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The Fad-Driven Church

By Todd Wilken

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Also See When Religion goes Wrong ... it Goes Terribly, Terribly Wrong (Below)

. . . The dictionary defines a fad as "a practice or interest followed for a time with exaggerated zeal." This could just as well be a description of congregational life of many Christian churches today.

There is a new book, a new program or a new emphasis every year or so. It's all anyone can talk about; it's all the preacher preaches about - for a while. Then, as quickly as it came, it's gone. As eagerly as it was received, it's abandoned and forgotten.

Welcome to the Fad-Driven church.
At first this might not sound like a problem. Some Christians can remember when the Church didn't jump from bandwagon to bandwagon every year or two. But for others, this is all they have ever known. For them, it is hard to imagine what the Church would be like without the constant ebb and flow of church fads. For them, the long list of church fads represents their personal history as a Christian: Spiritual Gift inventories, Spiritual Warfare, Promise Keepers, Weigh Down Workshop, The Prayer of Jabez, the Left Behind Series, Becoming a Contagious Christian, a long succession of evangelism and stewardship programs, and most recently, The Purpose-Driven Life and 40 Days of Purpose. There are many Christians for whom this list (give or take one or two) is Christianity. Some church fads come and go, some come and stay. A few are genuinely harmless; most contain serious theological error. All are popular - while they last. In the fad-driven-church, "exaggerated zeal” has replaced "the faith once for all delivered to the saints." {l}

In the course of hosting Issues, Etc., I've examined most if not all of the recent church fads. I am always surprised - not by the fads themselves, but by something else.. I am always surprised by how uncritically churches accept a fad, how enthusiastically churches embrace a fad and how carelessly churches abandon a fad. That is why this article isn't about the fads themselves, but about the kind of churches that accept, embrace and abandon fads.

Life Cycle of a Church Fad
Every fad has a life cycle. The fad is first accepted, then embraced and finally abandoned. For the fad-driven church, this life cycle is a way life.

The cycle begins with acceptance. The fad-driven church is practiced at this. Too close an examination of the fad at the outset might raise too many questions. "After all, this book is a best-seller!" "Thousands of churches are doing it, how can we go wrong?" Accept first, examine later, if at all. This acceptance may come through the pastor's active promotion or through grassroots popularity. Either way, the fad spreads like wildfire in the congregation.

The cycle continues with enthusiastic embrace. By "enthusiastic" I don't mean excitement or emotion, although those things may be involved. What I mean is that the fad-driven church embraces its latest fad with creedal intensity. While the fad has currency, it is an article of faith. Belief in the fad becomes a mark of loyalty to the church. During this phase of the fad's life cycle, critics of the fad may be dismissed as unloving, judgmental or unconcerned for saving souls. At the very least, they are viewed as troublemakers and obstacles to the church's mission. During this phase, in some cases, the fad may dictate what is preached, the content of bible study or even the focus of congregational life.

The life cycle ends with the abandonment of the fad. Some fads have a built-in expiration date... most simply linger until something better comes along. The fad-driven church may cling with a martyr's fervor to the fad while it lasts, but everyone knows that its days are numbered. Sooner or later it will have to be abandoned. Accept the fad, embrace the fad and abandon the fad: This is the life of a fad-driven church. There are exceptions to this life cycle. In a few cases a fad doesn't die; it grows into something bigger than a fad. It grows into a movement... I have often been critical of church fads at the height of their popularity. After several encounters with fad defenders, I noticed something. The seasoned member of the fad-driven church will defend his fad today. But he will happily abandon the same fad six months from now. I realized that the fad itself is inconsequential; everyone knows that it will be forgotten sooner or later. Christians caught in the cycle of church fads must defend a particular fad, because by doing so, they are defending their willingness to accept, embrace and abandon fads in general. They are defending their fad-driven-ness.

