Wednesday, May 13, 2015

A Brief History of the Church Growth Movement

Lecture 5
The Final Lectures
Dr. Donald Mc Gavran

A Personal View On The Rise Of The Church Growth Movement
The first four lectures have insisted that the discipling of all the peoples of the earth is commanded by God and will not be brought about by conventional doctrinal correctness and spiritual renewal. It has faced frankly the fact that much mission today does not result in winning many of of the lost or bringing the many sheaves of ripe grain into the Lord's barn. In this lecture is the personal pilgrimage of Donald McGavran as he faced facts and devised strategies. As he notes "the church growth movement is addressed to the the fact that the most powerful force ever to exist (the church)  is in too many instances, either slow growing or actually declining. It is hoped that this personal view of the rise of the Church Growth Movement will help focus attention on the amazingly receptive world and the reaping of ripe fields.

1933-1936 Many Good Works, Static Memberships
The church growth movement began in the fourth decade of the twentieth century.  During those years as executive secretary of the India Mission I had the privilege to see not only my own mission but many other missionary efforts in various parts of the subcontinent of India.  I find that all missions were engaged in many good works.  Only a few mission efforts were resulting in actual discipling of an ethnos.  Too many national denominations and congregations were busy looking after themselves, caring for existing Christians, maintaining leprosy homes, funding famine orphans, running mission schools, carrying on Christian medical work in dispensaries and hospitals, developing better methods of agriculture, and other similar works.  They were doing these many good works, believing that as these were done, the Christian faith would spread.  However, the areas in which the Christian faith was actually spreading were few and far between.  Often nine-tenths of a mission’s resources were spent in doing good works, and less than one-tenth went to the actual spread of the Christian faith.  Many congregations among the Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Anglicans, and others continued on for years without adding a single non-Christian to the church.  It became increasingly clear that something very much more effective ought to be instituted.
Just what this other program was, however, was not clear.  World evangelization is a very complex process.  It faces very different opportunities and difficulties as it evangelizes very different segments of mankind.  All those who would obey eternal God’s command to proclaim the gospel to all peoples, leading them to faith and obedience, must realize that many programs which achieve that end in one segment of society will not achieve that end in most other segments.  There is no question that Christian schools in many of the tribes of Africa would result in substantial Christianization.  There is also no question that in vast India Christian schools very seldom lead to any Christianization at all.
During the fourth decade as I faced these and similar facts, I was constantly asking the question, what then must we do?  We pray the Lord of the harvest to send laborers into whitened fields; but how must they reap these very different harvests?  You do not reap potato fields with a sickle, and every crop presents certain significant differences.

1937-1954, Seventeen Instructive Years
In 1940 my mission sent me to be the evangelistic missionary in the Takhatput area, some 300 villages spread across the plain around the small town of Takhatpur.  In many of these villages lived ten to fifty families of Satnamis, who had shown some appreciation for the gospel.  My mission said to me, “We like your concern for effective evangelism.  We will back your efforts to multiply churches in different areas.  We will ask our supporting board to raise $25,000 to undergird a new and vigorous program of evangelism.  What that program is will depend very largely upon you.  We hope that God will make it successful.”  Those fourteen years, therefore, were spent in an evangelism which attempted to win enough families in a given village to enable the establishment of new congregations.
Had this attempt been made in 1920 instead of 1940, it would without question have brought 10,000 to 50,000 people to Christian faith.  However, in 1940 Mahatma Gandhi was proclaiming that the end of British rule was at hand and that the Untouchables were to be regarded as Harijans, or God’s people.  Consequently the receptivity of the Satnamis sharply declined.
Alas, Mr. Gandhi’s kind words and some attractive political concessions did not change the oppression which the Satnamis suffered.
They did, however, lead many of them to refuse to become Christian, “Hinduism,” they would say, “is going to treat us fairly.  Why should we become Christians?”  Nevertheless, the evangelistic effort did bring in fifteen new congregations.
At the same time, faced with several hundred Christian children in the villages growing up illiterate, I was burdened with the need for Christian education.  Furthermore, the preventable deaths of many Christians underscored the need for building and maintaining a Christian hospital at Takhatpur.  The very great need for agricultural improvements of various sorts made it seem necessary to stress agricultural development.  Thus, despite convictions to the contrary, I found myself engaging in many good works; true, I gave more attention to evangelism than most missionaries, but I found that the Christian program which the situation needed had to include many undertakings which seemed to bear little relation to the spread of the church.
Nevertheless, these fourteen years, 19401954, during which I frequently studied other missions also and wrote a monthly article for the United Church Review (a Presbyterian magazine) did enable a church growth point of view to be developed.  Convictions formed in my mind as to what had to be done.  Some of these convictions grew out of my successes; others were based on my failures.  In 1953 I wrote the manuscript of The Bridges of God.  This was later published by World Dominion Press in London and Friendship Press in New York.  It became, so Dr. Price of the Missionary Research Library asserted in his bulletin, “the most read missionary book in 1956.”

