The Church Growth Movement arose out of a book, the Bridges of God, in which Donald McGavran explained his theory that church growth could only proceed if theological and sociological factors were taken into consideration. He was keen to understand the sociological obstacles to church growth prevailing in a culture. It has developed several programmes to assist church growth.
The origins of the movement
Donad McGavran was a missionary in India for several years, where he reflected on the difficulties of growing Christian churches.
He realised that effective church leadership required a knowledge of church growth strategies, as well as theological knowledge.
To provide effective Christian leadership, ministers must possess sociological knowledge about the culture in which they are operating. He explained his theories in his book, the Bridges of God.
Kinds of knowledge
Sociological knowledge is a system, whereby the attitudes prevailing in a culture are identified and mapped-out, along with the cultural assumptions that underlie them.
These assumptions might arise in the inherited religious attitudes in a society, but they also arise from other cultural assumptions, such as gender roles.
Theological knowledge consists of the teachings of Jesus, mediated by a specific church.
The basis of McGavran's theological work was to put into practice by Jesus' mission to save the lost.
Church leaders should also be aware of the great commission given in Matthew's Gospel "Go ye and teach all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" [Matthew 28.]
Sociological knowledge is the tool, by which this commission will be effected, and its goals achieved.
Through sociological knowledge, missionaries can understand, and overcome cultural obstacles to their mission.
Overview of the society
The society was established in 1986, by McGavran and Peter Wagner.
It recently changed its name to the Great Commission Research Organisation.
It has a meeting three times a year, at which progress is assessed and issues of church growth are discussed.
The society publishes a magazine, now known as the Great Commission Research journal. It is published twice a year by Biola University.
School of world mission
The centre of the operation, its headquarters, is the school of world mission at Mount Fuller, Pasadena, , at which Christian leadership training is given.
It also has designed "seeker sensitive" programmes to appeal to specific cultural groups, such as the young, in language and cultural terms, which they can understand.
For example, they use music likely to appeal to teenagers.
There have been criticisms that these strategies are not always successful, as they do not always convert into church growth, but the criticisms are disputed.