Wednesday, May 6, 2015


Duke Divinity School Lecture No. 1
By Donald McGavran
For April 1986

The church growth movement in April 1986 is spreading like wildfire through many parts of the world, east and west, north and south.  Until 972 the church growth movement was chiefly concerned with the propagation of the gospel in Asia, Africa and Latin America.  In the past fourteen years, however, it has rampaged across North America, Britain and parts of Europe.  The fact is that today the invitations I have to speak on the subject of church growth span the broad spectrum of denominational and theological persuasion.
That in 1985 a Methodist bishop in the mid-west wrote to the Institute for American Church Growth in California saying that he hoped the United Methodists, who now have 9 million members, would plan to have 20 million by the year 2000 is further evidence of very considerable concern about church growth.  That church growth seminars, moving pictures, and conferences are being held in almost every state of the union indicates a tremendous rising interest in church growth.  The flood of books on effective evangelism—church growth—bears eloquent testimony to the huge contemporary affection for church growth.

Bishop Pickett and Church Growth
Methodism has made a great contribution to all of this.  I would never have thought of church growth or developed the church growth theology and ideology had my life not been influenced by a great Methodist.  I shall tell the story in some detail later on, but let me here briefly recount what happened.  In 1922, I was granted a B.D. from Yale Divinity School, and then on my first furlough I studied for two years (1930-31) at Union Theological Seminary, being granted a Ph.D.  Neither of these courses of study inclined me in the least toward winning the lost or multiplying congregations.  Indeed, in India, where I had served as a missionary from 1923 onward, my work had lain exclusively in the field of Christian education.  I was the Principal of a school system and the Director of Religious Education for the whole mission of seventy missionaries.  It was my task to see that the Bible was taught systematically and effectively in all twelve classes.  That none of the several thousand non-Christians thus taught was ever baptized I simply accepted as part of the Indian condition.  We taught the Bible, hoping that it would influence the character and convictions of the students and would someday (when the field ripened) spread the Christian faith.
Then, having been elected to be Field Secretary of the Mission in 1932, I discovered that after fifty years of work, the churches we had planted were growing at only 11% a decade, and our total membership was less than 2,000.  The same pattern of growth was observed in all our neighboring missions except one.  The Methodists at Khandwa and Jagdalpur had had great surges of church growth.  Each of them ministered to 7,000-10,000 Christians in 50-100 village congregations.
Furthermore, a young Methodist missionary named Waskom Pickett had been appointed by the National Christian Council to do a survey of greatly growing Christian movements fathered by Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, and Episcopalian Churches in various parts of India.  His book summarizing the findings was published in 1933 entitled Christian Mass Movements in India.  I read this book with much interest.
Consequently, in 1934, I proposed to a meeting of the Mid-India Christian Council that, since mid-India seemed to be a section where church growth was the exception, not the rule, we invited Waskom Pickett to do a careful survey of the seven areas in mid-India where growth seemed likely to take place or had taken place.  The Council enthusiastically agreed and appointed me to make preparations for the survey and to accompany Pickett as he carried it out.
As I accompanied Pickett and observed how he investigated the work of missions, growing churches, and non-growing churches, I learned a great deal.  After Pickett had surveyed four areas he said, “I cannot complete this, but you, McGavran, now know how to do it.  You go ahead and complete these other three.”  Thus, using his insights concerning Christian mass movements in India and his methods of research, I surveyed the remaining three mission fields.
I became convinced that were the missions of mid-India (Lutheran, Mennonite, Presbyterian, Disciples of Christ, and Episcopalian) to put church growth principles into operation, all of them could start Christ ward movements in the receptive segments of society—the so-called untouchable castes.  These consisted very largely of landless labor in thousands of villages.  My mission in 1937 appointed me to do full-time evangelistic work in one untouchable caste called the Satnamis.  To this task I devoted the next seventeen years of my life.  I operated according to the principles.  I found out the conditions under which they did and did not work.
