Church Education Trust

CGM 002

2.2 The CGM’s Theological Roots.                   

A balanced examination of the CGM’s theological position would place them firmly in the conservative evangelical camp. McGavran reminds us that “Church Growth rises in unshakeable theological conviction” and is “rooted in biblical, evangelical, conversionist theology”.

Greg DesVoignes[2] suggested placing them in a more liberal camp, quoting John McArthur in order to vilify the Church Growth Movement: Contemporary evangelism has been beguiled and sabotaged by a ruinous lack of confidence in God’s word.

They have accepted the notion that the scriptures do not contain all we need to minister in these complex times. So government politics, entertainment or whatever might supply some recipe for success that’s lacking in scripture.

McArthur’s quote in his book is directed against the “popular church growth” movement reflected in many of the megachurches, while the CGM is clearly the ‘classical’ strain, which as we will see in this chapter promotes completely different principles; DesVoignes therefore as demonstrated does an injustice to the movement.

As a missiological movement with extensive influence on the world church, the CGM in all its missiological pronouncements is totally focused on the Great Commission of Christ to his church, the body of Christ, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the inspiration of Scripture, and that outside of the salvation which is found Jesus Christ there is no hope for humankind who remain in their sin.[4]

Paul E. Kelm[5], writing about the CGM for the Wisconsin Synod of the American Lutheran Church, suggests that the CGM elevates rationalism and logic to the same level as the inspired Scriptures[6]; this in itself would be very difficult to prove, given the CGM’s strong belief in the scripture as the authentic word of God.

Kelm also suggests that the CGM have changed and wrongly emphasized the sovereignty of God at the expense of the centrality of God's Grace.  He suggests that there is significant confusion in the CGM’s understanding, for it degrades the means of Grace, while elevating the human will in conversion and eventually substituting sociological pragmatism for the gospel.   

Kelm would seem to reflect the “Reformist View” of the CGM, for he suggests that while the CGM assumes a theology, it is ineffectively applied to analyse culture, therefore the outcome is perceived to be less than a good biblical interpretation. This of course can be seen as a theological position held by the Lutherans reflecting how they interpret the Biblical understanding of God’s involvement with humankind in salvation.

However this is a challenge that has confronted the church for centuries, the main issue being the emphasis and role of the human will in the salvation experience.   It could be argued that it is the difference between a God centred church and a man centred church.[7] . Some critics have lost sight of the fact that the key issue for the CGM is always one of relevance.  If one is not relevant, then the communication of the message has failed and the outcome is the continued decline of the church. 

Dr. Elmer Towns[8] holds the “Effective Evangelism” position which promotes the view that the CGM effectively confronts and penetrates culture with the gospel. To penetrate the culture with the gospel is to be relevant, and relevance is crucial to the CGM missiology. After 30 years of observing churches, McGavran still asks the question “Why do some churches grow and others don't?”. The CGM uncompromisingly believes that it is God’s will that the church grows numerically and spiritually.  

Few within the leadership of any church would disagree with that comment, but the problem for many arises in the implementation of the CGM’s missiology. The CGM is not all about numbers and yet it believes that the outcome of its strategy should be numerical church growth.  Its missiology and methodology clearly promote numerical growth, as well as discipleship, fellowship, faith, unity of the Spirit, evangelism, church planting and many other expressions of Christians maturing in faith and collectively as fellowships.  

Dr.Howard Synder [9]reinforces this view by suggesting that the key starting point in church revival is to identify spiritual life in people and nurture it.. The vast experience of writers and contributors within the CGM, as will be demonstrated, has helped to identify issues and eliminate barriers to growth.   

It can be said that declining churches have inherent barriers to growth, and some within the ranks of the church are happy to suggest that orthodoxy is synonymous with slow decline. The admission that theology is the reason for decline or slow growth is questionable; as many churches driven by strong theological positions are experiencing immense growth, the answer to decline is to be found somewhere else.  

It could be in the area of methodology and context and that is where the CGM is most effective in the insights it offers. Dr. Howard Snyder suggests that we should “let dead or dysfunctional structure and patterns lie”.[10] Hoge and Roozen[11], editors of one of the first serious studies on the effect of contextual factors which could help or hinder church growth, suggested that an open and genuine use of the social sciences could influence the growth of a local church.

