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What Luther Says

REVIEW: 'Testing The Claims Of Church Growth' By Rev. Rodney E. Zwonitzer

I think that if we are completely honest with ourselves, then we would have to admit that the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS) is a Synod that stills remains divided.

That is, there currently exists two distinct kinds of Lutherans in the LCMS right now.

On one side you have us Confessional types who prefer the "Traditional Worship Services" each week and on the other side you have the "Missional" types who prefer the "Contemporary Worship Services (CoWo)" instead.

Now, let me be clear that I'm not for a single second insinuating that one side is comprised of the "real Christians" (a.k.a. the "wheat" and "sheep") and that the other side is made up of the "false Christians" (a.k.a. the "tares" and "goats").

However, I am suggesting that one side leads us back to our historical roots and "the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 1:3) and the other leads us to the ELCA or some "Frankensteinish' unholy hybrid of American Evangelicalism-Meets-Baptist-Meets-Calvinism-Meets-Charismatic-Meets-Methodist-Meets-Pentecostal-Meets-Presbyterian-Meets-Protestant-Meets-Wesleyan with Lutheranism sprinkled on top for good measure.

Sadly, the current divide is all due to competing notions about how to grow Christ's Church, which is a always noble concern for any Christian to have regardless of the side of the aisle they find themselves on.

However, we need to be much more discerning than we've been. Why?

"Church Growth" -- once touted as the "Next Big Thing" -- is currently being reevaluated in Protestant circles. Still, it has many advocates, even in the ostensibly conservative Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

So we know that this approach to "Being The Church" and to "Doing Church" is being reexamined a lot these days in various Christian circles, but why? Why are some believers speaking up and speaking out about this issue?

Clearly, this debate is nothing new, and it has been raging to varying degrees for several decades now within the Lutheran Church. Thankfully, we can finally put the debate to rest.

Rev. Rodney E. Zwonitzer once wrote the following...

The Lutheran Confessions emphasize what causes true growth. Speaking of the Gospel and the Sacraments, the Augsburg Confession says, "Through these, as through means, He (God) gives the Holy Spirit, who works faith, when and where He pleases, in those who hear the Gospel." (Article V) (p. 25)

Short, sweet, and to the point.

Unfortunately, that's still not good enough for some and that's why Pastor Zwonitzer took the time to serve God's people by writing an entire book on the subject for our edification and spiritual growth.

That quote comes from a fantastic book that he wrote and published, which I discovered only recently, called "Testing The Claims Of Church Growth" that attempts to address this controversy head on once-and-for-all.

Boy, am I glad I was able to get my hands on a copy too! Rev. Zwonitzer, no stranger to the world of Advertising, Marketing, and Sales himself due to his background and biography, does a superb job of making the Biblical and Confessional case as to why the entire so-called "Church Growth Movement" and "Missionalist" mentality so prevalent today is actually un-Biblical and, therefore, displeasing to our Lord.

What is it they say? "The road to hell is paved with good intentions..." Now, you might think that's "too harsh" of me, but it's not so far-fetched when you recall that "a little leaven leavens the whole lump" (Galatians 5:9). I thought about that a lot as I read through this remarkable book.

Rather than write my own chapter-by-chapter analysis, I think I'll start this review by sharing the book's Preface, which sets the stage quite nicely and helps to summarize the gist of the content.

