Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Removing The Fog

Are We Living And Ministring In A Fog?

Dr. McGavran's mantra about the scientific nature of the Church growth discipline was that "abundant accurate information makes us good stewards of the grace of God and effective communicators of the gospel of Christ". 
In this lecture he outlines why gathering of data is not a waste of time but an investment in strategic missional planning.
He contended through his life there cannot be accountability for the mission with accurately counting.

Lecture 7
The Final Lectures
Dr. Donald McGavran

Are We Working Blindfolded in Our Churches?
In many congregations and denominations good Christians—lay and clerics—are engaged in many good works and do not really see the church growth situation.  They are not vividly conscious of where their new members are coming from.  They do not know which segments of society are responsive.  They are resigned to whatever degree of growth or decline they are experiencing.  They do not really believe that every church should be giving birth to new congregations.  In short, they go into the white fields blindfolded.  They are theologically quite sound, know a great deal about the Bible, live good moral lives, and come out every few days with a ripe sheaf.
Dr. Donald McGavran
The minister of a large congregation in Vancouver, Washington, some years ago told me contentedly, “We win some 50 or 60 new members every year.  That keeps this church quite healthy and vigorous.”  I asked him how many of these new members are the result of biological growth, transfer growth, or conversion growth.  He replied, “I don’t know what you mean.”  I explained.  He replied, “That is very interesting.  I don’t know, but I’ll find out.”
A day later he called me saying, “Thirty of the 50 members we added last year were children of existing Christians—biological growth.  Sixteen were Christians who had moved to Vancouver from other cities—transfer growth.  Only four, I fear, were converts from the world—conversion growth.”  He added, “I am amazed at the small number of converts.”
His own city church might be growing a little, but his denomination in that part of the world was standing still.  It was not winning many of the 70% of the population which had little or no church allegiance.
Let me give you another illustration.  I carefully studied two great mission stations in the heart of Africa.  In the previous 17 years the Christians in station Dombe had risen from 3,000 to 33,000.  In station Yeka the Christians had decreased from 7,000 to 3,000.  Each of these stations was manned by eight missionaries and was received by the home board about the same number of dollars.
When I stated this finding to the home board in the U.S., I was assured that I must be wrong.  Such a thing could not be.  The mission executive said emphatically, “While I do not know the actual facts, I am sure that your facts are wrong.”  When further investigation proved that my facts were right, he realized that the mission board had been carrying on missions blindfolded.  While they spent much money doing many good works—evangelism, education, medicine, and leprosy work—they had not spent a single dime in assembling the facts as to what growth was taking place, where it was coming from, and what needed to be done to assure even greater growth in the future.  Hundreds of similar illustrations could be given.
I asked a Presbyterian minister, himself a third generation Hispanic, who were the most responsive of the 25 million Hispanics now in the U.S.  He replied without hesitation, “Oh, the recent arrivals and especially the illegals.”  I asked him, “If you were to seek to win these into your congregation, could you succeed?”  Without a moment’s hesitation he replied, “Man, they would swamp us!”
In short, his congregation was made up of respectable, well-to-do, second, third and fourth generation Hispanics and did not want a lot of recent immigrants and illegals.   They would bring in too many problems.  Furthermore, they would not understand his carefully prepared sermons.  They wouldn’t know that much English.  Nor would they speak his type of Spanish. 
If we are to carry out Christ’s command to disciple all the peoples of the world, we must take off the blindfolds.  We must do whatever research is necessary to find out the actual facts.  We must discover which ways of proclaiming the gospel God is blessing to the increase of His church and which ways He is not blessing.  Believe me, many ways of carrying on the work of the church are theologically sound and academically quite impressive and bring back very few lost sheep.  We must, of course, be theologically sound.  Being academically impressive is also desirable, but what really counts is obeying Christ’s command to reap the ripe fields.  We must know which are the ripe fields and what methods of reaping are being blessed by Him.  Church growth research on a thoroughly reliable basis must have a high priority in every minister’s program.

