Bible Class Curricula - Denominational Doctrines (Part 2) - Lesson #4 - The Community Church Movement

  1. History of the Community Church
  1. When did this movement start? It began in the early 1920s. 1
  1. Where did it start? United States
  1. Where is their official headquarters? While each community church claims autonomy, many are a part of the International Council of Community Churches. The ICCC headquarters is located at 21116 Washington Parkway, Frankfort, Illinois 60423.
  1. Who founded this movement? Many think that perhaps Rick Warren or Bill Hybels founded the movement. That is not the case, however. The man who really got the movement started was Paul Rader—through his Chicago Gospel Tabernacle (which seated 5,000 people). 2 Rick Warren and Bill Hybels play an active role in promoting this movement today.
  1. What is their authority? Many believe that community churches follow the authority of the Bible. In fact, the Willow Creek Community Church official statement says, “The sole basis of our belief is the Bible, which is uniquely God-inspired, without error, and the final authority on all matters on which it bears.” 3 The unique part of that statement is the words, "on which it bears,” which implies that there may be some things on which the Bible does not come to bear, and on which people can simply “choose as they like.” This concept is the real “authority” for the community church. Community churches poll the members of the local community to see what they want and then put those things into action in order to draw huge crowds.
  1. Why are people attracted to the community church movement? Bill Hybels conducted a survey to find out why people did not regularly attend church. He discovered four main reasons, which he addressed in the community church movement. Those four reasons were: “(1) people didn’t like being bugged for money; (2) found church boring, predictable, and routine; (3) didn’t think that the church was relevant to their lives; and (4) always left church feeling guilty (the Christian message was too negative with sin, etc.).” 4
  1. What are some characteristics of a community church? Alan Highers, in the October 2000 issue of the Spiritual Sword, identified ten characteristics of this movement:
  • Contemporary music and what might be called “upbeat worship”
  • Eliminating or diminishing the name “church of Christ” or other names
  • Casual emphasis in worship, both in style and dress
  • Different kind of leadership model than authoritarian elders
  • Praise teams and entertainment orientation in worship
  • A greater emphasis on self, including one’s own feelings and emotions
  • De-emphasis on doctrine and the restoration plea
  • Less contact and fellowship with mainline denominations
  • Division of existing congregations in order to implement the community model
  • A market-driven program, i.e., striving to provide what people want or what they are seeking 5


  1. Doctrines of the Community Church Movement Examined
  1. What must a person do to become a member of a community church? The “Saddleback model” for church membership is quite similar to most community church models. To be a member at Saddleback, you must have a personal commitment to Jesus, go through C.L.A.S.S. [“Christian Life and Services Seminar”] sessions, be baptized by immersion, and commit to abide by the membership covenant. 6
  1. The Bible provides a simple plan of salvation that requires one to hear the Word of God (Romans 10:17), believe in Jesus Christ (John 8:24), repent of past sins (Luke 13:3), con fess Jesus (Romans 10:10), and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38). The community church model for church membership differs significantly from God’s plan (Acts 2:47).
  1. Music, as a part of worship, is one of the areas where the community church has departed drastically from Scripture. The authority for the type of music used by community churches is not found within Scripture. Community churches frequently employ a ten-piece rock band that plays everything from country to classical music.
  1. The Scriptures are clear on the subject of music (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16). A cappella singing is all that is authorized by God.
  1. The community church movement is organized in an unscriptural manner. The bylaws of the Saddleback Community Church state:

The officers of the Church shall be a Senior Pastor, an Executive Pastor, and a Pastor of Administration. The Senior Pastor shall serve as the President of the Church and shall act as the moderator of the Church. The Executive Pastor shall serve as the Vice President of the Church and shall act as the moderator of the Church in the absence of the Senior Pastor. The Pastor of Administration shall serve as both the Secretary and the Treasurer of the Church, and shall act as a moderator in the absence of both the Senior Pastor and the Executive Pastor. The Senior Pastor may not serve concurrently as the Pastor of Administration of the Church. 7

