Church of God Growth: Is There Any?

The Flurry cult, the Philadelphia Church of God, has almost NO converts of their own from the world. Virtually all their members (probably about 98% if I had to venture a guess) are former Worldwide Church of God (WCG) members and their offspring.

 

The following is from Gun Lap’s, website archive which the Painful Truth absorbed some years back.

This is the exact opposite of Armstrong who got virtually all of his members from the world through his own broadcasting. The PCG has simply trapped people who exited the WCG, many of whom exited at a time when there was really nowhere else for them to go, since Flurry’s church was the first WCG split-off (at least the first of any noticable size to arise after Herbert W. Armstrong’s death) and the new doctrines of the deceitful Joseph “Dubya” Tkach were intolerable. The PCG has no growth of their own. No real fruits. HWA died in 1986, over 1/4 century ago, and the PCG has been around almost all of that time (since 1989). Yet, STILL the PCG has no fruit, no real converts from the world to show for the millions of dollars they are spending each year. This did not Herbert Dubya. He had fruits. Even when he never had a pot to pee in. Furthermore, Armstrong taught that IF we please God, he WILL bless the church with growth in membership. Armstrong attributed the lack of growth in the 1970s to getting off track and watering down the truth, which displeased God. By that standard we have to conclude therefore, that the PCG is either off track or is not being used by God. God is not pleased. The same could be said of the other split-off churches who, as far as I know, have little or no real growth, and that probably includes all of them (if I’m wrong, someone please correct me). None of them, individually or collectively, are raising the ruins of the WCG. They are raping the ruins by revictimizng the victims.

In my view, the PCG is not experiencing real growth and never has. They merely picked up people from the WCG while it was falling apart. If some business splits up or produces a spin-off, do they call that growth? A split is just a split. The PCG is just a split-off from the WCG. One could argue that the PCG grew from a few people to a few thousand, but this is a very different kind of growth than what Armstrong experienced. The PCG and other conservative split-offs are, collectively, really just the old WCG downsized, fragmented, reorganized, and renamed. What really occured was not growth, but a process of fragmentation, downsizing, and reorganization under new management. They might have “raised up” a new organization, but so what? There are hundreds of new COGs.

In the first few years of the PCG they liked to talk about how their church was growing in numbers. That was supposed to be evidence that God was blessing it. If it was really evidence that God was blessing it, then we need to realize that the blessing stopped, so something must have gone wrong. They can’t argue that growth is evidence of God’s blessing and then deny that no growth is evidence of a lack of blessing. That would be inconsistent. It would also contradict HWA whom they claim to follow in minute detail.

There seems to be a lot of confusion, some of it probably deliberate, about this matter of what is real growth in membership. So please forgive me if I repeat the point several times to try to make it clear and drive it home.

When a church fragments into a number of split-offs, that is not growth; it’s simply fragmentation. The PCG is simply one of the fragments. Other fragments (to my knowledge anyway) also have little or no real growth. If we go by HWA’s beliefs, this proves that God is not blessing any of these churches. People should not let church leaders mislead them by calling fragmentation “growth” while ignoring the kind of growth that would prove God was blessing them (if we accept Armstrong’s view of things).

Churches who “grow” at the expense of other churches are not experiencing growth in the sense that Armstrong talked about. Consider an example from the secular world. Some say that in recent years there has been a lot of job growth in Texas. Others say all Texas did was attract existing jobs from nearby states. If the latter is the case, we can’t say that Texas produced real economic growth, because their “growth” would have been at the expense of other states.

When people go from one COG to another, they are just confused Armstrong followers looking for a place to call home.

In discussing this topic of COG stagnation or decline we need to speculate a bit because it can be difficult to get reliable numbers. Some of these churches use misleading statistics, and some have stopped giving out their membership numbers. Presumably these things are done to hide the real story about their poor growth or complete lack of it.