For 13 years my life was spent in intense conference with other business executives, pondering this question: what can be done to gain more sales and/or more profit? This is what business boils down to in its most basic form. That was my venue from 1971 to 1984, advising and leading corporations such as Westinghouse, Storage Technology, and United Technologies Mostek to help market products and services with one single purpose: to gain more market share. My work consisted of segmentation analysis, product and consumer research, and the writing of marketing plans. Such plans ask, "Where have we been, where are we now, where do we want to go, and how do we get there?" Marketing exists and thrives on such plans. Most of my career was in product marketing. Here one manages a revenue stream of products. My responsibilities were to research, plan, and manage so as to maximize sales and profits. I had to determine what the product line would consist of, how it would be priced, how it would be sold to customers, and how it would be advertised. Marketing people refer to this as the "Four Ps" of marketing: product, price, place, and promotion. 
In the early 1980s a sequence of events happened in my life that convinced me of God's call to prepare myself to become a pastor in His church. Many encouraged me in this endeavor. Especially did I hear how important it was that an executive with marketing expertise should become a pastor -- just what the church needs, I heard and still hear many laypeople say. 
But eventually, as I entered the intense study of Holy Scripture, I began to question just how much of this marketing experience should transfer over to Christ's church. I must admit that for a long period I hoped it would, since I could truly contribute the fruits of 13 years of labor out there in the business arena competing for market share. I felt this gift of talents and time would be used by God, and I was ready to share it if He wanted. 
Now, on the basis of my study of Scripture, I do not believe that God wants or needs much of what I did as a marketing executive to carry over into His church. Much of the talk in our Synod these days sounds like discussions I heard in corporate conference rooms. How can we get more people interested in the faith? How can we keep them interested? How can we make them "contagious witnesses," so they reach out to others? We're losing market share. What we have been doing just doesn't work anymore. The customers don't like it -- especially those who won't be attracted to any church and those who have fallen away from attending. We must change. We must utilize all disciplines -- marketing, sociology, leadership, and so forth. As a pastor an ex-marketer, I'm skeptical of this approach. 
Which brings us to this book. I didn't want to write it. I'm basically a shy and private person and not confident in my composition skills. I thought someone else must answer the Church Growth Movement, which has created so much division and schism in our midst. Then it hit me. God has prepared me for this task. 
May He grant you His spirit of discernment as you read these pages. They will present and test the claims written by both sides of the Church Growth controversy in The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. The goal is to reveal which side is pleasing God and which is pleasing people. 
Basic to such a testing is this question: is the church a business? Were Jesus, Paul, Martin Luther, and even C.F.W. Walther marketing men, as the Church Growth Movement claims? The ex-marketer-turned-theologian says NO! Marketing is an overarching approach that seeks to please the customer, proclaiming the customer king. True theology can have no customer sovereignty. 
The precious Gospel must be sovereign. 
Marketing has never helped to grow Christ's true kingdom and never will. His kingdom is not of the business world. 
*- Dr. Rodney E. Zwonitzer 
Dearborn, Michigan 
James 4:8a 
Palm Sunday, 2002 
Testing The Claims Of Church Growth (pp. 7-9)

As you can see from the Preface alone, this is why I believe it's the definitive book on this hotly contested topic.

What blows my mind is how this book was published in 2002 after bearing witness to several years of this sort of approach to church. Yet, here we are, 13 years later, and the problem is still as prevalent in the LCMS as ever (especially here in the LCMS-Eastern District).

For that reason, this should be in the "Required Reading" category for all Lutherans. It's also the perfect antidote to the "Missionalist" mentality too, which has co-opted the Church Growth Movement to suit its own agenda in recent years.

Pastor Zwonitzer admits from the get-go that "the goal is to reveal which side is pleasing God and which is pleasing people" and I firmly believe he achieved that goal by the end of the book.

Make no mistake, despite good intentions, one side is definitely more pleasing to God than the other, and if that bothers you in any way, then I'd say that you're precisely the type of person who needs to read this book right away.

If you're looking for a much more detailed analysis and review (a better written one too!), then be sure to read fellow Confessional Lutheran Scott Diekmann's excellent and thorough summary from 2008.

If you're looking for a cut-to-the-chase and to-the-point explanation of why this continues to be a controversy within Christ's Church and what we can do about it (and why we laymen should take an interest in it ourselves), then please listen to the last podcast I recorded titled "Third Base Ministry? Or Running The Bases?" that's based on Chapter 4 of this book.

In a Lutheran layman's terms, Rev. Zwonitzer "lays bare the real basis for Church Growth, finding that it is not in the Bible but in business" so "before deciding to revamp your worship service along the lines of 'entertainment evangelism,' read this book."

