Wednesday, January 20, 2016


The Urgency Of Church Growth

Dr.McGavran looking at the decline of 10 major denominations sought in a prophetic voice to cry out for a recapturing of the redemptive mission to which Christ has called us. That clarion call is as needed as ever.

Currently in America 80-85% of churches are either plateaued or in decline and half of all churches have not seen even one convert over the previous 12 months. Added to this an additional 10-12% of churches which would said to be growing are growing so slowly that they are not even keeping pace with population growth.

Dr. Bob Orr
Teaching Church Growth in Korea
Starting with the Builder generation which was and currently is about 60-65% churched we see each succeeding generation being less churched until we look at the current millennial generation which is approximately around 10% churched.

So in reading this lecture there is a first inclination to say this is a good analysis of the church then and neglect its powerful call to the church now.. 

Many of these denominations played ostrich with their heads in the sand to the clear data that was predicting a decreasing impact on the society that the preaching of the gospel promised to change for the better as more and more persons became fully devoted followers of Christ.

For all of us are we willing to take that honest look at what is actually happening and recommit ourselves to our high and holy calling. Will we add to our good work the great work of making disciples "panta ta ethne".

"Panta ta ethne" is a term you will find in this article and in other articles as Dr. McGavran liked to use this Biblical phrase to describe the scope of the mission. To "panta ta ethne" means to every group and sub group of people on planet earth. May we see the world as God sees it and work until "panta ta ethne" is reached.

Dr. Donald McGavran

Ten Declining Denominations
The urgency of church growth in America today is highlighted by the fact that ten of the largest Branches of the Church were not only static but actually declined during the years 1965-75.  One declined 32%.  Another very notable denomination declined 19%.  The three united churches declined 12%, 11%, and 10%.  Five others declined 7%, 6%, 6%, 5%, and 2%. 

All this took place in a free country.  No church was being persecuted, national prosperity was at a high, the wars of the preceding fifty years had all been won, the country as a whole was regarded as the most powerful nation in the world.  Its institutions of learning attracted students from every nation on earth.  The awesome power of the atom had been harnessed.  Thermonuclear plants in many lands were turning out enormous quantities of electricity.  Public health stood at an all-time high.  Men and women were living longer lives.  The rate of infant mortality had sharply declined.  The battle for brotherhood was being won.  Blacks were being treated more and more as fellow citizens rather than as members of an inferior race.

Yet in this kind of a world many Branches of the universal Church, denominations, were declining or were static.

Dr. Peter Wagner and Dr. Donald McGavran
Graduation School of World Missions
Often the most orthodox churches were the least growing.  While their rock hard theological convictions were correct and clearly based upon the Bible, their members were not coming out of ripe fields bearing many sheaves.  Too often their members in a ripe field had sat down in some far corner under a shady tree to sing praises to God, voice biblically correct doctrines, and pray.

As He always does, God had abundantly blessed those who were His devoted followers.  

They had become more prosperous, more respected, more respectable, and more honored.  The gulf between them and the unsaved and nominal Christians widened and this very prosperity had made growth difficult.

Let me illustrate this important point.  Twenty years ago I was conducting the annual Church Growth Seminar in Winona Lake, Indiana.  Now Winona Lake is the national headquarters of the Free Methodist Church.  One evening six bishops of the Free Methodist Church took me out to dinner in order to discuss with me a problem that was greatly concerning them.  In northern Indiana, northwest Ohio, and southeastern Michigan their denomination was strong.  They had many Free Methodist congregations.  The Free Methodists were an honored and respected part of many communities.  Yet they were not growing.  Why?
Into that section of North America during the preceding thirty years large numbers of Appalachians had come.  These were all whites, but they were much less educated and prosperous and respected than the members of the Free Methodist congregations.

“How does it happen,” asked the bishops, “that when we try to win the Appalachians to Christ and membership in our churches, they may come to our churches once or twice, but they do not come back again?  If occasionally some one of them joins a Free Methodist Church, he continues as a member for only a few months.  What must we do to win this segment of the population?”

As we discussed the situation, the picture became clear.  The Appalachians were a different stratum in the population.  They did not feel at home in congregations made up of prosperous, respected, and well educated men and women.  They frequently walked to church smoking cigarettes.  They did not feel at home in devoutly Christian, highly respectable and prosperous congregations.  Consequently, the Free Methodists were not able to win many from among this large unchurched segment of the population.  This was, of course, not the only reason for lack of growth, but it certainly was one.

