by Gailyn Van Rheenen
The Reformist View of Church Growth
By Dr. Gailyn Van Rheenen
Source: Evaluating the Church Growth Movement: 5 Views, edited by Gary L. McIntosh (Zondervan 2004)
"As we move into a new century, I share the conviction that we need to reposition ourselves and to work once again on the agenda"
Steuernagel (2000, 127)
Personal Church Growth Influences
I am deeply indebted to Donald McGavran and the Church Growth perspective. Donald McGavran was a personal, though distant, mentor. Throughout our years in Africa he read our mission reports and occasionally sent personal replies and suggestions. I have always felt that his affinity stemmed from sharing a common heritage in the Restoration Movement1 and his intense desire to see churches grow among all peoples of the earth.
As our team saw local church leaders maturing, and therefore, contemplated phasing out of our work, he wrote, "Your ministry has demonstrated such receptivity that it is not time to retreat but to amplify forces. Instead of pulling missionaries out, you should amplify forces to win the winnable while they are winnable" (McGavran 1985). His message not only demonstrated his personal concern for us but also his urgency for growth as the major criterion for missions effectiveness.
As field missionaries, our mission team operated out of the Church Growth paradigm. We chose to minister to the Kipsigis because of their receptivity to the gospel at that particular time. We learned their language and deciphered their culture. We believed in contextualizing God's eternal message in ways that the local people could understand. We sought harvest by planting numerous local churches. We refused to create Western institutions, trusting McGavran’s perception they would likely become Western enclaves of control and that overseeing them would preempt direct evangelism and church planting. We set individual and group goals for planting new churches, nurturing these churches through various stages to maturity, and training leaders to serve in these churches. We were the children of Church Growth and measured ourselves according to growth standards.
1 The Restoration Movement, frequently called the Stone-Campbell Movement, developed on the American frontier and is inclusive of three different streams, Churches of Christ, Christian Church (Churches of Christ), and the Disciples of Christ. McGavran was an evangelically oriented Disciple of Christ.
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