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Church Growth: The Cost of Discipleship?
One of the nation's newest and fastest-growing Christian movements may also be among the most dangerous, say campus ministers and religion scholars.
"It's the most destructive religious group I've ever seen," says Robert Watts Thornburg, dean at Boston University's Marsh Chapel, commenting on the International Churches of Christ (ICC), based in Los Angeles.
The ICC's 10 percent-plus annual growth rate places it among the fastest-growing religious groups in North America. The church lists membership at 143,000 in 292 churches, including 34 congregations that have an average weekly attendance of at least 1,000. About 80 congregations are in the United States.
The movement is active in 115 countries, and one of its new goals is to plant a congregation in every nation with a city of at least 100,000 people by the year 2000. Hope Worldwide, the ICC relief-and-development agency, operates 100 projects in 30 countries.
Religion analysts contend that the ICC has run afoul of many Christian groups not only because of its assertive evangelism but also because it promotes the view that it is the "faithful remnant" church and because it makes a practice of rebaptizing Christians from other denominations.
ICC's discipleship practices, which some former members say are coercive and controlling, have also been held up as an example of the church's unacceptable extremism.
Yet Al Baird, an elder in the Los Angeles Church of Christ and the ICC's top spokesperson, vehemently denies that the church abuses its followers. He maintains that the group's intense focus on evangelism and discipleship is grounded in Scripture.
"As we look around us, the job of evangelizing the world is not getting done," Baird told CT. "Jesus said to go and make disciples ...1