Book Review – Testing The Claims of Church Growth

There is little reason to describe the author’s purpose in writing Testing The Claims of Church Growth, for the title makes it self-evident. My initial interest in this book was based on the description which says, “For 13 years prior to entering the ministry, Rev. Rodney E. Zwonitzer was a high-level corporate marketing executive for Westinghouse, Storage Technology, and United Technologies Mostek. Now he lays bare the real basis for Church Growth, finding that it is not in the Bible but in business.” I assumed this book would examine the claims of church growth through the eyes of one who is adept at studying and evaluating marketing.

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The book began in a promising fashion with the author providing a primer in marketing; defining it, explaining how it works, and describing his role in it when he was working with large corporations. The most notable information in this initial section is the paradigm shift companies undergo from having the product as the dominant force to the customer being supreme. There were clear reflections of the Church Growth movement in his analysis.

Interestingly, there was very little discussion of marketing beyond the initial section. Instead, the author continually compares and contrasts the claims of Church Growth advocates with claims of Confessional Lutherans and we see that the primary purpose of this book is to address the issues of Church Growth within a specific part of the Lutheran body. While this is not what I had expected, I still found it tremendously helpful. Zwonitzer argues from within the clearly defined, historic, structured framework of conservative Lutheranism. While I have read many evangelical responses to Church Growth, they often reply from within the chaos of evangelicalism. I would also point out that the author has a very strong grasp of the methodology, message and claims of Church Growth. This means that he is not arguing against a mere caricature of a movement, but instead probes to the roots, examining men like McGavaran and spending very little time with the modern-day heroes of church growth such as Rick Warren and Bill Hybels. He also gives credit where credit is due, praising Church Growth advocates for their desire to reach the lost, but at the same time affirming that to do this we do not need to resort to such extreme measures in marketing, theology and ecclesiology.

He writes, “I cannot fault CG [Church Growth] for its fervent desire to seek and save the lost. However, I must ask, Do you give up anything in this rush to grow, to succeed, to be relevant, to please the customer? The evidence convinces me that the answer must be yes. CG gives up the purity of the Gospel and the correct administration of the Sacraments in its zeal to grow.”

In the end, having examined many of the most pressing issues raised by Church Growth, he concludes that the Lutheran Church must respond to this issue and “hammer out a concord through the same means used by our Confessional forefathers.” He goes on to say that “The new controversy of Church Growth has been allowed to spread for more than two decades among our Confessional churches, bringing a scandal from outside our confession. This scandal must be addressed now before it is given more time to spread. It’s time for concord. It’s time to show our allegiance. It’s time to be Lutherans.”

So while I am not in the target demographic for this book, and while I disagree with some of the author’s ardently Lutheran theology, I did find it a helpful read.

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