Double Your Denomination in Ten Years
Goal-setting is important.  So is research which tells us how far the goals are being achieved.
Eight years ago the Christian and Missionary Alliance decided prayerfully to set a goal of doubling its membership in the next ten years, so that by 1987, both in North American and around the world, it would have twice as many members as it did on December 31, 1976.  A year ago I wrote to the chief executive of that small vigorous denomination in Nyack, New York.  He replied that the denomination as a whole would more than gain its objective but that in North America they might lag a little behind their intention to double the membership.  The Alliance not only set that goal but insisted that in all the countries where Alliance Churches were found careful records as to growth should be kept.  Every minister, therefore, knew how fast his church was growing, from among what segments of society it was growing, which of the many methods of evangelism tried were most successful, what ways of evangelism God was blessing.
Goal setting and careful research as to the degree of growth achieved are something that every denomination and every congregation can easily inaugurate.  Yet a typical denominational executive, minister, or—I am sorry to say—theological seminary professor is not keenly aware of the growth or decline patterns which mark his congregation and denomination.  It remains true that among the most orthodox and biblical denominations in America are also found some of the least growing.
One of my students did a very careful survey of the Conservative Baptist denomination.  He found that during the 40’s and early 50’s, it grew quite rapidly.  But after that it slowed down and was in danger of becoming static.  He also found that the early rapid growth came as congregations of the American Baptist Church, displeased with the liberalism of many of their leaders and seminaries, decided to join the Conservative Baptists.  Growth was taking place not from the world but from existing Christians.  When all those who wished to leave the American Baptists had done so, growth slowed down amazingly.
This research reveled that while the denomination as a whole had slowed down, here and there individual congregations were growing quite rapidly.  A few were planting new congregations.  Evidently growth was to be had if congregations wanted it.  Those ministers and laymen who were keenly conscious of Christ’s commands were growing.  Those who were not keenly conscious were not growing.  They were, to be sure, doing many good works, preaching soundly biblical sermons, and conducting impressive worship.  But they were not finding many of the lost.  This research, I am sorry to say, while factually correct, was not welcomed by the leaders of the Conservative Baptist denomination.  It did, however, play a considerable part in arousing them to the situation.  The Conservative Baptists, like all other denominations, can grow in the U.S. today provided they determine to.  If they will but pray the Lord of the harvest to send forth laborers into the harvest and will look toward the fields white to harvest, God will bless them with much church growth.

Multiplying New Congregations is Important
Dr. George Hunter, III, Dean of the E. Stanley Jones School of World Mission and Evangelism in Asbury Theological Seminary, is a church growth specialist.  In April, 1986, his book, To Spread the Power, will be available from Abingdon Press.  In it we find the following exact figures about the growth of ten denominations in the Philippines, 1971-81:
…the Christian and Missionary Alliance grew from 22,527 members in 366 churches to 70,000 members in 1,037 churches.  That is significant decadal growth indeed, but represents only an average membership increase per church from 61.2 members to 67.5.  The Wesleyan Church grew from 2,406 members in 46 congregations to 7,158 members in 113 congregations, showing a somewhat larger per church increase than the CMA (52.3 to 63.3).  The Nazarenes showed quite significant growth per church:  937 members in 24 churches (39 members per church) to 6,009 members in 109 churches (55 members per church).  Two denominations in the Anabaptist tradition experienced, as denominations, very significant growth, but their membership average per church actually declined!  The convention Baptists reported (1971) 34,429 members in 302 churches (114 average), and (1981) 56,000 members in 541 churches (103.5 average).  The Southern Baptists grew from 15,045 members in 161 churches to 61,040 members in 722 churches, reflecting a decline in average membership per church from 93.5 to 84.5.  But the Conservative Baptists showed an increase in average members per church, from 53.5 to 86.8 (1971):  1,657members in 31 churches; 1981:  10,245 members in 118 churches).  The Lutheran Church reports revealed countertrends like the first two Baptist groups.  They grew from 3,180 members (in 62 churches) to 5,870 members (in 135 churches), reflecting a decline in average membership per church from 51.3 to 43.5.  So there are, understandably, variations within the general correlation between denominational membership strength and the number of churches in the denomination, but that this general correlation is one of the factors behind denominational growth or decline is beyond reasonable doubt.
There are many other principles involved in explaining (or planning) the membership strength trends of Churches, but this persistent correlation has a strategic importance too often ignored by denominational leaders.   In the U.S.A. today, in most years, 1) The denominations that are growing are starting more churches than they are closing.  2) The denominations that are starting more churches than they are closing are growing.  3) The denominations that are declining in membership strength are closing more churches than they are starting.  4) And the denominations that are closing more churches than they are starting are declining.  Now there ought to be a lesson in that kind of persistent correlation!

