are doing that is right.

One of the major reasons for the rapid growth of the Boston Church of Christ and its daughter churches is that planting new congregations is the most effective of all church growth strategies. Only five percent of all congregations grow after they are 25 years old. In the decade of the 1970s, every denomination in the United States that increased the number of local congregations grew in total membership and every denomination that reduced the number of local congregations declined in total membership. In virtually all of these cases, the increase in the number of congregations came before the increase in total membership. In the period between 1945 and 1965, churches of Christ were generally regarded as being one of the fastest-growing religious groups in the nation. It was in that period that churches of Christ started more new congregations than ever before. Few new congregations have been planted since 1965 and the rate of growth has declined since 1965.

Most churches of Christ that are not identified with the discipling movement are more than 25 years old. That is one of the reasons that they are not growing today as fast as the discipling churches. Within a generation, of course, many of the discipling churches will be more than 25 years old. The rate of growth has already begun to decline in the discipling churches that grew directly out of the work at Crossroads. The rate of growth has even started to decline in the Boston Church of Christ.

Another important reason for the rapid growth of the discipling churches such as the Boston Church of Christ is the staff-to-member ratio. At the time of my first visit in April of 1985, the Boston congregation had one full time worker for every 28 members. Many of these were not considered "staff" by the Boston church. Most were full-time interns preparing for leadership of a church planting team. But the way these interns were being trained involved spending less than half their time studying in the Boston School of World Missions and

the rest of their time they learned by working the system. They were available for service as disciplers, Bible Talk leaders, House Church leaders, and what ever else might be needed. Gene Vinzant's survey of discipling churches in 1987, as reported in the last section of this book, found an average staff-to-member ratio of one to 40. The team that went into Toronto had only two who were called "evangelists," but they had more than two dozen others who spent full time in evangelistic work. They baptized 100 people in the first year, but if you took 25 or 30 young, energetic, zealous, dedicated, talented Christians and had them work full time in any major city, they would produce comparable results.

Churches of Christ that are not affIliated with the discipling movement typically have staff-to-member ratios of around one to 100. In the 1986 church growth survey, I asked how many of the baptisms came from the work of full-time ministers and how many came from the work of volunteer workers in the congregation. Results indicate that well over half of all the adult conversions in 1986 came from the work of full- time ministers.

There is still another factor to consider in explaining why the discipling churches are growing faster than other churches of Christ. This especially applies to the Boston congregation. Writers in the church growth field have suggested for many years that Christians need to experience the church at three levels: the assembly level, an intermediate group level about the size of a House Church in Boston or an adult Bible class in another congregation, and the small group level about the size of a Bible Talk group in Boston or a friendship circle in another congregation. Church growth re searchers have found that it works best to bring new members in at the bottom rather than at the top.
New members can be assimilated much better if their conversion and most of their teaching takes place at the small group level. It is easy then to get them into the intermediate and assembly levels.

This is the way the Boston Church of Christ assimilates their new members. Conversion takes place in the context of a Bible Talk group consisting generally of no more than 15 people. They may not even know about the Sunday morning assembly at the Boston Gardens until they are well into the teaching process. When they go to the Boston Gardens for their first experience with that large crowd, the people who are sitting around them are their friends from their Bible Talk group. Around that group are other people whom they have met at the Wednesday evening House Church meeting in their neighborhood. They do not feel that they are lost in a big crowd.

Churches of Christ that are not a part of the discipling movement typically bring people in at the top and try to push them down to the two lower levels. They may try to convert people at the assembly level. If they convert them in a one-on-one study, they bring them to the assembly. At the assembly they learn that they are supposed to attend Bible classes. Some of them never make it that far. Those who start attending Bible classes may learn about some small group meetings. Most never make it that far. The few who take part in small group meetings may learn that they are supposed to get involved in evangelism. Very few make it that far. It is quite possible, however, for congregations to get their members involved at all three levels and bring new

members in at the small group level without ever becoming a part of the discipling movement.