Various other missions in India, hearing of my labors, asked me to come and survey their fields.  Thus my knowledge was constantly expanding about where churches were growing and far more numerous cases of where they were not growing.
I was surprised to see that while most missions were caring for existing churches with commendable zeal; this very activity seemed to guarantee no growth.  Good works, kind acts, laboring for justice, proclaiming the gospel to all and sundry did not multiply vibrant and ongoing congregations.  This was an amazing finding.
I also discovered that where the church was growing, without exception, a cluster of congregations of the same segment of society, of the same sort of people, had been started.  The Christians continued to live on in their own homes.  They did not move to the mission stations.  They continued doing their accustomed work and receiving their accustomed pay.  They continued to arrange marriages within their own community.  Above all, they continued to be regarded by the non-Christian members of their segment of society (caste) as “our people.”
In one of my surveys done in a Presbyterian mission, I asked forty or fifty non-Christians of the receptive community, “What do you think of those of your number who have become Christian?”  They replied, “Christianity has benefited them, and we are going to follow them in the near future.  It will be good for our entire caste.”
All these insights into churches were growing in India—and I may add have grown throughout the world during the past 1900 years—were disquieting to me.  They were so opposed to the ideas of what Christians ought to do, which I had learned in Yale Divinity School and Union Theological Seminary.  These clusters of like-minded congregations who continued as a distinct community were not at all like the congregations I had been educated to expect.  Any devout follower of Christ, educated or uneducated, rich or poor, urban or rural, black or white, ought to feel welcome in any congregation.  After all, “In Christ there is no Jew, no Greek.”
When I discussed this with my Methodist friend Waskom Pickett, he said to me, “Of course, as these congregations grow in Christian faith, as the Holy Spirit dwells in their hearts, and as the biblical doctrine wipes out the false Hindu doctrine that God Himself has created man in the form of superior and inferior castes, brotherhood hand justice will increase.  But there is no biblical precedent at all for requiring 100% brotherhood as a first step in Christianization.”
As I read the New Testament, I saw that this was precisely what was recorded there.  When Jews became Christians, they continued to circumcise their boy babies.  They continued to worship on Saturday.  They continued to ban all pork products from their kitchens.  They continued to have very slight intercourse with Gentiles.  In short, they remained thoroughly Jewish.  At the same time, to be sure, they were ardently Christian.  When Gentiles became Christians, they continued to be uncircumcised, to eat pork, to worship on Sunday, not Saturday.  Yet they were devout, Spirit-filled followers of the Lord Jesus.
As I record these events, fifty years after they occurred, I recognize afresh what a giant step in evangelistic methodology Pickett’s insights constituted.  Please remember that in all this I was following the light which I had first been given by a Methodist Missionary.
In 1940, I was asked by the United Church Review (at that time largely a Presbyterian magazine) to be its editor and then a columnist.  Forty years later, as I read these columns, I see that what I am now telling you in North Carolina was first expressed in written form in the United Church Review long ago. 
We live in a day when the old denominational barriers are growing lower and lower.  Denominations appear as Branches of the Universal Church.  The conviction has spread very widely that if the Christians of any one Branch believe in Jesus Christ as God and only Savior and the Bible as their rule of faith and practice, they are valid followers of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Those in one denomination may not agree with certain forms of another denomination, certain interpretations of passages of the Scripture, but they nevertheless regard the other denominations as validly Christian.  Some have bishops, some do not.  Some have quarterly communion, some every Sunday.  Some preachers wear robes, others do not.  Yet if they are sound on the two main points I have mentioned, they are validly Christian.  That is one reason why the church growth movement is spreading through so many denominations.

