To some, Donald A. McGavran was one of the greatest missiologists in Christian history. To others, his name is almost synonymous with the devil. Those who malign McGavran have simply misunderstood him. They say all he was about was numbers. They say he was responsible for pastors building large churches around the homogeneous model. They say all he was about was church growth.
The title of my first book was The Church Growth Handbook. I had never heard of McGavran at the time. All I knew was that God had called me to change lives in Jesus, and when that happened, my church or someone else’s church grew and that was what it was all about.
It wasn’t long before I began to receive hate mail from colleagues who said I had sold out to the devil. I didn’t understand at the time that they were referring to the work of McGavran. They hated McGavran because, in their minds, all he and the church growth movement were concerned about was numbers and growing large churches.
Well, that’s only because they hadn’t taken the time to read McGavran. If they had, here is what they would have learned.
- He challenged people to think in terms of reaching people groups with the gospel instead of individuals.
- He called for converts to immerse themselves in the culture rather than be extracted from the culture into mission stations as many churches do today.
- He emphasized calling people groups and individuals to faith in Christ rather than building large churches (most of his work was done on the mission field where large churches didn’t exist).
- The term “church growth” and the emphasis on numbers were always used in relationship to salvation.
- The ultimate goal of the gospel is not building churches but advancing the Kingdom of God.
- Most of his ministry was done outside any relationship to a congregation.
What many don’t know about McGavran is that much of his work was done in the field, totally apart from any form of institutional church. So numbers were never his concern – fulfilling the Great Commission was what drove the man to all that he did.
It’s time we recognized one of the great men of the faith – Donald McGavran – and quit saying all he was interested in was numbers.
Question: What have you learned from McGavran’s work? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.