Another reason it is hard, if not impossible, to get reliable numbers is the sheer number of split-offs, probably 300 or so that are on the Web, and an unknown number of independent living room sized groups without a web site.

So let’s just look at the larger churches and see if any of them have relibable evidence of real growth.

In an article RCG Fruits—Phenomenal Growth Continues! from the Restored Church of God (RCG) web site, viewed on Dec 23, 2011, David Pack writes:

Almost none of the organizations (large or small) that formed from the Worldwide Church of God in the wake of the apostasy are growing. In fact, many, or even most, are declining in size, as well as in virtually all standard categories of measurement.

He goes on to say,

UCG [United Church of God]… is actually declining in attendance. The Living Church of God … is almost exactly the same size that it was 15 years ago! The Philadelphia Church of God (PCG) has significantly declined. But realize that all of these organizations do, however, mirror the lack of growth—and fruits—of the WCG during the “off-track” liberal years of the mid-1970s! (Ibid.)

So, according to Pack, the major split-offs are not growing. Sure, he claims his church is growing, and at a phenomenal pace, but he does not give out actual attendance figures, so why should we believe him? What has he got to hide by not giving out those figures? He also claims his attendance has been shooting up in the last two years. So are his members suddenly more righteous now and getting blessed more? It seems more likely that he is getting more growth in the last two years due to the internal turmoil in the UCG over the same period. I suspect his “growth” is not real growth from the world. Most likely his “growth” will decline if UCG becomes more stable.

Pack admits a lot of the “growth” is coming at the expense of other COGs, but he doesn’t actually tell us how much of it is real growth of the kind Armstrong experienced.

We are pleased that in 2010 again a significant percent of our growth continues to come from those who were once in the Worldwide Church of God. With more regularly joining us from UCG and LCG (and smaller groups), we look forward to welcoming many more … (Ibid.)

Let’s do a little math. Armstrong died in 1986. Let’s give the new churches 10 years to reorganize and allow for no growth during that period. That brings us to 1996, which is 15 years ago. Let’s assume a conservative growth rate of three percent a year. A growth rate of 3% per year for 15 years works out to 56% (just multiply 1.03 times itself 15 times, and it comes to 1.56, which is a 56% increase). To be conservative (?), let’s suppose 1/4 of the old WCG members stayed loyal. That would be 1/4 of 150,000 which is 37,500. At 3% per year for 15 years there should now be about 58,500, an increase of about 21,000. Where are these people?

Just a single church of 5,000 members growing at 3% per year for 15 years should grow to about 7,800, an increase of 2,800 people.

To double in 15 years would require a modest 5% growth rate. A church that grows at 10% per year should increase by 417% in 15 years! That’s a four-fold increase! 5,000 people would become over 20,000. We don’t see anything even close to that.

So it seems there is no real growth of the kind Herbert Armstrong experienced. Why do none of these churches seem to be able to bring in new people from the world? Several possible causes can be suggested.

One supposed cause, but not the real cause, is Laodiceanism. This would include either Laodiceanism in the members themselves, or the arrival of the Laodicean era. But the Laodicean era, as understood by the COGs, is simply a time of stagnation or decline, not because God doesn’t want more growth, but because the members are lukewarm so he can’t bless them with real growth.

From what I’ve seen in the last 30 years, people in the COGs, or at least the conservative groups that I have some familiarity with, are as dedicated as ever if not more so. So the problem is not Laodiceanism.

I closely followed three split-offs, and people in those churches seemed to be more zealous than the average WCG member was under Armstrong. And some COGs are so strict that probably no lukewarm person would go there in the first place. Yet even these churches don’t seem to have real growth. Despite this, some leaders criticize the members, saying in effect: “Why aren’t we growing? Are we becoming Lukewarm?” Not only do people confuse members coming from other split-offs with growth, at times they confuse building programs with growth. At times when the question of growth comes up, the topic shifts to personal growth, perhaps to avoid the uncomfortable problem of explaining a lack of growth in numbers. Other times they just seem to ignore the subject of growth in numbers so they don’t have to explain why there is no growth in numbers. Some talk about the growth in the number of people they are reaching with their literature. Some such claims are very suspicious and could easily be faked. It seems curious that the claimed readership growth is not producing growth in the number of people who start coming to church.