John Wesley and Church Growth
John Wesley
Church growth theory was not emphasized by John Wesley.  He never used the words “church growth.”  Nevertheless, he certainly practiced it.  His theology demanded it.
In this lecture, I will not have time to develop John Wesley’s basic theology.  However, Wesley was clear that God’s amazing love for all mankind produced new life, joy and peace in all who would accept it. John Wesley believed profoundly in the in flooding of God’s grace and power to all those who believed.  Indeed, he held that the divine love gave men and women power to believe.  Faith in God was the essential step to salvation.  Charles Wesley’s famous hymn, Love Divine, All Loves Excelling, well expressed the life-changing power which John Wesley believed was essential to the Christian life.
As one reads Wesley’s sermons and observes the way in which he started class meetings throughout England and Ireland, one realizes that John Wesley was doing very closely what the church growth movement is doing today.  To be more exact, the church growth movement today is what John Wesley did 200 years ago.  John Wesley lived at a time when most Christians were rather nominal, cold, secular and worldly.  He insisted that real Christians must live a very different kind of life, that their conduct must be based on Christ’s teachings as recorded in the New Testament.  He taught that when, flooded by God’s grace, one becomes a personally committed follower of the Lord Jesus Christ, makes the Bible his rule of faith and practice, and is filled with the Holy Spirit, he becomes a new person.
John Wesley went to the receptive segments of British society.  He did win some followers of the gentry, the intelligentsia, and the highly educated.  However, the majority of his followers came from that section of society which we would now call the working classes.  Most of the Methodist class teachers and preachers were not graduates of Oxford or Cambridge.  Like the apostles themselves, they were fishermen, working men, and tax gatherers, who believed on Christ, had experienced His amazing grace, and were filled with the Holy Spirit.
Immediately following the Revolutionary War in 1784, when Coke and Asbury came to the United States, they found an extraordinarily ripe field.  Only one in ten of all Americans in those days were a member of any church—Congregational, Episcopalian or Presbyterian.  The Baptists were very small in numbers.  Any denomination which maintained that its ministers had to be seminary graduates, highly educated, could not possibly staff the multiplying congregations on the American frontier.  The gospel preached by Asbury and Coke was listened to by great crowds of hungry people.  Many of the unchurched were soundly converted and became ardent Methodists.  Methodist congregations multiplied.  Their leaders were chosen from the specially able, Spirit-filled, and Bible-informed members of the newly founded congregations.  Preachers arose almost by magic.  To be sure, training schools were founded by Asbury and Coke.  We must not underestimate this aspect of their labors.  Nevertheless, they were not going to say, “Our ministers must be highly educated and seminary trained.”  That conviction did come in due time.  But it did not mark the wonderful years of early Methodist expansion.
As I was looking into the McGavran family history, I spent some time in Carroll and Columbiana Counties of northeast Ohio.  I noted the records of the churches that were planted from 1795 to 1850.  I was amazed at the large number of Methodist congregations that had been started in that whole area.  As one today travels the deep rural sections of that part of Ohio, he finds cemeteries now abandoned by kept up by the state, where once a Methodist Church had stood.  Multiplication of congregations is very good church growth practice.  This is precisely what needs to be done among the vast numbers of unbelievers in today’s world.
True, it is in countries like Thailand, Burma, Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, and the many nations in Africa and Latin America—to say nothing of China and Japan—that one sees the enormous size of the unreached populations of today.  However, even in northern Europe, Britain, Canada, and the United States there are numerous communities in which more than half of the people today attend no church, are living members of no congregation.  Since I will stress this in later lectures, I will say no more now.
Let me reiterate that church growth was an outstanding characteristic of early Methodism.  Evangelism and church growth do not come merely by planning and ingenuity.  First there must be spiritual life which makes us aware of God’s great power in the lives of earnest Christians.  The love and power of God poured through the members of those eighteenth century class meetings and revived multitudes of men and women.  If Methodists today are to be true to their own foundations, they will turn from the pleasant task of looking after themselves and seeing that their congregations meet in beautiful buildings, listen to wonderful music and well phrased sermons, and attract enough men and women so that the membership remains about what it was the preceding year—they will turn from all of this and begin to practice what John Wesley practiced, what Waskom Pickett advocated, and what the church growth movement is emphasizing so heavily today.