1955-1960 Additional Insights
In 1954 Mrs. McGavran and I completed our fourth seven-year term in India and came home on furlough, intending to return to India in 1955.  However, my board, the United Christian Missionary Society, impressed by the need to know its various mission fields more accurately, kept me busy.  It sent me to Puerto Rico, Thailand, Belgian Congo, the Philippines, and Orissa, India, to do church growth surveys in each place.  These were very significant years.  I saw how the missionary enterprise was being carried out in most of the continents of this world not only by one board but by many.  The information I received helped very greatly in developing a church growth point of view which spoke to the real situation in most mission fields.
In 1958, finding that most mission leaders were inclined to think that I spoke chiefly about people movements to Christ and had started calling me “People Movement McGavran,” I wrote a second book, How Churches Grow.  In it I never mentioned people movements at all.  This was in order to emphasize that the essential task of all Christian missions was to carry out the commands concerning finding and folding the lost.  The essential work was the spread of the Christian faith.  The absolute center of our mission work was panta ta ethne, incorporating all the segments of society into Christ’s body.  It was discipling panta ta ethne.  How Churches Grow, published by World Dominion Press and Friendship Press, enabled this view of missions to spread in the English-speaking world.
The year 1954-55 was spent as a research fellow of Yale Divinity School.  The year 1956-57 I continued to live in New Haven, Connecticut on the edge of the Divinity School campus.  From 1957 through 1960 the United Christian Missionary Society appointed me to a new position—professor of missions of the College of Missions.  My duties were to teach at the summer sessions of the College of Missions (Indianapolis) and during the other three quarters of the year become professor of missions in some one of the seminaries of the Christian Church.  This I taught in the graduate seminary of Phillips University; the Divinity School in Des Moines, Iowa; Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis; the College of the Bible, Lexington, Kentucky; the School of Religion, Berkeley, California; and Northwest Christian College, Eugene, Oregon.  Interspersed with these teaching assignments were the church growth lectures in the countries already mentioned.  These researches were to be of the major Protestant missions in those lands.  For example, in Puerto Rico my researches included careful studies of the Baptist, Congregational, Methodist, and Presbyterian missions and churches as well as those of the Christian churches.  During these years the theological and conceptual bases of effective evangelism (church growth) were enlarged.  My statements concerning church growth were framed to fit the general Protestant mission picture.  The fact that church growth thinking which began to be expanded in classes after January 1, 1961, was so generally acceptable across the spectrum of Protestant denominations can be credited in large part to these years which combined finding the facts in many lands and teaching these in five seminaries and five summer courses of the College of Missions.  Unrecognized by me, God was preparing me to speak convincingly to the church about discipling panta ta ethne