Discipling New Ethne
If Branches of the Church are to obey eternal God’s command, they must give birth to new congregations in new segments of the population.  This principle is usually not seen.  Often it is attached as sub-Christian.  Yet it has an easily observable and probable relationship to reaping ripe fields.  Those congregations and denominations grow which discover unharvested ripe fields and multiply new congregations among them.  Those congregations and denominations  which do not grow as a rule are confining themselves to their own segment, to an already discipled segment of the population.  Illustrations of this principle are numerous.  I set forth one of the most striking.
In 1983, it was my privilege to speak to the Church extension Department of the Southern Baptists in Texas.  The executive secretary of this state organization said, “In Texas we have 4,000 Baptist Churches.  We have determined to plant 2,000 more by the year 1990.  This means that we will be planting about 300 new congregations a year.”
Later I was talking to the pastor of a large Baptist Church in east Houston.  He said, “Near the part of east Houston where I work there is a section of the city in which live 15,000 people.  We are planning to start four new Baptist congregations there.”  I remarked, “I am surprised that in Houston there is any section of the city with a population of 15,000 in which there are not already several Baptist Churches.”
“Oh,” he replied, “we do have two Baptist Churches there, but they are more than fifty years old, and their members are well-to-do middle class people.  Most of the other people in this section of the city are working class Anglos.  Since they do not as a rule join middle class churches, we are planning to start four congregations of working class people.  We already have seven house gatherings of two or three families and four house churches of six or eight families.  Within a year or two we will have at least two new Baptist congregations thriving in that part of the city, and by 1990 we will have at least four.”
The Church Extension Department of the Texas Baptists had clearly recognized that in Texas there are many ethne.  Please remember that Kittell defines as ethnos as a group of similar individuals—a swarm of bees or a herd of cattle is an ethnos.  In a similar fashion, middle class Anglos are one ethnos, and working class Anglos are another ethnos.  Each must be disciple; that is, each must be incorporated in the Body of Christ.  In short, congregations of baptized believers must be multiplied.  Only so can any ethnos be disciple.  If we are to carry out the clear command of Him to whom all authority in heaven and earth has been given, we must disciple ethnos after ethnos, both in the United States and around the world.
In the United States, the multitudinous ethne (segments of the population) are not highly visible.  We are all American citizens.  We all speak English.  We all are free.  There is no apartheid here.  Yet as we have seen again and again in this course of lectures, many such segments of the population do exist in the United States.
In many countries of the world, however, notable India and Africa, caste and tribe divisions are very much more clearly marked.  Men belonging to the Narmadiya Brahmins will never intermarry with Kankubj Brahmins.  Both, to be sure, are Brahmins.  But each is keenly conscious of its existence as a separate unit of society.  It intends to remain separate.  There are at least 3,000 such castes in India.  Each African nation is full, not of Africans, but of tribes.  In the great country of Zaire, there are 127 tribes.  Each not only intermarries very largely within itself, but speaks a somewhat different language or dialect and thinks of itself as an entirely separate people, just as separate as the Amorites, Perizites, and Israelites  were 1500 years before Christ.
It is essential, therefore, not only in the United States, but around the world , to realize that carrying out eternal God’s command can be done in only one way.  That is by multiplying congregations of devout, Bible-believing men and women in every ethnos in the world.  This is what we mean by discipling new ethne.