Dr. George Hunter
George Hunter and Church Growth
Let me mention a third aspect of the debt which church growth owes to Methodism.  In 1976, just ten year ago, some great leaders of the Methodist communion noted that the membership of the church had dropped from 10 million to 9 million.  In the preceding ten years they had actually lost a million members.  However this was explained, these leaders felt shocked and grieved.  They said, “We as a great Branch of the Church must again start to practice effective evangelism.  We must again multiply congregations in the unchurched segments of the North American population and around the world.  Existing congregations must grow.  New congregations must be multiplied.  Thousands of new congregations must be planted among the Hispanics, the Portuguese-speaking 2 million along the east coast, the Filipino million or more now living in America, and many other minorities whose second and third generation are now growing up into very nominal Christians or, in most cases, practicing secularists.  We must cease equating a Methodist Church with a fine building.  Like John Wesley we must start many class meetings of reformed, Spirit-filled, Bible-obeying men and women.  The time has come for a radical revision of the way of thinking which has become so common among United Methodists in the past two decades.
Thinking in this fashion, these Methodist leaders dedicated a quarter of a million dollars a year to the task and appointed George Hunter, III, Professor of Evangelism at the Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, to help reverse the downward trend in Methodism.  He read all of church growth’s normative literature and then came to the Fuller School of World Mission in Pasadena and spent a quarter, reading case studies and attending those classes which he thought useful.  He also attended seminars held by Dr. Win Arn of the Institute for American Church Growth on the one hand, and classes conducted by Dr. Peter Wagner on church growth on the other.
Whereas the church growth movement founded by the School of World Mission in Pasadena was interdenominational, touched all manner of denominations from the conservative to the liberal, and even enlisted a few Roman Catholic students, Dr. Hunter concentrated his efforts on the United Methodist Church.  He operated out of Nashville as a department of the Methodist Board of Discipleship.  He enrolled a staff of seven and devoted six years to creating a conscience on church growth throughout the United Methodist Church.  He now heads the new School of World Mission and Evangelism at Asbury.
He met with very considerable success.  God blessed his efforts.  Nevertheless, many Methodist congregations and conferences continued to sleep.  In 1981, he invited me to speak to his staff in Nashville.  In the course of that presentation, he pulled out a map of the United States showing all the conferences of the United Methodist Church.  Those which had grown by even on member a year were white.  Those which had no grown were black.  Nearly half of the conferences were black.  Dr. Hunter knew that if the dust bowl was to be turned into good agricultural land, water in great supply was necessary.  The task was not easy.  Careful planning, exact thinking, much labor, sweat, toil, tears and blood must be poured out.
Such consecrated labor is, of course, part of church growth theology.  The life of Jesus of Nazareth and His apostles as they proclaimed the way of salvation and multiplied congregations of Spirit-filled Christians was not a life of ease.  They did not sleep on beds of roses.  The Lord Himself died on a cross.  According to tradition all the apostles died as martyrs.  Paul’s account of the toils, tribulation, shipwreck, beatings, and imprisonments that he suffered is impressive.  If the lost sheep are to be found and folded, the shepherd must toil long and hard and journey through many thorny and rocky stretches of the countryside.  But, my friends, this is the task.  This is that to which our Lord calls us.  This is what John Wesley, Bishop Asbury, Bishop Pickett, Dr.Hunter, and thousands of other Methodists (and leaders of many other denominations) have emphasized through the years.
In April, 1987, Dr. Hunter’s book, To Spread the Power, is being published by Abingdon Press.  In it he recounts the lifelong labors and the strategic mind of John Wesley.  Hunter shows beyond the shadow of a doubt that the tremendous multiplication of classes and societies, movement toward receptive populations, and developing culturally indigenous ministries and leaders are all an essential part of Methodism.  All of you will read his book with great profit and delight.