One of the most impressive things about the Boston Church of Christ is what they are doing with their Bible Talk groups. Writers in the church growth field have suggested for many years that conversion requires a point of contact and a pathway. The point of contact is a way of meeting non-members. The pathway is the orderly sequence of events that can be expected to bring some of these non-members to the point of conversion. Churches of Christ that are not identified with the discipling movement used evangelistic meetings and evangelistic preaching in other church services as the point of contact a few generations ago. That worked with some people in previous generations. It does not work with most people today. These congregations did a lot of personal evangelism in small groups-a family or two of members studying with a family of non- members. These "cottage meetings," as they were called, proved to be effective in teaching many people. Sometimes people taught in this way had to be motivated from the pulpit before they made the decision to obey the gospel. The home Bible studies and evangelistic preaching brought many people to Christ a few years ago. In recent years, however, these methods have been less effective.

The secret of the Bible Talk approach is that it is a non- threatening way for a non-member to be introduced to the study of the Bible. Bible Talk lessons are simple, practical, applied studies that do not focus on controversial doctrinal issues. They provide an opportunity to get people into the Scriptures and to show them that the Bible is relevant to their lives and that Christ has answers to their problems. These occasions also provide an opportunity for several Christians to build relationships with the non-member visitors. Once the non-members get interested, they are receptive to the evangelistic study that follows.

The psychological type theory that was discussed in Chapter 2 helps to explain why the Bible Talk approach is so effective. Psychological type preferences are related to learning styles. Extraverts learn best through participation in a group discussion. Introverts learn best through lecture, readIng, or one-on-one conversation. The Bible Talk approach is ideal for extraverts. The evangelistic methods other churches of Christ use are ideal for introverts. Extraverts make up 70 percent of the population and introverts make up only 30 percent.

Sensors learn best when the study begins with practical applications, hands-on experience, and step- by-step instruction. That is the way Bible Talk lessons are conducted. Intuitors learn best when the study begins with the background theory, the big picture, meanings, and implications. Evangelism in other churches of Christ typically begins with theology. The effort is to change beliefs first and get people thinking right at the beginning. Then later--perhaps much later--the study can get around to practical applications. This approach is ideal for intuitors. Sensors make up 70 percent of the population and intuitors make up only 30 percent. Those who prefer both extraversion and sensing make up 49 percent of the population. The Bible Talk approach is ideal for them. Those who prefer both introversion and intuition make up nine percent of the population. The kind of evangelism other churches of Christ typically practice is ideal for them.

Considering this factor alone, discipling churches ought to be baptizing five times as many people as other churches of Christ. It would be possible, however, for other churches of Christ to use a similar small group

approach to Bible study at this non-threatening, non-doctrinal level as a step toward more intense evangelism. They could do this without ever accepting any of the objectional features of the discipling movement.

Another significant reason for the rapid growth of the Boston Church of Christ is its emphasis on mission work. They believe that if they take the best people they have and send them to the mission field, the rest will get better. Each team they send out takes a tremendous amount of talent away from that church. But each time thy send out a team, others rise up to take their place. Churches of Christ that are not affiliated with the discipling movement have fewer missionaries on the field today than they did 10 years ago. Many young people who want to do mission work have been frustrated by the refusal of congregations to support them or even consider their plea for help. Some of these very talented and dedicated young people have been attracted to the Boston Church of Christ because of its mission emphasis. That emphasis has helped the Boston church grow. The lack of mission emphasis has retarded the growth of other churches of Christ.

Discipling churches place a major emphasis on interpersonal relationships. As this study has already made clear, I do not believe that they are doing it in the right way. They are, however, to be commended for at least trying to get people into relationships that help them grow spiritually. When I was growing up, we did not have "discipling partners," but we had friends. A few years ago, members of the churches of Christ in this nation did not go home from church alone. We either had someone over for Sunday dinner or we went home with someone else. And it was not just Sunday dinner.

Our social life throughout the week was centered around our association with other Christians. Furthermore, the relationship was not totally secular. We almost always got the song books out and sang together. We prayed together. We had some heated arguments about religion that at least had the merit of being Christ-centered, Bible-based discussions. We talked a lot about spiritual matters. We were into one another's lives spiritually. If people got out of line, we tried to correct them. It was spontaneous and unorganized, but I believe that we practiced the "one another" passages in the Bible.

Things have changed. Recently I have been doing some research on friendship patterns in churches of Christ. In this study I use a questionnaire that asks several things about friendships. All of this research has been done in churches that do not identify with the discipling movement. What I have found is that from 10 to 20 percent of the members of these congregations do not have any close personal friends at all in the congregation where they are members. From 20 to 30 percent of the members have not actually visited with a close personal friend in the congregation in the past year--counting visits in either person's home, going out to do something together, or just talking to one another regularly on the telephone. In the modern church, people come together as strangers and leave as strangers and their lives never touch.

