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2.3.8 Ministry Context.

The CGM emphasises the importance of the local church understanding its context of ministry. Warren reflects this clearly in his writings: “You will not understand Luther’s theology without firstly understanding Luther’s context”. The CGM’s teaching on the Homogeneous Unit Principle (HUP) highlighted the importance of knowing the culture, politics, race and economy of the people you propose to reach and with that knowledge contextualising your message to suit the people.

As we have noted, the CGM[2] suggests that people prefer to be in their race and class groups; there is a great deal of truth in this observation. Common characteristics within the lives and lifestyles of people tend to bind them together and produce people or tribal groups. Groups become more open to understand the gospel when it is presented to them in their group setting.  When a homogeneous church is built reflecting the common culture of the indigenous group, the CGM suggests that the more that group is allowed to express it own particular form of worship the more open it will be to the gospel message..

This is a transferable principle. Again the homogeneous unit challenge is at the heart of Saddleback. Warren does not disguise in any way that he does not see the HUP as an issue for constant debate. On the contrary he sees it as an opportunity within his circumstances for evangelism.  In chapter 9 in the book “The Purpose Driven Church” Warren asks: “Who is your target?” This question is more likely to be driven by marketing influences rather than heavy theological issues. 

Warren reminds us that Jesus used HUP, for he said “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel”.[3] It could be argued theologically that the Sovereign God used HUP in His overall desire to reach the whole world.  The Apostle Paul reminds his readers: “I had been entrusted with the task of preaching to the Gentiles, just as Peter had been to the Jews”.It could be argued that we have three clear example of the Homogeneous Unit Principle at work in Biblical times.

While Saddleback may well be criticised for using the CGM homogeneous principle in its church planting, criticism of that action would be relevant if Saddleback was a numerical failure. However HUP has worked well for Saddleback and that implies the need to see if it can be used in other local church situations. 

2.3.9 Spiritual Measurement.

The CGM suggests that the church should be able to measure the receptivity of those they hope to reach.  The CGM indicates a number of steps to take.  Firstly seek out a homogeneous unit and understand their characteristics and context of life.  Know the levels of resistance to the gospel and plan to reach the most receptive.  It can be acknowledged that to some degree consciously or unconsciously, most local churches will try to understand their ministry environment, and could apply this principle readily.

2.3.10 Strategy.                  

The importance of wise planning is advised by the CGM: the setting up of goals, evaluating results, development of strategies and knowing in what direction the church is heading.  The CGM is more than just talking about numbers; it is totally committed to the development of the local church contextually.

The CGM’s principles for mission when examined have been described as universal truths.The CGM is at the cutting age of a new and effective missiological approach to modern church problems, and is not hesitant in offering possible answers to the immediate local church’s needs.

2.4. Conclusion.                        

The CGM is precise in the delivering of its vision, principles and process of application.  That being the case, it leaves itself open for critical evaluation and constant challenge to the authentic nature of its missiological pronouncements. C. Peter Wagner’s challenging comment summarised the paradigm shift taking place in modern American Church society.

He suggested that the CGM’s vision was to “make more effective the propagation of the gospel and the multiplication of churches on new ground and to see America evangelised in one generation”. The CGM accepted from the outset that Christianity could wisely use the context of community to carry their message. Instead of accepting the traditional interpretation that Christianity lived in conflict with post modernity, the CGM modified the understanding by suggesting that what Christianity had been in conflict with was non-Christian alternatives concerning the definition of post modernity.  

That understanding radically changed the ecclesiological and methodological approach of the CGM, introducing the concept of “new ground” as it ministered into a post modern culture. The “new ground” was no more than a contextual issue as opposed to being an important theological problem.

2.4.1 Perceived Weaknesses.

Os Guinness,[6] whose book “Dining with the Devil” is a genuine attempt to understand the CGM’s interaction with post modernity or the prevalent context, writes that the “new ground” that the CGM openly uses, is post modern thinking and that it is used to such a degree that the purity of the gospel message proclaimed is compromised and vital teaching de-emphasised.   While Guinness can suggest where he thinks the CGM is wrong, he offers no alternative to help stem the decline in the traditional church, and is solely reactive to the CGM.  

Whereas McGavran’s book “The Bridges of God” was born in a modernity influenced context, today’s church has to rethink how to use post modernity influenced culture to generate an opportunity to share the Gospel.The new ground Wagner referred to was the challenge for the church to embrace ways in which the post modern culture could be used to intraculturalise the gospel.  This is key to the CGM’s contribution to the church.

The inability of the traditional church to be able to cope with and minister into a rapidly changing culture driven by strong non Christian tendencies, created an environment conducive for decline and the ultimate death of many local church fellowships. As the CGM is analysed by theologians, sociologists and others, a clear vision is seen to motivate the movement. McGavran said, “Church growth has been assumed and is, alas, not occurring”..