A Lack of Discernment
The need of discernment in the Church is one of the most frequent admonitions in Scripture.2 Paul's warning to the Ephesians is typical:

    We are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming, but speaking the truth in love we are to grow up in all aspects unto Him, who is the head, even Christ. {3}

The church is supposed to stand immovable against "every wind of doctrine." By contrast the fad-driven church is a windsock. If you want to know which way the wind is blowing, the latest teachings, the newest programs or the most current methods, just look at the fad-driven church, If you want to know what the fad-driven church will be doing next, just walk through your local Christian bookstore or page through a Christian publisher's catalogue.

In the fad-driven church, books, programs and seminars are evaluated primarily by their sales, popularity and attendance record rather than on their theological merit. "False teaching? Why would so many churches be reading this book if it contained false teaching?”… Can millions of Christians be wrong? Yes, they can.

Ironically, the fad-driven church often excuses its lack of discernment in the name of saving souls. It justifies its appetite for fads in the name of evangelism. "Whatever it takes" is the creed of the fad-driven church. "Whatever it takes to reach the lost" is supposed to be a courageous new strategy for evangelism. But "Whatever it takes" is not a strategy. "Whatever it takes" is an admission that you have no strategy. Sinners aren't saved by "whatever." Sinners are saved by what Jesus did at the Cross. "Whatever it takes" is just another way of saying, "Whatever people want," or "Whatever everyone else is doing." Rather than seeking the lost, the fad-driven church is just seeking its next fix.

Some advocates of church fads take the "Eat the meat, spit out the bones" approach to false teaching. They claim that practicing discernment means spitting the "bones" of error while eating the "meat" of truth. There are several problems with this approach. First, it assumes that a church fad contains only isolated false teachings, like so many bones in a fish. But many church fads don't just contain false teaching; they are based on false teaching... Second, the "bone spitting" approach assumes that the errors of the latest church fad will be obvious to everyone. Often they are not. In the 2nd century, Irenaeus battled the fad of Gnosticism. He observed:

    Error, indeed, is never set forth in its naked deformity, lest, being thus exposed, it should at once be detected. But it is craftily decked out in an attractive dress, so as, by its outward form, to make it appear to the inexperienced (ridiculous as the expression may seem) more true than the truth itself. {4 }

The "inexperienced" are still infants in the faith. Would you give an infant a fish to eat knowing that there were bones in it?

Finally, the "bone spitting" approach fails to recognize that a continuous stream of fads will erode the church's ability to discern truth from error. With every new fad, the fad-driven church grows less able to recognize the truth. In time, the fad-driven church is unable to discern the true Gospel. Paul found this to be the case among the Corinthians:

    If one comes and preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or you receive a different spirit which you have not received or a different gospel which you have not accepted; you hear this beautifully. {5}

This is the bottom line. A church willing to tolerate some false teaching will eventually tolerate any false teaching - even a false gospel, a false spirit and a false Jesus. For this reason, when it comes to: false teaching, Scripture's command isn't to "bone-spit," but to avoid it altogether. {6}

...Os Guinness has written recently about the "idol of relevance" and accurately described the mentality of the fad-driven church:

    And of course, whatever is next must be a great deal better still... The past is beside the point, outdated, reactionary, and stagnant. In a word that is today's supreme term of dismissal, the past is irrelevant, Everything Christian from worship to evangelism must be fresh, new, up-to-date, attuned, appealing, seeker- sensitive, audience-friendly, and relentlessly relevant... ."All new," "must-read; "the sequel that is more than equal” - the mentality is rampant and the effect is corrosive. {7}

Rather than making the church more relevant, this mentality only makes the fad-driven church more susceptible to fads and more desperate;

Relevance without truth encourages what Nietzsche called the "herd" mentality and Kierkegaard "age of the crowd. "Further compounded by accelerated change, which itself is compounded by the fashion-driven dictates of consumerism, relevance becomes overheated and vaporizes into trendiness. {8}

Guinness' final observation is an uncanny paraphrase of Jeremiah's lament:

    Feverishness is the condition of an institution that has ceased to be faithful to its origins. It is then caught up in "a restless, cosmopolitan hunting after new and ever newer things.” {9}

    They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, to hew for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water [Jeremiah 2:11-13].