Methodist Alan Tippett and Church Growth
Dr. Alan Tippet
In the spring of 1961, while reading the International Review of Missions, I ran across an article by an Australian Methodist missionary, Alan Tippett.  He was describing the multiplication of tribal churches in the Fiji Islands.  He was describing accurately the way in which peoples become Christian.  I wrote to him immediately, offering him a thousand dollar research fellowship in the newly founded Institute of Church Growth in Eugene, Oregon.  He accepted my offer and became one of our research fellows.
He was a missionary of twenty years’ experience in the Fiji Islands and a very able man.  In the fall of 1961, as he studied at the Institute of Church Growth, I became convinced that he knew a great deal about animism and anthropology.  Consequently, I asked him to become an assistant professor, teaching four hours a week while he carried on his doctoral studies in anthropology at the University of Oregon across the street.  When he returned to the South Pacific in June, 1964, I thought we should never meet again.
However, when a year later, June, 1965, President Hubbard of Fuller Theological Seminary asked me to become the founding dean of the now famous School of World Mission and Institute of Church Growth, he told me that my main task would be to build up a mission’s faculty of seven full-time professors.  The first man I called was Dr. Alan Tippett.  He was not only a good professor of anthropology and animism, he was also an ardent believer that the essential work of both churches and missions was the discipling of all segments of the world’s population.  He had practiced church growth, he taught church growth, and the modern church growth movement owes a great debt to him.  In the next five years, I added full-time professors from Presbyterian, Baptist, Brethren and Congregational denominations.  The church growth movement is spreading in scores of denominations.  Nevertheless, the first man I called to the graduate School of World Mission in Pasadena, was a Methodist.  I emphasize this to make clear that the church growth movement owes a very considerable debt to the Methodist Branch of the universal Church.

When my good friend Robert Orr asked me to come and speak to the Divinity School of Duke University, I accepted his invitation chiefly because of the debt which I owe to Methodism.  It would
have been far easier for me to stay at home.  In my 89th year is possibly would have been wiser too.  But as a partial payment of the debt, I felt I owed it to you to come and in my own inadequate way state the situation which faces the universal Church today.
Church growth speaks to a universal condition.  It speaks to the fact that the Church of Jesus Christ—all denominations, all branches—lives and operates in a world where slightly growing congregations, static congregations, and declining congregations are far too common.  This is true among Episcopalians, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Roman Catholics, and all other Branches of the Church.  Oh, to be sure, there are some spurts of growth.  Indeed, there are certain sections of the world in which the church is making great advances.  For example, in Africa, south of the Sahara, the number of Christians is increasing enormously.  By the year 2000, there will be at least 350 million Christians in Africa south of the Sahara.  Here and there in other lands, notably in South Korea, tremendous church growth has occurred.  I shall be speaking of these matters later in the lectures, but all put together they do not wipe out the fact that many denominations today in Europe and North America have grown content with their ineffective evangelism.  They evangelize, to be sure.  Some of their congregations grow a little, but their denominations as a whole, in a nation which desperately needs church growth if it is to become more just, more brotherly, and more kind, remain very slow growing, if not static and declining.

In modern American culture where sin in many forms has become commonplace, where pre-marital and extra-marital sex are accepted as legitimate ways of life, where all kinds of bribes and corruption occur with amazing regularity, and where our prisons are fuller than ever with robbers, murderers, and other criminals, we must have a significant increase in the number of practicing, Spirit-filled, Bible-believing followers of the Lord Jesus.  Unless this happens, we will see American civilization crumble.  The signs are written large for all who have eyes to see.
Methodism arose as the great John Wesley addressed himself to precisely this condition.  Methodism has grown and spread throughout the world.  Today, in addition to the many good works that it is already doing, it must return to its pristine passion—multiplying classes of the redeemed, winning men and women to the holy life, and remaking the world as God wants it remade.

Whether this obedience to Christ is called Methodism, effective evangelism, or church growth—or for that matter, Lutheranism, Presbyterianism, or a Baptist way of life—makes little difference.  That it is truly Spirit-filled, truly biblical, and truly full of overpowering love makes all the difference in the world.  As we begin this series of lectures, I trust that all of us gathered in this room will believe that we are emphasizing the essence of our Branch of the Church.  Whether we are Methodists, Baptists, Episcopalians, Lutherans, or members of any other Branch of the Church, let us be certain that God the Father Almighty wants His lost sheep found.  He wants His lost sons and daughters brought back home.  In this series of lectures we shall be talking about the essential work of every Branch of the Church.  Not only is it their most essential work, but it is also their dearest dream, their most ardent hope, and their most rewarding task.

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