GROWTH BY TRANSFER & Donald McGavran’s Warning About the Most Popular Church Growth

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel:  Recent LifeWay and US Census Bureau studies indicate that “transfer growth” is the dominant growth mechanism in North American churches.

Donald McGavran, founder of the Church Growth Movement, warned, “By transfer growth is meant the increase of certain congregations at the expense of others… But transfer growth will never extend the church, for unavoidably many are lost along the way.”[i]

Most evangelicals have looked for a new church in their life. Evangelicals (67 percent) are most likely to have looked for a new church at some point in their lives. Catholics (41 percent) and the “nones”—the religiously unaffiliated—(29 percent) are least likely. (

[i] Donald A. McGavran, Understanding Church Growth (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1970), p. 72.

CHURCH GROWTH & Liberal churches are dying. But conservative churches are thriving say researchers.

A Canadian study found that conservative churches are still growing, while less orthodox congregations dwindle away.

By David Haskell, The Washington Post, 1/4/17. David Millard Haskell is a professor of religion and culture at Wilfrid Laurier University.

…Over the last five years, my colleagues and I conducted a study of 22 mainline congregations in the province of Ontario. We compared those in the sample that were growing mainline congregations to those that were declining. After statistically analyzing the survey responses of over 2,200 congregants and the clergy members who serve them, we came to a counterintuitive discovery: Conservative Protestant theology, with its more literal view of the Bible, is a significant predictor of church growth while liberal theology leads to decline. The results were published this month in the peer-reviewed journal, Review of Religious Research.

We also found that for all measures, growing church clergy members were most conservative theologically, followed by their congregants, who were themselves followed by the congregants of the declining churches and then the declining church clergy members. In other words, growing church clergy members are the most theologically conservative, while declining church clergy members are the least. Their congregations meet more in the middle.

Read more at …

DENOMINATIONS & What denominations are gaining members and what denominations are losing members?

A: Mainline Protestant denominations continued to decline, according to the 2012 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches. The United Methodist Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Presbyterian Church USA, and the United Church of Christ, all reported decreases in membership in 2011. For several years now, the Southern Baptist Convention, a conservative evangelical denomination, also showed a decrease.  The Roman Catholic Church also reported a decrease of less than 1 percent.

The growing denominations in 2011 were the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Assembles of God and several other Pentecostal groups; each reported a 2 percent growth.

Sociologists have also found that larger evangelical Protestant churches appear to be growing, while smaller churches posted smaller growth.  Based on data from the Faith Communities Today survey, evangelical churches with more than 1,000 people posted the largest gains over the past five years: 83 percent.
Want to know more? Go to the 2012 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches. The Yearbook costs $55 and may be ordered at:

Check out the Faith Communities Today surveys of congregations,  You might also want to read How Strong is Denominational Identity?


Number of Regularly Participating Adults

% of Congregations Growing by 5% Or More From 1995 to 2000

1 thru 49


50 thru 99


100 thru 149


150 thru 349


350 thru 999


1000 or More



Number of Regularly Participating Adults

% of Congregations Growing by 5% Or More From 1995 to 2000

1 thru 49


50 thru 99


100 thru 149


150 thru 349


350 thru 999


1000 or More


* Does not include historic black denominations

denominational change

denominational membership trends

The Hartford Institute for Church Research, retrieved from, 11/9/16.

MEMBERSHIP & The Strict Church Theory: Why Strict Churches Grow Faster #LaurenceIannaccone #PennStateUniv

bpc_icon_theory.jpg Strict Church Theory


Strict churches are stronger because they reduce free riding, or the ability of members to belong yet not contribute to the group. The theory predicts that strict churches will tend to retain members and foster ongoing commitment while lenient churches will tend to lose members and exhibit very low levels of commitment. This theory builds off of rational choice assumptions and is compatible with the religious economies perspective.


Iannaccone, Laurence. 1994. “Why Strict Churches are Strong.” The American Journal of Sociology. 99(5): 1180-1211.

Kelley, Dean. (1972) 1986. Why Conservative Churches are Growing.Macon, GA: Mercer University Press.

by The Association of Religion Data Archives (ARDA),

Department of Sociology
The Pennsylvania State University
211 Oswald Tower
University Park, PA 16802-6207

Read more at …

More Theories

Learn about other theories of religion:
arrow.jpgChurch/Sect Cycle
arrow.jpgCivilization Theory
arrow.jpgCognitive Theories
arrow.jpgConversion Theory
arrow.jpgCyclical Theory
arrow.jpgDemographic Transition Theory
arrow.jpgModernization Theory
arrow.jpgRational Choice/Religious Economies
arrow.jpgSocial Network Theory
arrow.jpgSub-Cultural Identity Theory of Persistence and Strength

MULTIPLICATION & 7 Statistics That Predict Church Growth #HartfordInstitute

By Aaron Earls, Facts & Trends, LifeWay, 3/21/16.

Analysis of the American Congregations 2015 study finds seven statistics played a role in which churches experienced significant growth since 2010.

1. Growing location — The old real estate adage applies to churches. Growth is connected to “location, location, location.”

More than half (59 percent) of churches in a new suburb grew at least 2 percent in the past five years. Those in other locations were less likely to experience similar growth—only 44 percent grew at that rate.