How Many of the 300,000 Congregations in the United States Are Growing?
That there are in the U.S. slightly more than 300,000 congregations is a well known fact.  However, how many of these are growing, static, or declining is not known.  Furthermore, why each is growing, static, or declining is not known.
This information is readily available.  It can be easily discovered.  It can be exactly stated.  But this is seldom done.  Many excellent congregations, pastured y devoted ministers, remain static or declining.  So often is this the case that most ministers and seminary professors are inclined to say that the duty of the minister is to preach theologically sound and well expressed sermons, care for and love his congregation, lead an exemplary life, and care for the flock.  If he does this and it is God’s will, his congregation will grow.  He should not be too concerned, they often assert, in mere numerical growth.
Let me emphasize again that no one is advocating gathering numbers of unconverted, nominal Christians.  No one is advocating adding “mere numbers.”  Effective evangelism never brings in merely one additional warm body.  Church growth is as much concerned with soundly Christian life as with finding the lost.  Be assured that the lost are never truly found until they are incorporated in the flock, obey the shepherd, walk in His way, and are filled with the Holy Spirit.
We now come to a most important question for this assemblage.  This seminary serves certain denominations.  It is supported by donors belonging to certain denominations.  It is known as a seminary of the reformed orthodox branch of the great Presbyterian Church.  What effect does study in this seminary have on the growth of the congregations and presbyteries to which students will go and from which members of the faculty have come?  What are the growth patterns with which each one of us is most concerned?  How is our congregation and our presbytery doing, as regards finding the lost and reaching white harvest fields?
Such questions bring sharply to the fore the need for accurate information.  In a typical presbytery, there may be fifteen or twenty congregations.  Each one of them faces different opportunities for effective evangelism.  Each one has a different conscience on church growth.  This one will regard church growth as of no importance.  That one is working hard at it.  This pastor hopes that his sermons and his services will bring many to his church but does not really know how many unsaved there are in his community and how best to win men and women belonging to the many different segments of society.
What ways of obeying eternal God’s command is He blessing?  In what segments of society within three miles of the church building are largely unwon, largely lost, most findable sheep?  Many more such questions need to be asked and answered accurately.  We gathered together in this room must not seek to carry out God’s commands blindfolded as to the real situation.
An accurate account of the multitudinous parts of the human mosaic surrounding us and of the degree to which each part is winnable and has been won can be obtained.  It will cost some effort, prayer, and money.  But when we have the picture clearly in front of us, much progress can be made.
Twelve years ago, I was speaking on church growth to a gathering of ministers in Winnipeg, Manitoba.  One of them was the pastor of a bilingual North American Baptist congregation.  In 1970, the congregation had been solidly German speaking.  It was losing its children and grandchildren who did not speak German.  In 1970, the new pastor, therefore, instituted an English service.  By 1973, 200 attended the German service and 100 the English service.
The pastor was deeply touched by the church growth seminar.  He believed that not only could the children and grandchildren of the German-speaking pastors be won into an English-speaking church, but that two great undiscipled segments of the population in Winnipeg could also be won, within a mile of the church, a Canadian medical community and a university nursing community.  None of these at present were members of his church.  He carried on a program of effective evangelism (church growth) in both these unreached segments of society.  By 1978, 26% of the congregation came from the German-speaking community, 51% from the medical and nursing community, and 23% from others in the neighborhood.

Once any minister or seminary professor really believes that God wants His lost sons and daughters found, surges of growth may be expected to follow.  Each will be somewhat different from the others, but each will bring sheaves into the master’s barn.  Information as to the exact situation is highly essential in this process.

What Are the Causes for Non-growth, Moderate Growth, and Great Growth?
Dr. Charles Arn
Dr. Arn is developing a program to teach
Pastors and seminary students how to consult
using abundant accurate information.
He is  
Visiting professor of Outreach and Christian Ministry
Wesley Seminary
Essential to our thinking at this point is to realize that knowledge concerning numbers of American born Christians and life-throbbing congregations is only one part of the knowledge needed.  Such knowledge is a good beginning.  It must be followed by knowledge as to what causes non-growth, moderate growth, and great growth.  There will be scores of answers to each of these questions.  What causes non-growth in the inner city will not be the same as what causes non-growth in a mining community in West Virginia.  Once God’s command to preach the gospel to all ethne leading these ethne to faith and obedience has been heard, the courses of action required will vary with every situation.  What will work for one person will not necessarily work for others.  What will work in one segment of the population may not be nearly so effective in other segments of the population.  The degree of education needed by effective pastors and church planters in a population of grade school graduates will be quite different from that needed in a population of college graduates.  Convinced humanists will need a different statement of the same unchanging gospel from the one needed by fallen nominal Christians.
Exact information on all of these topics must be continually sought.  I hope to see the Bible-believing, Spirit-filled denominations in North America surge ahead.  They all have the power.  They all hold the great theological convictions.  As soon as each of them hears God’s commands and enlists in His unswerving purpose, each of them will start growing rapidly.

All the hundreds of varieties of church growth (effective evangelism) present somewhat different situations.  The degree of Christianization in each is different.  The receptivity to the gospel in each is different.  The problems which must be solved in each are different.  The ability and dedication of the workers in each are different.  In this lecture I have been saying that if we are to carry out eternal God’s command effectively, we must have accurate information about all these aspects of each segment of the population.

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