This explains the short life span of so many church fads. It is the result of desperation. The fad-driven church's new cisterns are broken. They can't hold water. Even while the last drops drain from the old cistern, the fad- driven church must desperately dig a new one. But the new cistern is as leaky as the old one, so the digging must go on.

Nothing to Offer; Nothing to Say

William Inge said, "Whoever marries the spirit of this age will find himself a widower in the next.” Take away the fads, and what of the Church is left in the fad-driven church? In some cases, what's left isn't the church at all, but a collection of principles, practices and ideas that don't add up to anything resembling the Christian faith. Rather than "the pattern of sound words" {10} there are only the remnants of past fads.

In the name of saving the lost, the fad-driven is trading the saving message of the Gospel for the newest gimmick. If such a church does reach the lost, will it have anything to say that can save them? ... Will the fad-driven church give Christians Jesus or Jabez, lasting forgiveness or the latest fashion?

And for the member of the fad-driven church who has known nothing but fads, will these fads leave her a Christian on her deathbed (or will she be left wondering what that whirlwind of best-sellers, seminars, video sermons and three-ring binders was all about?)

The church that wraps its identity and mission around the evanescent desires of finicky consumers, will run the risk of creating a church as ephemeral as those desires. {11} Will the fad-driven church remain the Church? In its “exaggerated zeal for all things new, will it hold fast to the unchanging message of the Cross?”

Fad or Faith
We live in an age of pious distractions. We live in an age of church fads. The fad-driven church has structured its life around the trends and innovations of the day. Christian publishers and the mega-church gurus are ready to provide something new as often as the masses demand it. But St. Paul encourages and warns the Church:

    In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead; and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage - with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. {12}

The Church has something better than any fad. The time has come. Ears are itching. Ears are turning. The Church must take up Paul's charge. Now more than ever the Church must preach the Word and ignore the fads.

Many in the fad-driven church believe that preaching the Word is impractical: "If just preaching the Word worked, people would be lining up at the door." Others in the fad- driven church believe that preaching the Word is outdated: "It may have worked 50 years ago, but not today." Others believe that preaching the word is just too simple, Rick Warren has said as much,

We've all heard speakers claim,

    "If you'll pray more, preach the word; and be dedicated; then your church will grow." Well, that's just not true. I can show you thousands of churches where pastors are doctrinally sound; they love the Lord; they're committed and spirit-filled and yet their churches are dying on the vine. {13}

This is nonsense. How can a church that is preaching the Word, of God be "dying on the vine?" Paul tells the Church to preach the Word not because it is the most practical way, or the most current way, or the simplest way. Paul tells us to preach the Word because it is the only way.

    For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God. God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For indeed Jews ask for signs, and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified; to Jews a stumbling block, and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. {14}

G.K. Chesterton said, "The Church always seems to be behind the times, when it is really beyond the times; it is waiting till the last fad shall have seen its last summer. It keeps the key of a permanent virtue." That key is the Gospel, the message of the forgiveness of sins purchased at the Cross, with the blood of Jesus.

That key is the Gospel proclaimed to every sinner every Sunday... Yes, this Gospel is popularly believed to be impractical, outdated, and simplistic. But it isn't. Rather, this Gospel is "power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes. {15}

Without this Gospel, the Church is at the mercy of every new fad. However, with this Gospel, the Church really is beyond the times.