The Years January 1961 to September 1965
A Prayer Grotto on Prayer Mountain Seoul Korea
Prayer for the harvest is an essential part of every believers prayer
In 1959 it became clear to me that the church growth point of view should not be limited to the congregations, seminaries, and missionary societies of the Christian Churches.  All missionary effort of all Branches of the universal Church needed to hear God commanding them to do more effective multiplication of congregations of the redeemed among panta ta ethne.  Most missions in most lands were obtaining less growth—and often far less growth—than they could.  Too often missionaries were substituting care for the existing flock for finding lost sheep.  Too often they were substituting good deeds for effective evangelism.  Too many missionaries were serving one small non-growing congregation or a half dozen non-growing congregations instead of multiplying congregations of new believers among the vast multitudes of unbelievers.  Too many missionaries, fresh out of American seminaries were teaching or directing seminaries preparing ministers for existing congregations.
As I pondered these things, it became clear to me that I ought to resign from the missionary society and start an Institute of Church Growth.  This would enroll career missionaries from many mission boards and touch the beginning Churches in scores and eventually hundreds of different areas on the globe.
When I told this to the Executive Secretary of the United Christian Missionary Society, he replied, “You really must rethink your position.  It would be extremely foolish of you, now that you are 63 years of age, to do any such thing.  You have a secure position now with your own missionary society.  You wear a 35-year pin.  You are one of our honored missionaries.  Stay with us.”
However, feeling strongly that God was calling me to labors which would help advance effective evangelization in many Branches of the Church in many lands, I resolved to resign as a missionary of the UCMS and to found the Institute of Church Growth.
I approached three of the Christian Church seminaries asking that they start institutes of church growth.  All of them declined, saying that it was a good idea, but they simply did not have the money.  In the spring of 1959 while serving as professor of missions in Northwest Christian College for a quarter, I mentioned my dream to President Ross Griffeth.  He replied, “We would be happy to have you as a member of our faculty.  You could begin the Institute of Church Growth here.  All the college would require would be for you to teach our course on missions every quarter.  The rest of your time you could spend teaching the career missionaries from many denominations attending the Institute of Church Growth.  Furthermore, we will be glad to give three $1,000 scholarships to career missionaries who would come here to study church growth.”
A small Christian college in far-off Eugene, Oregon, was not the best place to start an Institute of Church Growth.  However, since it was the only possible place, I decided to accept President Griffeth’s offer.
In the school year 1959-60 the UCMS sent me to teach missions in Bethany College, West Virginia, and in the fall of 1960 to be the professor of missions in the School of Religion on Holy Hill in Berkeley, California, right next to the University of California.  The School of Religion there had written over the doorway to its chapel, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel.”  The Congregational Seminary, when it built that chapel, had been ardently missionary, but by the fall of 1960 it had become cold toward missions, and my classes there were small.  The main thrust of the seminary was on other matters.  In mid-December 1960, Mrs. McGavran and I packed our belongings into our small trailer, covered them with a tarpaulin, hitched the trailer to our car, and drove 600 miles north to Eugene, Oregon to establish the Institute of Church Growth.
The first classes of the Institute of Church Growth opened on January 2, 1961, with one student, the Rev. Keith Hamilton of the Methodist Mission in Eclivia. For the next five months he was my sole student.  I had the unrivaled opportunity of forming the courses of Instruction of the Institute of Church Growth before a very small audience.  However, his researches into the Christianization of the Aymera and Quechua Indian tribes of the high Andes gave me an opportunity to become well acquainted with what was happening in all the nations of western South America—Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and Chile.  It was a most rewarding five months.
In the fall the number of students increased to six.  Among them were two holders of research fellowships—Alan R. Tippett, Methodist missionary from Fiji, and Orlando Waliner, a Mennonite missionary from India.  The courses of study that I had roughly outlined in the spring of that year were taught edited and improved.  It was cheering to note that the sic career missionaries all felt that their courses of study were distinctly helpful to them.  Their researches also into what had actually happened in six different mission fields were most illuminating.  These researches abundantly articulated the church growth point of view.