Another item on this questionnaire asks those who have friends in the church what they do when they get together with their friends away from the church building and organized church activities. At least 80 percent report having only a secular relationship. The

20 percent who pray together, study the Bible together, or engage in any other religious activity during friend ship time report doing this only once a month on the average.

Discipling churches, in my opinion, are wrong in the way they are trying to structure interpersonal relationship--but they are right in their emphasis on how important these relationships are for spiritual growth. However, other churches of Christ could encourage healthy, supportive, nurturing, non-manipulative relationships without any of the errors associated with the disciplining movement.

Many church growth researchers and writers have noted that in recent years conservative denominations have generally grown while liberal denominations have generally declined. Other writers more recently have suggested that the real difference here is between distinctive churches and non-distinctive churches. Most conservative denominations are also very distinctive. Everyone knows who they are and what they stand for. Most liberal denominations are more ecumenical. They try to be all things to all men and it is harder to get a clear picture of just who they are and what they believe.

Among churches of Christ, those that appear to be growing the fastest are those that are clearly distinctive from the world and from other religious groups. Those that have become much less distinctive in recent years have stopped growing and are declining gradually. Those that are distinctive only in terms of internal brotherhood issues are declining rapidly. The Boston Church of Christ and other discipling churches are clearly in the category of those who are distinctive from the world and from other religious groups.

These are just a few of the reasons that help to explain why the discipling churches have been growing faster than other churches of Christ. One important reason that I should not overlook is the quality of the young

people who have been attracted to this movement. The Boston Church of Christ has been especially successful in attracting some super people. Some of the most talented, dedicated, zealous Christians I have ever seen are in the Boston Church of Christ. I believe that those same people could have produced similar results without any of the objectionable features of the discipling movement.

One other factor must be mentioned, although it may be unique to Boston. The Boston Church of Christ has over 60 House Churches. These are organized to serve relatively small neighborhoods. Boston is somewhat different from many other major metropolitan areas in that its neighborhoods have a clear ethnic identity. As a result, the House Churches in Boston are relatively homogeneous. One is primarily Black. Another is primarily Hispanic. Another is Chinese. In one House Church, many of the people are of Italian ancestry. The Bible Talk groups serve even smaller geographic areas and thus are even more homogeneous.

There are limits to how heterogeneous an assembly- oriented church can become. The Boston Church of Christ has managed to become an extremely heterogeneous church at the assembly level because of its emphasis on two smaller levels of interaction. That same approach, however, would be possible in other churches of Christ without any of the abuses associated with the discipling movement.

Which Way the Church?

The title of this section is taken from Bob Hendren's excellent study of legalism in the discipling movement.1 In that book, the author expresses his concern over the direction being taken by discipling churches. I share that concern, but I am also concerned about directions being taken by churches of Christ that oppose the discipling movement.

Leaders of the discipling movement among churches of Christ believe that their movement is the wave of the future. They believe that by the early part of the next century, they will have thousands of congregations and millions of members throughout the world. They also believe that churches of Christ that do not identify with the discipling movement will cease to exist within another generation or two. I do not share that view.

I believe that in its emphasis on control, the discipling movement has the seeds of its own destruction. Control is manipulative. Control is dehumanizing. Control is a sick way of relating. Some people say that a benevolent dictatorship is the most efficient form of government. If that is true, it is true for only a short period of time. People will not long endure such a system.

Leadership of the discipling movement has already shifted from Crossroads to Boston, but it is not likely to remain in Boston for more than a few years. As Boston moves in one direction, other centers of influence are likely to emerge and move in other directions. The discipling movement among churches of Christ, in my opinion, is likely to fragment before the end of this century. Some people who were attracted to this movement a few years ago have already been disillusioned and have left the movement. There will likely be many more defections from their ranks in the near future.

The wave of the future, however, is not likely to be found in those churches of Christ that over-react and go to an opposite extreme. Some congregations, in their effort to escape from Crossroads or Boston, are running all the way past Jerusalem and ending up in Babylon. The elders of one congregation recently told their members, "We forbid any evangelism except the preaching done at this building where we can make sure that it is doctrinally correct." They went on to condemn any kind of home Bible study or personal

evangelism as being "the Crossword philosophy." That shows how little they know about what is going on.

