Church Education Trust

The Church Growth Movement.

Chapter 2.  The Church Growth Movement.                      

Post modernism in its various forms is one of a number of powerful philosophies driving the development of the modern American society.  The priority challenge for the CGM was to find ways of making the gospel relevant in a radically changing culture.The CGM’s missiology is either loved or hated, but what is sure in this 21st century church world is that it cannot be ignored.  

McGavran writing to his wife records:It is clear that emphasising the growth of the churches divides the camp. It is really a divisive topic. How strange when all are presumably disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. [1] 

The CGM’s missiological response has been to create the environment whereby churches at home in America and in various parts of the world, through their developed contextualising process, might be helped to experience numerical and spiritual growth.  

The CGM has two different strands to it: there is the “Popular Church Growth Movement”  (PCGM) and the “Classic Church Growth Movement” (CCGM).The PCGM [2]came into being as churches in the 60’s (1960) began to decline in America.

That decline created a renewed interest in research to help struggling churches recover and grow. The research was independent of the CGM’s programmes and headed up by Lyle Schaller, a trained city planner, who used his skills to study church systems. George Gallup and George Barna’s professional expertise was used to assess the attitudes and practices of churches and their congregations.  

The Alban Institute,[3] as well as a number of universities which taught sociology of religion, came together to form the PCGM, which in reality is not church growth in the sense of McGavran’s understanding for it is interested in the statistics and related sociological analysis of church growth.  

Alongside the PCGM was the CCGM.The Classical Church Growth Movement is essentially a movement of double vision, focusing on international missiology through the taught classes in Fuller School of World Mission and the schools of mission developed from Fuller, for example, the International Stream of Church Growth, the U.S. Centre for World mission and DAWN (Discipling A Whole Nation).

The second part of the CCGM’s vision focused on the North American church’s needs. The development of the Institute of American Church Growth under the leadership of Win Arn, the Fuller Institute for Evangelism and Church Growth led by Wagner became a reality.  Wimber and George became strategic players in the church growth debate.

It has been suggested[4] that the CGM or the CCGM can be summarised in six foundational principles: people movements, pragmatic research, scientific research, social networking, receptivity, and power of evangelism as the central purpose of discipleship. In placing the CGM into its historical context, it will be necessary to look at its founder and his legacy to the 21st century church as it develops in a post modern society.

2.1 CGM`s History.

Dr.Donald McGavran is the father of the Church Growth Movement, and his missiological research has placed him as one of the leading visionaries within the world of mission.  He was born in Damoh, India on December 15th 1897

As a third generation missionary child, after his theological training at Butler University, Yale Divinity School and Columbia University where he gained his B.D, M.A. and PhD respectively, he served the church in India.

He was so influenced by the insights into the mechanics of mission by William Carey, Roland Allen, Kenneth Scott and J.Waskon Pickett that he engaged in deep reflection over issues of church decline and growth, causing him to analyse 145 areas where mission activity was taking place.

The resulting questions that arose from that analysis captivated his life and ministry.  His development of the CGM was driven by the search for answers to questions such as: What are the causes of church growth? What are the barriers to church growth? What are the factors that can make the Christian faith a movement among some populations? And what principles of church growth are reproducible?  

McGavran’s desire was to see the church established in every nation and tribe and that motivated him to try and understand the mechanics of how the gospel is spread.  McGavran’s book, “Understanding Church Growth”,[5] first published in 1970 and then again in 1980, is a significant missiologial and classical book which includes McGavran’s theological understandings, a wealth of empirical research, sociological principles and  spiritual insights, which come together  to develop a paradigm for a worldwide strategy for evangelism and church growth.

In 1990 Donald McGavran and C. Peter Wagner revised the original text of “Understanding Church Growth”, offering an up to date version of this classic. The CGM finds its beginnings in the sociological research work of Donald McGavran and yet he admits:While God had granted me a part in the process, I neither invented church growth nor am solely responsible for it. Indeed, I owe my interest in church growth to a great Methodist Bishop, Jarrell Waskom Pickett. In 1934, he kindled my concern that the church grow.

I lit my candle at his fire.[6] From the1930’s to the early 50’s McGavran had been teaching and preaching the need for churches to consider church growth principles. In 1954 he published his classic book “The Bridges of God”.[7]  

This book was a development of his earlier work written in 1936 entitled “Church Growth and Group Conversion”.[8] In that earlier version McGavran was convinced that church growth was possible in any context if growth principles were adhered to.  As his vision for mission developed he wrote “How Churches Grow”.[9]

Then, with growing awareness of the clash and consequences that Christianity would have to sustain as it confronted modern culture, he wrote a book entitled “The Clash between Christianity and Cultures”.[10]  In 1973-81 McGavran and Win Arn developed teaching materials for the church which eventually were published as “How to Grow a Church”,[11] which took the form of questions and answers.  

McGavran clearly expresses his deeply held views on church growth in his book, “Ten Steps for Church Growth”, [12] and brings to bear many important insights for the church builder.  The third book, “Back to Basics in Church Growth”[13] applies Biblical insights and spiritual principles for church growth.

In 1980 McGavran and George G. Hunter III produced a book which had tremendous impact on church leadership, entitled “Church Growth: Strategies That Work”.[14]  In the book McGavran provides his readers with some very practical and motivating training pointers related to helping small churches grow.

[1] Engle & McIntosh, Evaluating the Church Growth Movement, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 

    Zondervan, 2004, 7.

[2] PCGM : Popular Church Growth Movement.

[3] Engle & McIntosh, ETCGM, 20.

[4] Gary L. McIntosh, Leadership Handbook of Outreach and Care, Grand Rapids, Baker, 1994,


[5] Donald McGavran, Understanding Church Growth, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1990.

[6] to/quotes/conway/church-growth/cgm-roots.htm

[7] Donald McGavran, The Bridges of God, New York, Friendship Press, 1955.
[8] Donald McGavran, Church Growth and Group Conversion. New York, Friendship Press, 1936.
[9] Donald McGavran, How Churches Grow, London, World Dominion, 1959.

[10] Donald McGavran, The Clash Between Christianity and Cultures, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 


[11] Donald McGavran & Win Arn, How To Grow A Church, Ventura, CA., Regal Books, 1973.

[12] Donald McGavran & Win Arn, Ten Steps For Church Growth, San Francisco, CA, Harper &


[13] Donald McGavran & Win Arm, Back to the Basics in Church Growth, Wheaton IL., Tyndale,

[14] Donald McGavran & George G. Hunter III, Church Growth Strategies, Nashville, TN.,

   Abingdon, 1980.

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©2008 Church Education Trust