NOTE: Please understand that I'm not a called and ordained minister of God's Word and Sacraments. I'm a layman or just a regular Christian, Candy-Making, Husband, Father, Friend who lives in the "City of Good Neighbors" here on the East Coast. To be more specific, and relevant to the point I want to make with this disclaimer/note, please understand that I'm also a newly converted Confessional Lutheran who recently escaped American Evangelicalism almost 2 years ago now. That being said, please contact me ASAP if you believe that any of my "old beliefs" seem to have crept their way into any of the material you see published here, and especially if any of the content is inconsistent with our Confessions and Lutheran doctrine (in other words, if it's not consistent with God's Word, which our Confessions merely summarize and repeatedly point us back to over and over again) so that I can correct those errors immediately and not lead any of His little ones astray (James 3:1). Also, please be aware that you might also discover that some of the earlier pieces I wrote for this blog back in 2013 definitely fall into that "Old Evangelical Adam" category since I was a "Lutheran-In-Name-Only" at the time and was completely oblivious to the fact that a Christian "Book of Concord" even existed (Small/Large Catechism? What's that!?!). This knowledge of the Lutheran basics was completely foreign to me even though I was baptized, confirmed, and married in an LCMS church! So, there are some entries that are a little "out there" so-to-speak since the subject matter was also heavy influenced by those old beliefs of mine. I know that now and I'm still learning. Anyway, I decided to leave those published posts up on this website and in cyberspace only because they are not blasphemous/heretical, because we now have this disclaimer, and only to demonstrate the continuing work of Christ and the Holy Spirit in my life (Hebrews 12:2; Philippians 1:6). Most importantly, please know that any time I engage in commenting on and/or interpreting a specific portion of the holy Scriptures, it will always closely follow the verse-by-verse notes from my Lutheran Study Bible and/or include references to the Book of Concord unless otherwise noted. Typically, I defer to what other Lutheran Pastors both past and present have already preached and taught about such passages since they are the called and ordained shepherds of our souls here on earth. Finally, I'm going to apologize ahead of time for the length of most entries (this disclaimer/note is a perfect example of what I mean! haha!). I'm well aware that blogs should be short, sweet, and to the point, but I've never been one to follow the rules when it comes to writing. Besides, this website is more like a "Christian Dude's Diary" in the sense that everything I write about and share publicly isn't always what's "popular" or "#trending" at the time, but is instead all the things that I'm experiencing and/or studying myself at the moment. For better or for worse, these posts tend to be much longer than most blog entries you'll find elsewhere only because I try to pack as much info as possible into a single piece so that I can refer to it again and again over time if I need to (and so that it can be a valuable resource for others -- if possible, a "One-Stop-Shop" of sorts). Thank you for stopping by and thank you in advance for your time, help, and understanding. Feel free to comment/email me at any time. Grace and peace to you and yours!


About JKR

Christian. Husband. Father. Friend.

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Thank you for visiting A Lutheran Layman! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question since we do not exercise censorship. We've seen a similar policy with other blogs and it's worth repeating: Please act as if you're a guest in my home, and we'll get along just fine. I think anyone would agree that the kind of back-and-forth that is characteristic of blogs/chat forums and social media is becoming tiresome for all of us. Still, we should confess, edify, and love (and contend and defend when needed). Bottom line? Search the Scriptures! Apply Acts 17:11 to anything and everything you find here and, if you do happen to disagree with something you find here (which is certainly ok), or think I'm "irresponsible" and "wrong" for writing it, then please refute my position by supporting yours with Scripture and/or the Confessions. I don't think that's an unreasonable request, especially for those who identify themselves as "Christians" here, right? Besides, Proverbs 27:17 tells us "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another" and 2 Timothy 3:16 says, "all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." If you have an opinion that's great, I welcome it, but try to support it using God's Word. I mean, if the goal here is to help us all arrive at the truth of God's Word (myself included), then it should be easy to follow through on this one simple request (I'm talking to all you "Anonymous" visitors out there). Grace and peace to you and yours!

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