As I write this, my 12 year-old daughter is convinced that hip-hugger bell-bottoms are the greatest idea in fashion history. I don't have the heart to tell her that I used to think so too. She thinks her father looks old-fashioned and lacks all sense of style. I don't have the heart to tell her that I look back at pictures of my bell- bottom days and laugh. I don't have the heart to tell her that someday she will do the same. The Church is an old man who has been wearing the same clothes in the same style his whole life. He refuses to change with the fashions. He simply lets the fads pass him by. Yes, he seems behind the times. But look again at what he is wearing. He is clothed in Christ.

This article is an abridgement of the longer article which can be found in Issues, Etc. Journal, Vol. 3, No.3, pp. 4- 9. You can access Issues, Etc at http://www.issuesetc.org/

1 Jude 3.

2 Romans 16:17; 1 Cor. 14:29; 2 Cor. 13:5; Gal. 1:9; Phil. 1:8-11; 2 Thess. 3:6; 1 Tim. 4:6, 16; 6:3-5; 2 Tim. 1:13; 2:15; 4:3-5; Titus 1:7-14; 2:1; 1 John 4:1; Hebrews 5:14.

3 Ephesians 4:14-15.

4 Irenaeus of Lyons, Adversus Haereses, 1.,2, in The Ante-Nicine Fathers, vol, 1, Alexander Roberts and James Donalson, ed., Hendrickson, 1994.

5 2 Cor.11:4.

6 Gal. 2:4-5; 5:9; 1 Cor. 5:6; Phil. 3:2; 2 Thes. 2:15; 1 Tim. 4:6-7; 6:20-21; 2 Tim. 1:13-3:1-17; 2 Peter 2:1-3; 3:17-18; Rev. 2:14-16

7 Os Guinness, Prophetic Untimeliness, A Challenge to the Idol of Relevance, Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003, pp. 40, 76.

8 Os Guinness, Dining with the Devil, The Mega- church Movement Flirts with Modernity, Rapids: Baker, 1993, p. 63.

9 Os Guinness, Dining with the Devil, p. 63.

10 2 Tim. l:13,

11 Philip Kenneson, James Street, Selling Out the Church, The Dangers of Church Marketing, Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1997, p. 20.

12 2 Tim. 4:1-4.

13 Rick Warren, "Rick Warren Interview" at http://www.pastors.comiportal/new/Ricklnterview.asp

14 I Cor. 1:21-25; Also Matt. 24:14; Luke 24:46-47; Romans 10:17; 16:25-27; 2 Cor. 4:5; Col. 1:25-28.

15 Romans 1:16.


When Religion Goes Wrong ... it Goes Terribly, Terribly Wrong
Neil Botham

FOR 27 years I have worked in the same school near my home in Chesterfield. During that time I have seen many fads come and go amongst the children. It seems every few weeks. It may be a fad concerning dress, music, TV programmes, the latest computer game, collectors’ items or the latest toy. And of course, the manufacturers jump on these fads and the worldwide market can be worth millions.

Recently it was the fad of collectors’ cards that swept our school, where the children were purchasing packs of these cards with sweets and then swapping them until they had obtained the full set. You don’t have to be a genius to realize that the card manufacturers would hold certain cards back from production until the market had been flooded with all the others in the set.

Then something happened to make this fad seem different from other similar promotions that had gone before. One night a Christian friend visited me at home and as we stood talking in the kitchen he noticed a pile of these cards on the table which I was saving for my grandchildren. He asked “What are you doing with these cards”? “Saving them for my grandchildren,” I replied. He looked through the cards and said something that really got me thinking: “If your grandchildren don’t want them can I have them? I and others at work are collecting them and there’s some here that will complete my set”.

Over the following weeks I thought about the incident a lot. This was the first time I realized that children’s fads can affect adults. Suddenly, a thought came to me: “It’s just the same in the Church. Christianity has its share of fads too”.