McGavran asks the question that every church should ask: “How can we most effectively reach the lost in the many cultures of this earth and integrate them into the work of the church?”   The difference between McGavran and the church in decline was that he was offering solutions to the questions which were to be found in his missiological principles, rather than missional theology.[12]

The CGM had a real effect on the life and ministry of Warren and the establishing of the Purpose Driven Church; it is important to clarify what those principles were and the nature of those influences on his ministry. 

2.3 Church Growth Principles. 

There have been various attempts to define what “Church Growth Principles” really are. McGavran defines them in his book “Ten Steps to Church Growth” indicating their meaning by suggesting “a world wide truth which, when properly applied, along with other principles, contributes significantly to the growth of the church”. 

In McGavran’s definition he builds his strategies on principles and process of delivery; Warren clearly indicates that he built his Saddleback church on principles and a defined process. C. Peter Wagner defined the CGM’s vision as  to make more effective the propagation of the gospel and the multiplication of churches on new ground and to see America evangelised in one generation. 

In 1934 McGavran developed the principle of “new ground” ministry enabling the church to meet the spiritual needs of a new and emerging generation in innovative and creative contextualizing of the gospel message.  The “new ground” which Wagner refers to was the challenge to embrace the post modern culture so as to intraculturalise the gospel.  To understand the CGM process to deliver a contextualised message it is important to include the basic principles recommended by the CGM in order to achieve local church growth. 

2.3.1 Scriptural Authority.                     

The CGM states that their church growth principles are rooted in Scripture. In his book “Ten Steps to Church Growth”, McGavran[15] reminds his readers that “Scripture is the major source of Church growth thinking”.  Synder [16] suggests that “the Bible is fundamentally a book about the church - what it is, how it is to function faithfully in the world, what its destiny is”. 

McGavran understands the New Testament to be a series of church growth documents helping all churches in every generation to understand the principles and the process that God had initiated to give church growth. While he suggests that the Bible is the major source, he indicates that there are also other non-biblical sources of value such as anthropology and other social science disciplines. 

Kirk Wellum[18] would argue that the CGM has “adopted a phenomenological hermeneutic or pragmatic principle of interpretation”.  By this he suggests that the CGM use “growth pragmatism” which simply means they use only those scriptural teachings which support their cause.  Wellum suggests: CGM believes that theological findings should always be validated by experience; their key scripture is 1 Cor.9:22, where Paul says ‘I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some’.[19] 

Wellum comments that this approach to scripture validates the use of sociology, demography and the fruits of marketing research to determine which parts of the Bible they should concentrate on in order to have the greatest impact on the people they are trying to reach.   McGavran has already suggested that the problem with church development is that “theory and theology of mission is what is in dispute”.

It could be argued that church history is strewn with examples of Christian leaders, preachers and teachers doing the same thing.  Theological proclamation reflects selected truth. Whether that makes it right or wrong is another question, or whether the selected truth for that moment is in fact the right truth to proclaim.   

[1]  McGavran, UCG, 8.

[2]  Greg DesVoignes, /media.

[3]  John F. MacArthur, Ashamed of the Gospel, Wheaton Illinos, GNP, 1993, 23.

[4]  Donald McGavran, Understanding Church Growth, 7.

[5]  Paul Kelm, American Lutheran Church synod 1987: Paper entitled :The Church growth

Movement : an explanation and evaluation.

[6]  McGavran, UCG, 7.

[7]  Robert Schuller, Self Esteem:The New Reformation, Waco, USA, Word books, 1982.
[8]  Engle & McIntosh, Evaluating The Church Growth Movement, 25.
[9]  Engle & McIntosh, ETCGM, 226-228.
[10] Engle & McIntosh, Evaluating The Church Growth Movement, 227.

[11] David R. Hoge & David A. Roozen, Understanding Church Growth and Decline, New York, 

Pilgrim Press,1979,39.
[12] Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Church, 30.
[13] Donald McGavran, Ten Steps to Church Growth, San Francisco, CA., Harper and Row, 1977.
[14] C. Peter Wagner, Your Church Can Grow, Glendale, California, Regal, 1976, ch.1.

[15] McGavran, TSTCG, 127.

[16] Engle & McIntosh, Evaluating the Church Growth Movement, 211.

[17] Engle & McIntosh, Evaluating The Church Growth Movement, 24.

[18] Kirk Wellam , Sovereign Grace community Church, Ontario,
[19] Wellam, Sovereign Grace Community Church, Ontario,, 5.
[20] Donald McGavran, Understanding Church Growth, 16.

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