Because of the small enrollment, President Griffeth  said to me, “Rather than tying up one of our classrooms, I think that you had better hold your classes in that part of the library where we stack the books yet to be catalogues.  There in the stacks you will find a large and beautiful oak table, around which ten students can easily sit.  If you stand at one end and lecture, your classes will be held in a very quiet part of the college.”  Consequently, for the next four and a half years all the classes were held around that oak table in the stacks.
Alan Tippett decided to work for his Ph.D. in the University of Oregon, just across the street from the library stacks of Northwest Christian College.  I had granted him a research fellowship of $1,000, because I liked what he wrote in the International Review of Missions and his replies to my letters.  He liked the emphasis of the classes in the Institute of Church Growth.  At the end of his first year I said to him, “Alan, how about you teaching two two-hour courses, one on animism (which you know very well from your twenty years’ work among the animists of Fiji) and one on anthropology.  Your courses in anthropology across the street and your twenty years of experience amply qualify you to do this.”  Since he needed the additional income, he gladly accepted.  The Institute of Church Growth now had two teachers—Alan  Tippett, who taught four hours a week, and Donald McGavran, who taught sixteen.
In the fall of 1961, the annual meeting of the Evangelical Foreign Missions Association, headed by Dr. Clyde Taylor, was to be held in Winona Lake, Indiana, in the first week of September.  Dr. Taylor invited me to deliver a series of lectures on church growth to that meeting.  The executive secretaries there assembled liked what they heard.  They said, “This kind of Instruction should be given to all our missionaries on furlough.  Would you be willing to come here next year at this same time and speak to a gathering of possibly a hundred career missionaries on furlough?  We will pay your way to and from Eugene.  Edwin Jacques, executive secretary for the Conservative Baptists, will manage the seminar.  All you have to do is lecture.  Give them, somewhat expanded, the same lectures you have given to us.”  Thus the annual Seminar on Church Growth at Winona Lake was born.  Every year for the next nine years EFMA missionaries and many others on furlough assembled at Winona Lake for four days of instruction in church growth.  What later was published as Understanding Church Growth formed the subject matter of these lectures.  For the first four years the only lecturer was Donald McGavran.  After that time the program was enriched by lectures from Ralph Winter, Alan Tippett, and others.
This Church Growth Seminar, attended by more than 1,000 career missionaries over the years, had a considerable impact on mission thinking.
The Congress on the Church’s Worldwide Mission assembled at Wheaton, Illinois, in 1966 had a section on church growth, the first time church growth as a distinct topic had been assigned an important place in mission theory.
The ministry of reaching the lost extends to the US Navy
A new convert is welcomed to the Christian Community through baptism
Year by year as research fellows on $1,000 research fellowships came in from different parts of the world and different denominations, the exact information needed by world evangelization was being gathered and greatly amplified.  In 1962-63 one research fellow came from Nigeria, one from Brazil, and another from South Korea.  Three brilliant church growth researches resulted.  For the first time, what church growth had actually happened in each of those places was described.   Roy Shearer’s graphs showed that the districts in the central and southern part of Korea had shown moderate or small growth while the two districts in North Korea just south of the Yalu River had shown tremendous growth.  As Shearer explored why the 1905 revival had had these distinctly different results in different parts of the country, he cast a great deal of new light on what had actually happened.  His exact thinking burst through the promotional language employed by most exponents of mission.  A brilliant new light was shed on where and how evangelism was being effective and where and why it was not.  The same was true of William Read’s work on church growth in Brazil and of Gordon Robinson’s and John Grimley’s work on church growth in Nigeria.  All three of these researches were later published under the titles, Wildfire, Church Growth in Korea, New Patterns of Church Growth in Brazil, and Church Growth in Central and Southern Nigeria.