Let me give you another illustration from my own denomination.  While I was home on furlough in 1940, the United Christian Missionary Society sent me to speak on missions to a hundred-year old congregation of the Christian Church located in northeast Ohio, about seven miles from the heart of a great growing city.  The congregation had been made up of prosperous farmers.  It had a fine church building which seated perhaps 100 people.  Its pastor said to me, “The city is growing out all around us.  Farmers sell farms which are then subdivided up into lots and sold to city people.  However, so far we have been unable to win these people to our church.  They think of us as a country church.”  Consequently the church continued as a small rural congregation on the edge of a growing city.
Eight years later in 1948, I was again on furlough and again sent on deputation to this same congregation.  The Sunday I spoke there the church building was filled to overflowing.  Men and women stood on the verandah looking in through the open windows.  Chairs filled the central aisle.  

The space in front of the pulpit was less than two feet wide.  I said to the pastor, “What on earth happened?”

He replied, “For many years we were unable to win the city population.  They might come a time or two, but they did not return.  Practically none of them put in their membership here.  Then we had a month-long evangelistic campaign.  We asked them to help us found a new vigorous suburban church of Christ-honoring, Bible-believing men and women.  As a result 114 men and women, including many whole families, accepted Christ and declared that they wished to become members of the church.  We immediately held new elections.  The church board composed of the old farming families resigned.  We elected new elders, deacons, and Sunday School teachers, many of them from among the new people.”

“The old guard must have been very grieved and indignant,” I said.  “No,” he replied, “they were delighted.  This is what they had wanted to happen but did not know how to go about it.  The city population now felt that they were not joining a small rural church governed by a board of elderly farmers.  They were now joining a church of their own kind of people.  It made all the difference in the world.”

Too frequently opportunities for church growth lie all around existing congregations, but these opportunities are not bought up.  Consequently, whole segments of the population remain undiscipled.  Hugh numbers in modern America—indeed, my friends, in Philadelphia—remain undiscipled.  Vast amounts of ripe grain falls to the ground and rots.
Bridges Of God
Worth reading

On Sunday just before Labor Day, 1985, in southern California the newspapers reported that two and a half million people went to the beaches to spend the day frolicking on the sand.  The number of people in church that day was considerably less than a half a million.

If eternal God’s command is to be carried out, if panta ta ethne, all the segments of society in North America are to be disciple, we must find ways to multiply living congregations everywhere.  Existing congregations must not assume that they are the only true churches and that other people have to join them.  As the New Testament so clearly indicates, it is God’s will that the Christian faith flow into every segment of the population everywhere.

Unless we dig channels for such a flow, we shall continue to see many evangelical congregations and denominations become static or even decline.  The 1965-75 record, alas, can easily be duplicated and, indeed, is being duplicated in too many cases.

Does Doctrinal Correctness Frequently Coincide with Decline?

I fear that the answer to this question must too often be yea.  I consider doctrinal correctness of the highest importance.  The Church of Jesus Christ must not be—indeed, cannot bea heretical church.  What the Bible clearly teaches must be what the Church teaches.

Nevertheless, we must all recognize that doctrinal correctness frequently coincides with prosperity, respectability, and higher education.  Doctrinally correct denominations tend to grow so different that they do not attract men and women of the general citizenship.

There are three reasons for this.  

The first is that a given Church (denomination) stresses only certain doctrines.  It may insist, for example, that all real Christians will speak in tongues or that the only truly ordained ministers are those ordained in apostolic succession.  It may insist on doctrinal correctness in regard to almost everything except the imperatives which I laid before you in my first lecture.  We certainly must have doctrinal correctness.  We also must, most certainly, have correctness in regard to these crucially important commands of God.

The second reason for failure to grow is that God does unquestionably bless those who obey Him and live according to His commands.  Doctrinally correct congregations and denominations are blessed by God.  They are better citizens, better husbands, wives, sons, and daughters than those who are servants of Satan or who live according to the dictates of their own hearts.  Thus the doctrinally correct must continually work to make sure that the blessings they receive do not shut the unsaved multitudes off from them.  God’s lost children must have ready access to them and to feel at home in their presence.  Evangelicals in particular here in North America must make sure that the honesty, kindness, compassion, and love which their lives demonstrate do not set them apart from the great bulk of the population.  Being saved and being good, practicing Christians must also mean being especially concerned neighbors, especially open men and women.