During the last couple of decades we have had many different fads within the Church. For example thereontents will be added shortly was the fad of “home-groups” when churches worldwide dumped one of their midweek meetings to meet in “Home Group” leaders’ homes. Sadly the midweek meeting that was dumped was usually the “Bible Study”. This happened at my own church. We stopped the Tuesday night Bible Study, which was arguably the best attended meeting of the week and replaced it with home groups.We studied prepared notes taken not from the Bible, but from books by famous authors who were perceived as accomplishing something within the kingdom of God, authors such as Hayford, Frangipane,Yongi Cho & others. Christian authors who were trying out New Things.

The next fad came with the music. Suddenly, instead of individual members of the congregation, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, breaking out in song and leading everyone else during the communion service, thus providing beautiful times in the presence of the Lord, they had to be replaced with “Worship Groups” complete with “Worship Group Leaders” who chose all the songs beforehand for the congregation to sing. They usually came with drums etc.

This group leader was then sent on a course by the Church on the correct way in which to lead a worship service. (Usually Chris Bowater in the UK.) On these courses ways were discussed in which we could finally dump the hymn book (Referred to by the youth as Granny Songs) and replace it with “dominionist” choruses like “Majesty” from the pen of Hayford and others.

This trend included the need to invest in “Overhead Projectors” and computers to flash the words of the choruses onto a screen which could be seen by the whole congregation. (Unless of course you were old, had bad eyesight or sat at the back). In my own church we invested in a loop system for the hard of hearing which never worked properly. One Sunday morning my wife who is slightly deaf approached the local “Worship Group Leader” and asked him if he could make sure that the loop system was on. He replied, “If you don’t like it clear off home because I’m fed up of hearing you moan”. Understandably, my wife never attended that church again.

So out went the great hymns written from truth, experience and doctrine and we were told that we had to move with the times and accept many of the world’s concepts and styles of music. So “Rock Gospel” came into our midst.

A later fad was “Toronto” which, contrary to the popular belief of the time, rather than unite the church, had the opposite effect and split many congregations worldwide. Along with the Toronto fad came a whole new terminology within Christian circles. We had “Catchers” to catch people as they fell over when they were prayed for; “Carpet Time” a term used to describe the length of time you spent laying on the floor after you had “Gone Down” under the so called “power of the spirit”. We had “Holy Laughter” when you laughed uncontrollably for hours at a time (usually disrupting the preaching of God’s word); and “Lion Roars” when you roared as loud as you could. (Of course this was the Lion of the tribe of Judah and not the other roaring lion described in the Bible, wasn’t it?) See Slain? By What Spirit 

Oh I almost forgot! You also had to get some young people to remove the first two rows of chairs before the service (or in some cases during the service) just in case the “Catchers” missed and someone fell on the chairs and hurt themselves. (This did happen in one well known incident. A lady “Went Down”, someone fell on top crushing her, and she died from the resulting complications. The ministry behind the famous TV evangelist in whose crusade this incident took place settled the ensuing law suit out of court to hush the matter up).

At this time came “Prayer Warriors”, who sat in the service and groaned out loud as they “travailed in the Spirit” supposedly battling the powers of darkness. I recall, at this time, hearing the phrase “Birthed in the Spirit” to show that the Lord was doing a new thing. There was an incident on TV where one pastor stood behind another on stage with his hands between his legs to catch the baby that the Holy Ghost was birthing, whilst members of the congregation cheered. Sadly at this time unless you had clucked like a chicken, roared like a lion, laughed like an hyena, or rolled about on the floor you hadn’t had a good meeting and there was obviously something wrong with your fellowship because God wasn’t visiting you. All of this time your Christian walk was being, in effect, changed from a life of faith to one based on a supposed supernatural experience.

Then came the “Mission Statement” when each individual church had to formulate its own statement, and when others eagerly inquired, “What is your mission statement”? Some of us were bemused by all this because we thought that the church already had a “mission statement” taken from God’s Word, called the “Great Commission”.