During the four and a half years five sets of researches were thus completed.  Dependable information in regard to actual church growth was assembled.  The processes of growth in many countries were accurately described.  The victories and defeats were set forth in meaningful detail.  What causes church growth and what causes static, non-growing congregations became increasingly clear.  None of these researches, however, was published in America before 1966.  The Institute of Church Growth simply did not have the money or the prestige.  Church Growth in the High Andes by Keith Hamilton, Multiplying Churches in the Philippines by Donald McGavran, and Church Growth in Jamaica by McGavran were published in India by the Lucknow Press before 1965.  The others were not.
The annual church growth lectures at Eugene also nurtured and furthered the church growth movement.  Noted mission executives and missionaries were invited to address the Institute on the subject of church growth.  Their lectures were then published.  Bishop J. Waskom Pickett gave the first lectures.  In the second, Dr. Eugene Nida, American Bible Society, Dr. Cal Guy of Southwest Baptist Theological Seminary, the Rev. Melvin Hodges, executive secretary for Latin America, Foreign Mission Department, Assemblies of God, Springfield, Missouri, and I delivered the twelve lectures.  The audience included more than twenty mission boards in North America as well as the career missionaries attending the Institute.
In 1964, as a result of the researches done by career missionaries from Latin America, I came to feel that a scientific, on-the-spot research into church growth in all the Latin American lands would be a major contribution to mission thinking and planning.  In consequence, I wrote to more than twenty foundations asking for grants to fund the church growth survey which would cover all of South America.  Nineteen of my proposals proved fruitless, but the twentieth, addressed to the Eli Lilly Foundation of Indianapolis, bore fruit.  One day in December of 1964, I received a check for $50,000, and the Latin American church growth project was born.
That spring after much correspondence, three researchers were secured.  The Rev. William Read of the Presbyterian Mission in Brazil, Harmon Johnson of the Assemblies of God, and Victor Monterroso, a Baptist minister and seminary lecturer in Costa Rica were selected as the three researchers.  Scheduled to begin work in September, 1965, the researchers were to assemble at the Institute of Church Growth in Oregon for several months of book research before fanning out to the various lands in the great continent to the south.  Since in June, 1965, Northwest Christian College decided to terminate the Institute of Church Growth and permit me to accept Fuller Theological Seminary’s invitation to become the founding dean of its new School of World Mission, the three men assembled in Pasadena, California, rather than Eugene, Oregon.  Their researches during the next two years resulted in a notable contribution to the cause of missions, Latin American Church Growth.  For the first time those carrying on mission in those countries saw what had actually occurred by way of church growth.  Graphs of growth and statistics showed what had actually occurred.  Pages of description told why some missionary efforts had succeeded greatly and why others had been practically fruitless.  The whole enterprise was a notable contribution to missiology.  Such researches need to be carried out from decade to decade so that world evangelization remains well informed as to what God is blessing to the growth of the church and what He is not blessing.  World evangelization calls for dedication.  It must proceed in the light of accurate information as to the degree to which the unreached ethne in that particular field are in fact being disciple.  Graphs of growth showing how many converts are being won, how many new congregations are being established are the most essential element in the information concerning Christian mission.
Thus at the Institute of Church Growth between January, 1961, and September, 1965, notable contributions to church growth thinking were made.  Thus year by year leaders of Christian mission had impressed upon them that the actual winning of men and women to Christ and the actual multiplication of congregations was the heart of Christian mission.  Missionaries, mission executives, and indeed all leaders of all denominations needed to know what was actually happening in regard to the discipling of all the peoples of earth.  It was not enough to proclaim the gospel widely.  The goal was much more than that.  The goal was to multiply sound, believing, Spirit-filled congregations in every segment of society.  The degree to which this goal was being achieved needed constantly to be accurately stated and carefully considered.  This is the central business of all missiology, of all courses on evangelism , of all Christian mission.

The four and a half years when Northwest Christian College made possible a small beginning venture in effective evangelism had been greatly blessed by God.

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