A third and most important reason for failure to grow is that unfortunately the best of Christians frequently do not obey the commands to which I referred in my first lecture.  They do not bring sheaves out of ripe fields.  They do not proclaim the gospel to all peoples leading them to the obedience of faith.  They do not even try to matheteusate panta ta ethne.  They leave these good activities to missionaries and evangelists.  Too frequently ministers believe that their chief duty is looking after the existing congregations, preaching good sermons, and counseling those who come to them.

As a result, doctrinal correctness frequently does coincide with decline or at least with a static condition.  It must immediately be added that the correctness of which I speak is frequently correctness in regard to those aspects of Christian faith which do not explicitly require a gathering of the sheaves.

Christians too frequently are entirely correct in regard to some doctrines and woefully neglect all those which require discipling.  Part of the reason for this strange and distressing situation is that during the time when the Protestant faith was being firmly established in Northern Europe, access to the rest of the world was cut off by the Portuguese and Spanish navies in the Atlantic and the Muslim armies in the east and south.  Consequently, most influential Christians taught that the Great Commission was given to the apostles and applied to them only and expired after their death.

Let me assure you that doctrinal correctness will certainly lead to effective evangelism, but it must be correctness in regard to all doctrines, especially those which I laid before you in my first lecture.  We cannot omit the doctrines which so clearly command that the body of Christ and all its separate parts be continuously and actively engaged in finding lost sons and daughters and bringing them back to the Father’s house.  This view of essential Christian conduct and essential Christian obedience is, to be sure, implied in all doctrines.  For example, the doctrine of the atonement is not limited to existing Christian.  It does not state that Christ died to same only existing members of the church.  If it is correctly understood as atonement for those who believe, age after age, among all men and women everywhere, then the doctrine of the atonement itself impels toward effective evangelization.  The same is true of every other doctrine.

Consequently, we must say that true and complete doctrinal correctness will not create a static church.  We must also state that incomplete doctrinal correctness usually will create a static church.

The Tidal Wave of Secularism, Materialism and Paganism
A fourth reason for the widespread static condition of the Church is the tidal wave of secularism, materialism and agnosticism or atheism which has spread across North America.

Anyone who regards the reading material, books, magazines, newspapers and the like, and the radio and television programs of North American peoples must be impressed with the agnostic, materialistic, and indeed, atheistic teaching which frequently emanate from these programs.  Many professors in many universities are unbelievers.  Their teachings, the books which they write, and the lectures which they give strongly influence their students to become like them.  Many young men and women, firmly Christian until they went to college, lose their faith as they study under these professors.  They enter college or university practicing Christians.  They leave university either very nominal Christians or not Christians at all.

There are many reasons for this tidal wave of secularism.  Among the more important are the following:   Since we live in one world and ought to live in friendship and amity with all peoples everywhere, we must accept their cultures and their religion as equal to our own.  We must not try to convert them.  We may dialogue with them, but we certainly should not evangelize them.  There is truth in all religions and adherents of each religion tend to think that their own is more truthful and realistic than that held by others.  If we are to live amicably with all peoples on earth, we must hold their religions to be as good for them as our religion is for us.

The second reason for this tidal wave of secularism is that many anthropologists and historians believe that man evolved from monkeys exactly as present-day whales evolved from warm-blooded animals which played along the edges of the ocean a hundred million years ago.  God did not create man in His own image.  More and more intelligent apes were born, began to walk on two feet, grew larger brains, began to use weapons, and finally evolved into man.  The concept that God used evolution and created men through evolution is almost never stated.  Indeed, in many college classes the student is asked to choose between the idea that God created man out of mud and the “much more reasonable belief” that man evolved from monkeys.  It is in this secularized society that the Christian faith must spread.  Theological seminaries in particular must frame, put into operation, test, and refine methods of evangelism which bring secularists to Christian faith.  We in theological seminaries must teach men and women how to win convinced secularists to ardent Christian Faith.  Unless we speak to this growing component of modern society, we shall not bring many sheaves out of ripe fields.

