Mega-Retreat Stirs Hearts

April 27, 2008 in News

Years of searching, questioning and cross-country travel were involved. Xenos sent teams of researchers to scores of growing, cutting-edge churches across America. Yet for all those hours and money invested, the quest to find a church-planting movement reaching mostly non-Christians was a frustrating failure.

Then Chuck Smith popped on the radar screen. He started Calvary Chapel in the late 1960′s as a small non-denominational church of 25 members outside Las Angeles. Calvary Chapel since then:

  • Built a massive radio network of 400 radio stations, and about 40% of their audience is non-Christian.
  • Planted 1,400 churches, many among the biggest in the country.
  • Grew to more than 1 million people.
  • Spawned a secondary church movement famously known as “Vineyard”.

Xenos sent a team to Costa Mesa to study this Chuck Smith guy. As Chuck describes himself:

I considered myself one of the most godly kids on the block because of what I didn’t do. I didn’t smoke. I didn’t dance. I didn’t go to shows…I thought I was much more holy than the preacher’s kid, who was known to pick up old cigarette butts and smoke them on the sly. I was above all that, and I was sure God noticed.From Chuck Smith’s testimony

Why get excited about a legalistic, big-name preacher? Is he so rare? Put bluntly, did people drive five long hours to get trained in legalistic leadership so they return to rebuke our cigarette-butt-bums?

Then Dennis opened the conference and surprised everyone…

The Big Deal

An estimated 1,000 Xenos leaders gathered from across Ohio were restless at the Friday evening kickoff of the annual Servant Team Retreat. NeoXenos sent 35 leaders who looked tired and grumpy when they arrived in Cincinnati. Suddenly everyone in the crowd – including student-age leaders – was riveted by startling news.

“Calvary Chapel is the first church we’ve found where the majority of their growth was ‘convert growth,’” Dennis McCallum said in the opening speech. “Around 60% of their growth comes from salvations. The closest we’ve ever verified was Willow Creek, with 23% convert-growth.”

Columbus Xenos sees 70% convert-growth, and NEO Xenos sees 80% or higher convert-growth. Typically more than 90% of the growth in Evangelical churches comes from people who transfer from other churches.

The Calvary Chapel discovery makes it possible to learn from another group facing similar issues arising from high conversion-growth, Dennis said. The long and costly search for such a ministry is yielding significant rewards.

It was refreshing to know Calvary is in strong biblical agreement with Xenos. Chuck Smith is actually a strong proponent of God’s grace and able to dismantle the legalistic mind-set because of his upbringing:

From Why Grace Changes Everything

I was careful to keep all my commitments – but I also ended up in a draining, legalistic relationship with God. I had very little joy in my walk with Christ because I was tied to God by a contract. I couldn’t break my agreement; hadn’t I signed and dated it, and didn’t I carry it around with me in my back pocket? I fiercely believed that God owed me something for my efforts! (Read this book for free online).

The Growth Problem

The failure to reach outside the Christian community with the Gospel is widespread among churches, and this STR brought a sober reminder that NEO Xenos is certainly not immune from this frustration. Even Columbus growth has been declining for years, but their convert-growth remains unchanged.

Many efforts and innovations failed to revive their earlier growth, Dennis said. “This year I pretty much stopped looking at our stats.”

“We know your pain!” one NeoXenos leader murmured.

From 1987 until the ministry at KSU began in 2001, NeoXenos growth was flat despite our efforts, plans, consultations, considerations, prayers and turnovers in leadership. But ironically, convert-growth still remained high, producing a “Growth Without Growth” phenomena (read “Hope in Failure”).

Differences With Xenos

Although Calvary Chapel experiences similar convert-growth, Dennis pointed out significant differences with Xenos:

  • It is a leader-oriented movement, where each church is largely driven by a Senior Pastor with an “advisory board” helping out. At NeoXenos we mandate plurality of leadership and a concensus, from DMT meetings to the Board of Trustees.
  • They use a “Big Meeting” approach without home groups, so people are often involved sporadically and in diffuse ways. Xenos is more fellowship-driven, which obviously requires more teaching and leadership resources.
  • They employ the “evangelism crusade” approach, like Billy Graham, relying on travelling, gifted evangelistic speakers such as Greg Laurie, “and you should check him out on the Web,” Dennis said. “They told us, ‘Most of our conversions occur when he comes to town.’” Xenos, of course, practices a more interactive, one-on-one evangelism, which again requires more resources and training.
  • They are loose on church discipline. “Since there’s no home groups, people don’t know about each other much,” Dennis said. Xenos teaches the need for Christians to “speak into” each other’s lives and promote sanctification, what can get sticky at times.
  • They practice poor accountability, Dennis said. He was surprised when Calvary’s accountant said he didn’t know what the current budget was. Similarly, “statistics and attendance are unimportant, because they believe size of the church shouldn’t be a concern,” Dennis said. They apparently practice no planning, have no specific goals and do not track budgets.

Whether these differences are weaknesses or strengths, “they are high in credibility,” Dennis said. “The fact is, God is bringing people to them,” meaning they have credibility with God.

In Part II of Our Report: Should we adopt the Calvary Model here?

Go ahead and leave your own impressions and ideas.

3 responses to Mega-Retreat Stirs Hearts

  1. Kate said on May 21, 2008

    this is definitelly a diferent view point. i think that yes we should send churches like Calvary has done, but not counting the funds or attendence could be a problem. Neo Xenos is set up diferently than Calvary, we have homechurches and such and taking attendence will help us to make sure we aren’t letting our old members slip away. counting the funds, well to make sure that our people are giving and if there is a problem in that area we can address it.

  2. Calvary Chapel’s and other churches like them LOVE the unaccountability of their masses…

    Calvary Chapel in Fort Lauderdale is led by several “formerly” flagrant sexual predators who love to brag about “grace” covering their disgusting pasts… From their attitudes, I wouldn’t be surprised if they are continuing their ways…

    I know they have no problem at all ignoring rapes and other usury and abuse crimes within their congregation…and love to help shield others like themselves from legal accountability as well.

    Why would any genuine christian follow their model?

    Its quite obvious why people love to attend a huge megachurch…its because of the ease of hiding within the hustle and bustle…no one really knows anyone there…

    What does it matter if they preach the truth…even a parrot could repeat what is in the Bible.

    A genuine church would not give the answers you’ve reported above…

  3. Wow! …Are you sure about this stuff? Did the police arrest the rapists & pedaphiles in the Ft. Lauderdale Calvary Chapel? At least you told the police about it, right? How did they escape? Such hysteria! I’m disturbed. I would agree, if you’re right, this must be the most scandalous thing in Christianity, like the Catholic Church cover-up of pedophile priests!

    I know 60 Minutes would love to hear this tip. Please call up CBS News in NYC (they’ll put you in touch with Morely Shaffer) and tell him what you know, because if this conspiracy continues unchallenged, and you knew about it and did nothing about it to stop it, I think you will surely be held accountable by God – truthfully, it’s collusion on your part with filthy criminals to let it go.

Leave a reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

2 trackbacks