  1. The organization of the New Testament church differs significantly from this. Jesus is the Head of the church (Ephesians 1:22-23), elders are overseers (1 Peter 5:1-3), deacons are official servants (1 Timothy 3:12ff.), and all members work together to glorify Christ (Philippians 1:1).
  1. The community church movement is in direct conflict with the Bible’s teaching about baptism. The Saddleback Community Church official statement on baptism says,

Baptism doesn’t make you a believer—it shows that you already believe. Baptism does not “save” you, only your faith in Christ does that. Baptism is like a wedding ring —it’s the outward symbol of the commitment you make in your heart. 8

  1. It is rare to find a statement on baptism that is so bold, brazen, and completely out of line with New Testament teaching on baptism (Acts 2:38; 22:16; 1 Peter 3:21; John 3:3-5; Mark 16:16).
  1. One of the key elements of a community church is the relaxed way in which people dress. The attitude expressed by community church leaders is, “We’re more concerned with meeting your real life needs than with what you wear. So, dress casually and you’ll fit right in. After all, we have a pastor who wears Hawaiian shirts…and no socks!” 9
  1. The Bible makes it abundantly clear that we must dress in a way that gives God our best and that is reverent (1 Timothy 2:9-13; 1 Peter 3:1-4).
  1. What do community churches teach concerning the Lord’s Supper? Community churches believe, “Jesus never said when or how often believers should observe the Lord’s Supper. He instituted it on a Thursday night. In the Bible, Christians observed the communion in small groups in homes.” 10
  1. The Bible, however, does teach us when to partake of the Lord’s Supper (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 11; Acts 2:42).
  1. Drama is a big part of the community church experience. You are just as likely to see a play as to hear a sermon at a community church.
  1. Remember, God chose the “foolishness of preaching” (not acting!) to save the lost (1 Corinthians 1:21; Colossians 3:17).
  1. The community church movement has become popular because it says very little about sin. Joel Osteen directly relates his success to not mentioning the word sin. 11
  1. To not mention sin is to ignore its destructive ways and to overlook its only cure—Jesus Christ (Isaiah 59:1-2; Romans 3:23; 6:23; Hebrews 9:22; 10:12). Not mentioning sin during preaching is akin to going the doctor with a grave illness—and having him chat with you about the weather! Sin is the problem. Jesus is the cure. Preachers must speak out against sin (2 Timothy 4:2).


Study Questions for the CommunityChurch Movement

  1. Many people believe the Community Church Movement is a “new” phenomenon. Is that true? When did this movement actually begin?
  1. The roots of this movement can be traced back to what man?
  1. What is meant by the phrase which states the Bible is the “final authority on all matters on which it bears”? Does this imply that some, even many, things have been left open to an opinion?
  1. What four things attract people to the Community Church Movement?
  1. Alan Highers list ten characteristics of the Community Church movement. List and discuss what you believe are the main emphases of this movement today?
  1. What must a person do become a member of the Community Church? How does this differ with examples of conversion in the Book of Acts?
  1. Is instrumental music a big part of the community movement? What do the Scriptures teach about using instruments in Christian worship?
  1. Contrast what the Community Church teaches about baptism with what the Bible teaches about this subject.
  1. A relaxed attitude toward dress is common among Community Churches. Does this relaxed attitude in dress suggest a deeper problem? If so, what?
  1. Did Jesus institute the Lord’s Supper on Thursday night? If so, is that our pattern today? Is there anything in Scripture about when and how often we should take of the Lord’s Supper?
  1. Does the New Testament authorize the use of drama in worship?
  1. Much of Joel Olsteen’s success is due to the absence of what word from his preaching? What does this suggest about our society?






5 Alan E. Highers, The Spiritual Sword, October 2002, Vol. 32, No. 1, Getwell Church of Christ, 1511 Getwell Road, Memphis, TN 38111.

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