The CGM’s vision is to see the renewal of the church in general through the renewal of the local church as opposed to the establishing of para church organisations to carry out the evangelistic task. C. Peter Wagner remarked that “no task could be more crucial. How to approach and plan for the execution of the task is the question of the day”.The local church became the direct object of the CGM philosophy, as “the central task of missions must always be the multiplication of churches”.[9] The implementing of such a mission would of necessity have at least two prongs of attack: a charismatic renewal followed by the use of behavioural sciences.  

This “new ground” i.e. Christian pragmatism, according to Wagner[10] would become the foundation upon which their vision as a movement would be built. This direction is crucial to understanding the real differences between the traditional church’s approach to mission and that of the CGM in general and Saddleback’s numerical growth as a mega church in particular.  

Behind the development philosophy of the CGM are three clear and distinct principles that separated this new movement from other traditional church ministry.It was a movement of new beginnings. Included in its philosophy are concepts of spirituality, the role of the church in culture and the historical significance of being in a modern society.

Some have reflected that to some degree the CGM is stuck in modernity and has not made the transition across to a post modern context, but in reality the MCM as we will see in the next chapter, has made that transition and it is accepted that the MCM has been influenced by CGM principles for church health and growth while following the popular church growth movement philosophy in general.[11]Post Modernism is a softer cultural development and is more inclusive than modernism.

In the light of that, if the CGM is somewhat behind in its understanding of modern society and how to meet its spiritual needs, it has a greater mountain of materials through the MCM, Christian TV, Christian web sites and new published insights on church growth to assist them on their journey to relevance to the post modern world.  In reality their principles are still being used by many with great numerical success and that in its self would suppose some form of relevance. 

2.4.2 Culturally influenced spirituality.

Spiritually the CGM returned to what it believed to be the fundamentals of Christian mission: local inward church reformation and renewal.  The CGM has been criticised by Snyder[12] for not embracing and becoming part of the Charismatic movement. However they would argue that the CGM was not a denomination but an organisation to be used by all denominations.The goal of the CGM was to prioritise evangelism while expecting results and signs following.  

The need to be aware of and to understand the culture, with which the local church was engaging, meant the best use of methods to communicate the message.  The CGM recognised the changes taking place in American culture and adjusted their work application in such a way that it allowed them to maintain their relevance to community and culture.  Modernization was not an uncomfortable word for the movement; clearly their ability to countenance change allowed them to continue to be relevant in their community.

2.4.3 Innovation and creativity.

Historically, the CGM reflects a movement using initiative, creativity, innovation and the capability and capacity to adapt to any given local church situation delivering numerical growth in the life of the church.It could be said of the American evangelical church that it has done well on revelation but poorly on relevance, whereas the CGM could not be classified in this way as increasingly the CGM became relevant to community.

The CGM emphasises context; to fish where the fish are biting necessitates being able to understand the way fish function in their context (the river) and then to use that knowledge to your advantage.  The CGM’s use of post modernity and context is no different; they help leaders in churches to reap the benefits of understanding their context into which God has placed them to share His gospel message.

The CGM was not committed to build megachurches, although this has been the outcome, but desired to see genuine renewal within the local church. The “new ground” upon which the CGM believed the new 21st century church would be built was one which stood firmly for the evangelisation of the unchurched, and with that the desire for numerical growth, spiritual health and the desire to build a biblical church.

Sometimes the CGM is evaluated purely as an organisation that seeks to see churches grow numerically; on the contrary they call for local churches to take seriously the discipling of converts. C. Peter Wagner qualifies this by saying: The gift of teaching is the special ability that God gives to certain members of the body of Christ to communicate information relevant to the health and ministry of the body and its members in such a way that others will learn.[13] Few would disagree with that desire but the CGM continued to place great emphasis on the need to be culturally aware, to modernise the church internally through instruction and to be creative in its mission strategies.

[1] Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Church, 27.

[2] Donald McGavran, Understanding Church Growth, 46.

[3] Matthew`s Gospel, ch.6:10, 15:24.

[4] Galatians, ch. 2:7.

[5] uk/Os Guinness / Wagner uses John R. Mott`s slogan.

[6] Os Guinness, Dining With The Devil, Grand Rapids, Michigan, Baker Books, 1993.
[7] Donald McGavran, Understanding Church Growth, 13.

[8] C. Peter Wagner, Strategies for Church Growth, Illinois, USA, Marc, 1987, 16.

[9] McGavran, Understanding Church Growth, 45.

[10] Wagner, SFCG, 29.

[11] See page 13 of this dissertation.

[12] Morris Snyder, The Community of the King, Downers Grove, IVP, 1977.

[13] C. Peter Wagner, Your Spiritual Gifts, Eastbourne, England, MARC, 1990, 127.

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