“We stand in the sunrise of missions.” This is perhaps the most characteristic phrase proclaimed through
the years by Donald A. McGavran, regarded by many as the twentieth century’s premier
missiologist. Donald McGavran was born of missionary parents in India before the turn of the century.
His grandparents had also been missionaries to India, sailing around Africa’s
Cape of Good Hope to get there. He is a graduate of Yale and Columbia. He has climbed the Himalayas. He was the director
of a missionary agency. He has written twenty-three books on missions and church growth. Donald McGavran will most likely
be remembered chiefly as the father of the Church Growth Movement.
This book was read and discussed by missionaries and mission executives on all six continents. Its ideas were new and
controversial. Four principal points of were raised: a theological issue, an ethical issue, a missiological issue, and a procedural
issue. The theological issue suggests that the central purpose of missions was to be seen as God’s will that
lost men and women be found, reconciled to himself, and brought into responsible membership in Christian churches. Evangelism
was seen not just as proclaiming the gospel whether or not something happened, but as making disciples for the Master. The
ethical issue is one of pragmatism. McGavran became alarmed when he saw all too many of God’s resources—personnel
and finances—being used without asking whether the kingdom of God was being advanced by the programs they were supporting.
McGavran demanded more accountability in Christian stewardship. The missiological issue is McGavran’s people
movement theory. Before the days of the conscious application of cultural anthropology to evangelistic strategy, McGavran
intuitively recognized the fact that decision-making processes are frequently quite different from one culture to the next.
The procedural issue is the distinction between discipling and perfecting as two discreet stages of Christianization.
Discipling brings an unbelieving individual or group to commitment to Christ and to the body of Christ. Perfecting is the
lifelong process of spiritual and ethical development in the lives of believers.
He said in this book Evangelization intends the redemption of individuals and the multiplication of Christ’s
churches. Concern for evangelism and church growth is an essential part of the Christian faith and an irreplaceable part of
the work of the church. The church is the Body of Christ and brings persons and nations to faith and obedience as it proclaims
the gospel effectively in every people and incorporates believers from every people into ongoing churches. Believing this,
the church girds for action. However, engaged in many good activities, Christians often take the growth of the church for
granted. Church growth is much wider and deeper than adding names to church rolls. It delves into how persons and peoples
become genuinely Christian and revolutionize and bless the cultures and populations in the midst of which God has placed them.
Church growth arises in theology and biblical faithfulness. It draws heavily on the social sciences because it always occurs
in societies. It continually seeks for instances in which God has granted growth and then asks what are the real factors he
has blessed to such increase. The long-range goal of church growth is the discipling of ‘panta ta ethne’ (all
peoples), to the end that rivers of the water of eternal and abundant life flow fast and free, to every tongue and tribe and
people in all the earth. Discipling the nations, reconciling people of all races to God in Christ, bringing all nations to
faith and obedience, and preaching the gospel to the whole creation. The theory and theology of mission is what is in dispute.
As God carries out his mission in the world and the church seeks to be found “about his business,” what should
be done? Considerations of anthropology, sociology, theology, and organizational complexity pile up one on the other. Never
was clear mission theory more needed than today—a theory firmly rooted in biblical truth.
The great campaigns of evangelism are urgent. They are one way in which the gospel advances. Furthermore, many other
ways to advance the gospel are being and must be used. All of them, including evangelism, must be used in the light of feedback
from the ongoing mission enterprise, guided by the degree to which people and ethne are being brought to the obedience of
the faith, and churches are being multiplied. Sections of the church, sometimes large, sometimes small, do of course at times
face difficulties or new problems and enter a period of malaise. War, famine, pestilence, the spread of some debilitating
theology, adjustment to radically new conditions, migration to new lands or cities, and totalitarian oppression are some of
the factors that not only check church growth but may enervate the people of God for a time. The hand of Midian sometimes
prevails against Israel—until God
raises up a Gideon. Where there is no faithfulness in proclaiming Christ, there is no growth. There must also be obedience
in hearing. For church growth also requires obedience in being found. Church growth is basically a theological stance. God
requires it. It looks to the Bible for direction as to what God wants done. It holds that belief in Jesus Christ, understood
according to the Scriptures, is necessary for salvation. Church growth rises in unshakeable theological conviction.
The book is including biblical and theological research and reflection,
case studies from contemporary missions on many continents, and illustrations from little-known periods of older church history,
much is presented with the passion of a good sermon or courtroom argument. The major part of this is that "missions" or "evangelism"
must be seen as the task of persuading people to become committed followers of Jesus Christ and responsible members of local
churches. The secondary part of this book is that this can be accomplished only by understanding the receiver of the Christian
message as well as the message itself. On the basis of these convictions, he argues the legitimacy and importance of keeping
thorough and accurate records, of asking hard questions in statistical and case study research, and using the insights of
the social sciences in developing mission strategy. Persons who view the Church Growth Movement as obsessed with numbers,
marketing, mega churches, or merely the despised "Homogeneous Unit Principle" would do well to go the primary document of
the movement which takes its name from his groundbreaking studies and teaching. He also said that, there are great numbers
of persons die each year of hunger and malnutrition. Yet there are still refugees to house, illiterates to teach, the sick
to heal—and three billion who have never heard the name of Christ to flood with knowledge of the Saviour. I also learn
from this book is that, understanding church growth begins in obedient enlistment in this cause of Christ, continues through
intellectual discernment of the many factors that effect growth, and ends in great joy as Christians come bearing many sheaves
and hear our Lord say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
Understanding Church Growth by Donald A. McGavran and Revised and Edited by C. Peter Wagner, William B. Eerdmans
Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA -----1990.