Some people in churches of Christ do not really know what the discipling movement is all about. They have heard about "Crossroadsism" and they know that they are against it. Since they do not know what "Crossroadsism" is, they apply that label to anything they do not like. Some have become almost paranoid in their negative over-reactions.

Elders of churches of Christ that are not identified with the discipling movement need to know what to do when they learn that their city has been targeted and that a discipling church is about to be planted in their area. The following advice is offered for whatever it may be worth to such elders.

Do not think that you can persuade the leaders of the discipling movement to stay away just because you ask them to stay away. They honestly believe that your congregation is unfaithful, spiritually dead, and lost. They believe that they will be doing your members a favor if they persuade them to leave your congregation and join their congregation.

Be informed. Do not believe everything you read about the discipling movement. Investigate for yourself. Learn the facts.

I believe that you should establish leader-to-leader communication, but I do not believe that it would be wise to provide a platform for the leaders of the discipling movement to use in teaching their false doctrines, recruiting your members, and sowing discord among brethren. I do not believe that it would be

wise to open your pulpit to them or to have them speak at brotherhood-wide lectureships or workshops.

If your congregation is not active in local evangelism and mission work throughout the world, you need to recognize that your congregation is ripe for a hostile takeover. Your members need to know that they can be involved in local evangelism and mission work without joining a discipling congregation. Remember also that it is not easy to steal sheep who are well fed.

You need to be ready to reach and restore the many drop-outs who will be harmed psychologically and spiritually by their participation in this movement. The time when these problems are most likely to develop is when the young people in this movement reach mid-life. Falsification of psychological type produces a serious mid-life crisis. There will be major burn-out problems, serious depression, and a variety of other psychological and spiritual problems to resolve.

You should not, in my opinion, make it any more difficult than necessary for those who have been caught up in this movement to return to the fellowship of churches of Christ that do not identify with the discipling movement.

In rejecting the errors of the discipling movement, be careful not to throw out the baby with the bath water. You should test all things and hold fast to what is good (1 Thess. 5:21). Discipling churches are doing many things that are good. Do not reject the good when you reject what is bad. Allow room for diversity in the body of Christ. There are things that might not fit your

congregation that might be both useful and proper in a different congregation.

Help your members get into non-manipulative, nurturing, disciple-building relationships. I have found the study of psychological type theory to be useful in this regard. Things that help an extravert grow spiritually might not be helpful for an introvert. What is useful for a sensing type might be harmful for an intuitive.type. Thinking types and feeling types need to be guided in different ways. Judging types and perceiving types follow different pathways to maturity in Christ. I believe that this, in part, is what Solomon was talking about in Proverbs 22:6 when he said, "Train up a child in his own way and even when he is old he will not depart from it." However, Carl Jung's theory of psychological types is only one of many systems for classifying individual differences. Much more needs to be learned and taught concerning the most effective disciple- building approaches for different kinds of people. Several writers from various religious groups have already started this effort.2 Much more work is needed to apply these principles to the task of disciple-making and disciple-building among the heirs of the Restoration Movement.

In this concluding section, I have taken the liberty of offering some advice along with some speculations about what may happen in the future. You know, of course, that I am not a prophet. I do not know what the

future holds. I do know Who holds the future and that is enough.


1. Bob Hendren, With Way the Church (Nashville, Tennessee: 20th Century christian, 1985).

2. :'There are several sources in addition to those already mentioned--that are useful in this study. The following would provide a good introduction to the field.

Christopher Bryant, Jung and the Christian Way (Minneapolis, Minnesota: The Seabury Press, 1983).

Christopher Bryant, Prayer and Different Types of People (Gainesville, Florida: Center for Applications of Psychological Type, Inc., 1983).

Gary L. Harbaugh, The Faith-Hardy Christian (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Augsburg Publishing House, 1986).

Chester P. Michael and Marie C. Norrisey, Prayer and Temperament (Charlottesville, Virginia: The Open Door, Inc., 1984). Note: To understand this book by Michael and Norrisey, one should begin with a study of temperament theory in David Keirsey and Marilyn Bates, Please Understand Me (Del Mar, California: Prometheus Nemesis Books, 1978).

End of Chapter 5