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Chronicling His Own Failure

Thanks again to everyone who took the time to pray for Michaela and who sent along notes and emails. She was released from hospital yesterday evening and, though she’s still a bit grumpy, she is definitely doing much better. We are very grateful to God!

I do believe this is the final excerpt I’ll be sharing from David Wells’ The Courage To Be Protestant (available now at Amazon and everywhere else). As promised, this one deals with what Wells calls the “marketers”—those Christians who seek, perhaps inadvertently, to shape the church after the world. Wells says quite a bit about them in this book, but this portion of the second chapter stood out to me.


It seems rather clear, then, that the market which is defining most churches today is the one in which people are seeking some spiritual connection but, at the same time, are opposed to things religious. By that, they have in mind doctrines to be believed which they have not defined for themselves, moral norms to be followed which they have not set up for themselves, and corporate practice which is expected. Skip the religion; give us the meat and potatoes of what is spiritual, they are saying. That is what these marketing churches are attempting to do. So, it is no great revelation that those who are fed this trashy diet are frequently those with no worldview and in whose life biblical doctrine has little place.

Perhaps the crowning disappointment in this whole undertaking is the dismal failure of the worship services which are really thought of as being the marketers’ piece de resistance. In fact, eight out of ten believers do not experience the presence of God in their worship at all. Is this really such a stunning outcome to services in which the centrality of truth has disappeared, where biblical categories have been lost, and in which the entertainment ethos dominates everything?

George Barna was one of the primary architects who designed this new approach to “doing” church. He was in on the ground floor three decades ago. As the church’s most assiduous poller, he undoubtedly expected by this time to be the bearer of good news once his marketing strategies were widely adopted, as they have been. It has not turned out that way. It has fallen to him to be the most important chronicler of his own failure.

Leaving behind this long trail of failure as if it had never happened, Barna has nevertheless struck out in a new direction with the same old panache, bravado, and undented self-assurance. The evangelical world has neither gasped nor even blinked. In 2005, he published his book, Revolution which predicted that the church in the coming decade would lose much of its “market share” but, never mind, because now it could climb aboard a different cultural trend and succeed even more spectacularly. Now, serious spiritual revolutionaries can simply cut themselves loose from every local church. Just walk away! Permanently. And find biblical Christianity elsewhere.

What is resulting from Barna’s approach is barely recognizable as Christian today. And that is what makes the desire of some of the leading American marketing pastors to export their experiment to the rest of the world almost incomprehensible. It certainly is an expression of unbounded chutzpah.

The truth is that no matter how proficiently we learn to “do” church in terms of the Western, affluent, highly individualistic market, we are doomed to failure. Indeed, the more proficient we become, if that proficiency requires that we denude ourselves of theology, the more certainly we doom ourselves to failure. The method is inherently flawed. If it succeeds in replicating itself at all, it will only be replicating its own failure. That is what the marketers have failed to see.