Thursday, February 10, 2011

Why Landon Whitsitt Is Completely Wrong

Okay, I have to admit that until this morning, I didn't know who Landon Whitsitt is.  Then I found out that he's the vice-moderator of the General Assembly of the PCUSA (which explains why I had never paid attention) and he chimed in recently on the topic of church growth.

This is a link to his video.   All I can say is this: he's almost completely wrong.

His basic mistake is simple and egregious.  He sets up a so-called "straw man" argument by making presumptions about peoples' motives.  He asserts that church growth is basically about being concerned with "butts in the seats and cash in our offering plate."  Really?  Is that what church growth is about?  He doesn't seem to allow for the idea that some of us still believe that the gospel has real, concrete, eternal, salvific value to people and "every butt" is a person following Christ.  Period.  One of my pastoral role models, Andy Stanley, had this mission statement at North Point Community Church (one of the largest in the nation): to create a church that unchurched people love to attend.  For the money?  No.  Because he knows, as I know, as all Christians should know, that unchurched people need to know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.  Does Rev. Whitsitt not believe that?  Does Rev. Whitsitt know something about Pastor Stanley that we don't know?  Does he have some particular insight into his heart?  If not, he should stop casting aspersions.

Because if we want to throw unfounded accusations around, here's one I might lob in his direction: any pastor who isn't interested in church growth is lazy.  They aren't interested in growth because they don't want the extra work.  They don't want to run the extra programs, they don't want the extra meetings - they just want the status quo they can coast on until they retire.  My insulting aspersions may apply to some pastors, but they are no more generally valid than his.

The most pernicious allegation is that it's all about the cash.  It would be nice if he'd think two seconds before insulting his fellow ministers of the gospel.  Here are a couple of simple things that I think are "facts":

1.  The largest churches have grown significantly beyond the size at which their "profit" would be maximized.  Why?  Because they want to bring people to Christ, not maximize cash.

2.  Most of the pastors who have the leadership skill to run these organizations could be making far more personal cash doing something else.  A great communicator who can inspire people can be very successful in any industry.  On the other hand (another rash, insulting generalization here) a lot of pastors of smaller churches are probably making more money than they could doing something else.  And I am certain of this: a pastor who couldn't be making far more money doing something else probably doesn't have the skills to be a good pastor.  (I say the same for teachers.)

The bottom line is simple: when I see pastors who are interested in church growth, this is what I see - pastors who want to bring people to the gospel of Jesus Christ.  I see pastors who want to fulfill the Great Commission.  I see pastors who could be coasting in their churches, instead working as hard as they can for the sake of others.

Finally, there is his elitist rant that when we have a thriving church, we probably reduced the gospel to the "lowest common denominator."  Lowest?  Really?  The funny thing is that, being a person with a science/math background, I know that the "lowest common denominator" is not even the proper term.  In math, we don't look for the lowest common denominator, we look for the greatest common denominator (also called the greatest common factor).  And the greatest common denominator of humankind is Jesus Christ.  Preach the gospel, leave the other stuff out of it, and your church just might grow.

So Mr. Vice-Moderator, if all you see when someone speaks of church growth is someone obsessed with butts in the seats and cash in the offering plate, the heart I question is yours, not theirs.  Stop assuming the worst about your sisters and brothers in Christ.  Oh, and by the way, tell Louisville to help us grow our churches.


  1. Rich,

    Grace and Peace to you in your ministry.

    Thank you for taking the time to join the conversation.

    I believe that you and I would agree on many points, particularly the goodness of the freedom offered by God in Christ. However, I also believe the point I was trying to make about watered down theology was missed. That is where the critique lies, not in effective methodologies.

    I invite you to view the video again and email me if you would like to have further discussion (

  2. Rich,

    As I travel around the church, I have sensed the same anxiety that Landon described. It seems that in our concerns over budgets and numbers, we can lose sight of what's important--the ministry that God has called us to do.

    Of course, a growing ministry is often a result of a faithful ministry (which is what Landon says), but if we're concerned about growth only for growth's sake, then people can feel manipulated and the church can lost sight of its work.

    Landon's a good friend, so forgive me for being defensive. But I was rather offended that you were "questioning his heart." As someone who has worked with Landon for a long time, I assure you, he doesn't go around assuming the worst about his brothers and sisters, and it saddens me that you don't seem to give him the same courtesy.

    From the video, it seems that Landon's concerned about faulty methodology, but his ultimate concern is for the church.

  3. Dear Carol: I believe that the most faithful task for the church is to be an instrument of God through which people are led to a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. This means that evangelism is job #1, and evangelism is supposed to lead to church growth. All I know about what Landon assumes or doesn't assume is in his video, which clearly presumed that churches that are intentional about growth are primarily interested in the bottom line.

    Your statement that "in our concerns over budgets and numbers, we can lose sight of what's important" is quite different from what Landon said. What he said was that when a church professes concern about growth, its actual concern is "butts in the seats and cash in the offering plate." If you want to say that he didn't mean what he said, fine. I reacted to what he said. As a person who believes that church growth is job #1, I perceived his video as impugning my motives.

    If his concern is for the church and for ministry in the name of Christ, he should not have used "chill out about church growth" as his opening statement; he should have said that we need to be FIRED UP about church growth - but let's do it the right way.

    I don't know him, but he carries a title that means that when he speaks, he speaks as a representative of the denomination. And because the truth claims of the gospel are universal and exclusive, allowing even the perception of ambivalence about bringing the whole world - starting with our communities - to faith in Jesus Christ is a disservice to the PCUSA and the larger church.