Another supposed cause of church stagnation or decline is church fragmentation. Some think that if all the churches get together they can do a bigger work. There is probably some truth to this. When prospective newcomers see all the fragmentation, they likely get confused and get cold feet. But I don’t think this is the real problem.

The fragmentation might actually help some churches. While COG critics focus on their favorite targets or the worst offenders, other churches seem to be drawing somewhat less fire. If there were only one COG, the critics would have a much easier time of it, because there would be only one target to expose.

The regrouping of the demolished WCG into smaller COGs shows that the movement had the strength to survive Tkachism and get back on track. But it can’t seem to recover the momentum it once had. It’s on track but unable to generate enough steam to go anywhere.

If most of the spiritual “dead wood” stayed in the goofy new WCG, and the truly dedicated people went to one of the new COGs, the new COGs should have been stronger than ever, and except for the fragmentation, ready for a new growth spurt.

But it didn’t happen that way. Why not?

I believe that the real cause of no growth is the Worldwide Web. Armstrong had a human formula that worked in the pre-Web age. It seems that the same formula is not working today because the errors of the Churches of God have been exposed on the Web. Even if the COGs were united into one big work and Armstrong was still alive today the work would probably be stagnating or dying off.

Herbert Armstrong died in 1986. His nemesis, the Web, was developed shortly afterwards in 1989-1991. (Nemesis is the mythological Greek goddess of divine retribution and vengeance).

The COGs and bible itself are under attack on the Web. The Web is proving that HWA’s work was just a work of men. Bible-based doctrines cannot stand up under the scrutiny on the Web.

Is God unable to call and convert people in the Web age? No. Is the Web more powerful than God? No. The problem is the COGs cannot survive the relentless Web assault against them. The exposure of doctrinal errors, failed prophecies, doctrinal confusion, sinning ministers, and controlling organizations should be enough to keep any new prospect away, if he does his research. The truth has surfaced and COG leaders are running out of room to hide. They can try to hang onto the members they already have by forbidding them to read “dissident literature” on the Web, but how do they stop prospective members from researching them and finding out the real score?

What I suspect is happening is that new prospective members go on the Web to find out more. Then they find out what is wrong with the Churches of God, and lose interest.

The errors of the COGs are being exposed on the Web, primarily it seems, by former COG members. This is probably the main reason people are not coming into these churches from the world.

I expect that the Church of God movement will not experience a significant revival because the Web is not going to go away. However, a mega-disaster like extreme hyperinflation (predicted by some economists) could invalidate my prediction. We’ll see. But even that would not prove God is behind any of these churches. If he were, they should be growing now.

What did Paul say?

Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not the result of my work in the Lord? Even though I may not be an apostle to others, surely I am to you! For you [the members] are the seal of my [the apostle’s] apostleship in the Lord. (I Cor. 9:1-2).

Gerald Flurry and David Pack claim to be apostles, but the “fruits” (the membership) which is supposed to prove that are not their fruits. The converts they have are not the result of their work in the Lord. The converts they have are the fruits of Armstrong’s work, not theirs.

If God were behind even one of these churches, it should see real growth—from the world. The growth should be consistent, not just while other churches (Worldwide Church of God, United Church of God, or whatever) are falling apart or having internal problems. All these church leaders do is take people’s money and do no work for God. They are raping the ruins, revictimizing the victims.

There will always be members who die or leave for various reasons. Unless the COGs can turn things around and start to bring in a significant number of new members from the world, which I do not see any evidence of, they are headed for decline. The faster the better.

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