A False View of the Bible
A fourth reason for today’s vast indifference to church growth, i.e., to effective evangelism, is a prevalent low view of the Bible.  Under the influence of European rationalism, biblical scholars started more than a hundred years ago to analyze the various Books of the Bible.  For example, in the Book of Genesis certain passages were held to be written by Jehovah worshipers, others by the worshipers of Elohim, still others by the writers of Deuteronomy, and still others by members of a priestly school.  Thus a biblical scholar would mark passages in Genesis in four different colors—J, e, d, and p.  From this beginning, endless speculations arose as to which were the more authentic and true passages.  Here in a theological seminary I need not point out that this process repeated in book after book of the Bible destroyed any real authority.  In denominations where this view generally prevailed, the church lost its power.  The Bible was not the Word of God inspired, authoritative, and utterly reliable.  It was a very human document.  In it, no doubt, was many excellent teachings, and it was the duty of Christians to pick out those teachings most applicable to today and to disregard the rest.

Wherever Christians come to hold a low opinion of the Bible-whether that described above or any other-eternal God’s command to proclaim the gospel to panta ta ethne leading them to obedience of faith is greatly damaged if not utterly destroyed.

Dr. McGavran
Teaching Denominational Leaders
However, where a high view of the Bible obtains, where it is held to be the inspired and utterly dependable Word of God, the ultimate authority for human life, the only infallible rule of faith and practice, God’s Word to all men-there tremendous concern for the unsaved, for those who do not live according to God’s Word, is certain to mark the true Church.  There the urgency of winning the lost will be felt by seminary professors, ministers, and laymen alike.  There the Church will come alive.

For these four reasons—and some others also—ripe harvest fields are not being reaped—or even seen- in North America.  Students and faculties in theological seminaries need to face frankly the fact that too frequently Christian denominations—even evangelical denominations—are growing very slowly.  Alas, in many cases they have grown completely static or are actually declining.  Not only must theological students and their teachers themselves carry out God’s commands, but they must train their laymen to do the same.  Ripe harvest fields will not be reaped until we get hundreds and thousands of laymen and laywomen communicating the gospel effectively to segments of the American population which lie all about us unreaped.  The multiplication of congregations must become a part of the joyful obedience of every denomination, every seminary, every minister, and every Christian.

Too frequently the urgent need for such obedience is obscured by the fact that we do not see the exact picture.  We believe that far more people are practicing Christians than the facts indicate.  I was talking to a man recently and asked him, “Are you a Christian?”  “Yes,” he replied, “of course I am.  I’m an American, am I not?”

About thirty years ago I was doing some evangelistic calling in my neighborhood.  I knocked on the door of a home where I had never been.  I was admitted and sat down for conversation with a genial businessman.  After some preliminary conversation I invited him to come to my church.  “What denomination is it?” he asked.  “It is the Christian Church,” I replied.  “Oh, thank you,” he answered.  I wouldn’t be interested.  You see, I belong to the Methodist Church.”

I switched the conversation immediately and a few moments later asked what Methodist Church he belonged to.  Please remember that this conversation was taking place in Oregon.  “Ah,” he replied easily.  “I am a member of the First Methodist Church in Miami, Florida.”  Since I knew that he had come here from Miami at least twenty years before, I knew at once that he was not a Methodist any more than I was a Hottentot!  He was a lost soul.

Alas, it is too easy to assume that most people in America are Christians.  Actually, the figures are quite different.  Perhaps 50 million people in America are practicing Christians.  A hundred million are very nominal Christians—in fact, highly secular and materialistic men and women who also belong to a church and attend worship now and then.  About 90 million are not Christians at all.  

They never attend church and do not feel at all bound by biblical doctrine or morality.  It is in this kind of a North America that we Christians need to form our concepts as to what God wants us to do.  It is in this kind of a country that we should plan our own obedience to the Great Commission, in a land where at least 190 million need to be discipled.  Active and effective evangelism must become as real a part of the Christian life as honest conduct, telling the truth, sexual morality, the worship of God, and a correct understanding of all of the Scriptures.

Effective evangelism, i.e., major church growth, is urgently needed in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and every state of the union and in Canada and Mexico also.  The Lord still says, “Lift up your eyes and look on the fields white to harvest.”

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