It was about this time that Christian terminology changed in earnest. “Sinners” the “Lost” and the “Unsaved” became the “Unchurched” and “Seekers”. This was followed by the fad of the “Alpha Course” with its no negatives and salvation without repentance emphases; followed closely by “Marketing Strategies” where the church had to learn from the world and adopt its marketing techniques and principles in order to operate properly. See The Alpha Course

Suddenly we were surrounded by full-time “Youth Workers” and “Church Administrators” on the church payroll all doing a job which many of us over the years had done without pay as a “ministry unto the Lord”.

Many of you in Christian Leadership will remember that you were sent on weekend retreats to help you to “Define Your Target” and to “Adopt a strategy” to help you to reach that target. To help you reach the “Unchurched” in your “Target Area” the next fad was introduced, “Spiritual Mapping”. A church member was asked to investigate the history of our community to see if there was any record of Satanism or witchcraft. (They usually came up with some evidence no matter how obscure).

Then the “Prayer Warriors” (in teams) were introduced to combat and bind satanic influences over our towns and districts in line with guru Peter C Wagner’s principles of spiritual warfare. Many of these “Spiritual Mapping” ideas were taken straight out of Frank Peretti’s fictional book Piercing the Present Darkness. Even though it was pure fiction, the author effectively became the authority on spiritual warfare and received speaking engagements on the subject from all over the world.

While the “Prayer Warrior” teams were battling behind the scenes congregations were shown the “Transformations Video” so they could support what the “Prayer Warriors” were doing as they entered into this NEW realm of spiritual warfare, which strangely enough both the Bible and church history are totally silent about.

Then along came the BIG GUNS. Wimber’s “Power Evangelism” and his teachings on the five fold ministry gave way to the “New Breed of Christian” not a mere apostle but “Super Apostles”, men who would be in the forefront of this aggressive march of the church in its mission to take dominion over the world. Some of these men joined an organisation called “Promise Keepers” who would promise not to correct or criticize each other and if you did you were labelled a “Heresy Hunter”. Strangely enough, the authors who were promoting this concept of “Super Apostle” usually claimed that they themselves were called by God to belong to this elite band.

Next the “church” came up with the idea from somewhere (definitely not from the Scriptures) that they had to become more acceptable to the world and to their communities. To become more “Social Gospel” orientated; more “User Friendly”; more attractive to the “Unchurched”. We were told to conduct surveys of our localities and find out why the “Unchurched” didn’t attend church and then to give them what they wanted in our services. In short we had to become “Seeker Sensitive” and “Seeker Friendly”.

A new phrase was born: “Friendship Evangelism”. In this concept you formed friendships with unchurched people who shared the same interests as yourself with the intention of bringing them into the fold and then move on to someone else. It was in this environment that the Nine o’clock service was born in Sheffield a city about 12 miles from where I live.

After conducting surveys of their area a local church found that Sheffield was primarily a “Club Culture” so they set out to give people “Christianised Club” in church. It worked. Young people by their hundreds flocked to the contemporary services to see drama, dancing and electronic video displays. And the Anglican Church, amazed by its success gave them their full support that is until the lid blew off and it all went terribly wrong. Now there is a saying that goes something like this, “When religion goes wrong, it doesn’t just go wrong it goes terribly, terribly wrong” (remember Jonestown). The nine o’clock service went terribly wrong.

After its exposure in the national press the Anglican Church authorities conveniently brushed “the experiment” under the carpet, but many still remember the revelations of sexual promiscuity and the smashed and damaged lives which ensued. This shouldn’t surprise any discerning, Bible believing Christian because the old saying still rings as a warning to pastors and church leaders the world over

    “If you build your Church on worldly principles, you will end up with a worldly church”.

So where are we NOW? The current fad within churches all over the world comes directly from the Church Growth Movement (CGM). I call it the “Purpose Driven Phenomenon” others have called it “Purpose Driven Apostasy”. You make up your own mind. It’s all about marketing the church.


You have never heard of it?

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