2. Younger congregation — Churches whose membership was at least a third senior adults were less likely to grow than other churches.

Only 36 percent of churches heavily attended by senior citizens grew 2 percent or more in the last five years. Almost half (48 percent) of churches where seniors were less than one-third grew.

3. Innovative worship — Congregations who describe their worship service as “very innovative” are almost 10 percent more likely to grow than others.

Less than 44 percent of churches that say they have little to some innovation in worship grew, while more than 53 percent of churches with very innovative worship grew.

4. Lack of serious conflict — Fighting churches are not growing churches. Serious conflict stunts growth.

For churches that maintained relative calm—no serious conflict in the past five years—more than half grew. Only 29 percent of churches with serious conflict did the same.

5. Involved church members — Simply put, the more laity is involved in recruiting new people the more likely a church will grow.

How likely is it that a church grew? For those whose laity was …

  • Not at all involved: 35 percent
  • Involved a little or some: 45 percent
  • Involved quite a bit: 63 percent
  • Involvement a lot: 90 percent

6. Unique identity — If churches worked to discover and present to their community what makes them different from other area churches, they are more likely to grow.

Almost 58 percent of churches who distinguished themselves from other congregations grew, compared to 43 percent of churches who showed little to no difference.

7. Specialized program — Similarly, if churches establish a program as a congregational specialty, they are more likely to grow.

Close to 52 percent of churches that have at least one specialty grew, while less than 42 percent of congregations who claimed no specialty did the same.

These seven statistics from the American Congregations 2015 study give a picture of the churches bucking the trend of decline across U.S. churches.

Read more at …

Hashtags: #StLiz #StLizTX  #Renovate16 #StMarksTX

CHURCH GROWTH & A Review of Carey Nieuwhof’s “7 Powerful Conversations That Will Help Your Church Grow “

by Cheri Wellman, Missional Coach candidate, 3/15/16.

An executive summary of Carey Nieuwhof’s Lasting Impact: 7 Powerful Conversations That Will Help Your Church Grow, (Cumming, GA: The reThink Group, 2015).

Nieuwhof addresses potential reasons why local churches aren’t growing and the root of many of his answers are found in the seismic cultural shift happening specifically in the North America although many of these shifts are also happening globally. In answering the primary question of why we are not growing faster, he challenges the perceptions of local church pastors and leaders of existing church health, what keeps high capacity leaders engaged, reasons young adults are leaving the church, cultural trends, and actual willingness to change. The thread that is consistent from chapter to chapter in this book is the focus to continue to be missional. As followers of Christ, as disciples we are all called to be missional (Matthew 28:18-20 and Acts1:8) and I find that Nieuwhof approaches this concept in a variety of ways. Read this book and read it with a group of others. Digest it, discuss it and then do it!

It is important that Nieuwhof begins by addressing practical and simple reasons churches aren’t growing and some offerings at to what are significant shifts that can be made to change that. Again, the theme throughout the book is the significance of focusing on the mission. Focusing on the mission of Christ’s church puts things into its proper place and priority. It’s about the mission. Focus on quality not quantity. Don’t lose the mission. The mission is to lead people into a relationship Jesus not to fill the seats. The plan or method are not sacred; the mission is sacred.   Focus on your mission because that is your purpose; it is the why we do what we do. Innovate around the mission. When we think this way we focus on sending people out to accomplish the mission not on how many are simply attending on a Sunday morning. Healthy things grow. He reminds us that it is our lean toward selfishness both individually and corporately. But this is in opposition to be missional. Missional keeps the mission of Christ as the focus and makes space for the uniqueness of various cultures. Missional requires us to learn and adjust to others for the mission’s sake. This is what I found at the heart of this book. Missional requires us to know and love others including others different than us.

There are so many great points made in this book; points that I wish every church leader would not only read, but understand and apply. Things are different than they were in the past and as a result we as church leaders need to shift how we view them. One example is the shift in meaning of committed church attenders. The committed church attender is attending less often. Understanding the reasons could allow the church leaders (including pastors) to be less judgmental and critical and in turn realize that attendance does not equate to commitment, passion or spiritual growth. A better measurement is engagement in the mission. Mere attendance is less a measure of spiritual maturity than missional ministry engagement. Nieuwhof proposes that it is the role of the church leaders to adjust their responses toward infrequent attenders and the unchurched if the church is going to accomplish the mission we must adjust to the culture which begins with understanding the culture and changing our response to it by adjusting our methods. Unhealthy leaders will be challenged to love others and focus on the missional requirement to adjust method to accomplish the mission.

Nieuwhof addresses issues with high capacity leaders and young adults leaving the church and then he makes recommendations as to how to address the issues he points out. For example, high capacity leaders leave if the leaders are not healthy. We must equip and coach and then give high capacity leaders real challenges and let them run with what we give them. The trend of youth and young adults leaving the church is not an irreversible. As church leaders we have to acknowledge the differences in their generational/cultural preferences and leans and make adjustments to methods in order to continue to accomplish the mission and make room for them to also join us in the mission. They need space to wrestle with the tough questions in an a safe and loving environment. They want their lives to make a difference. The church is the God created group designed to make the most meaningful and significant impact. Coupling the mission of the church with the young adult’s desire for their lives to matter creates a huge potential for revival.

“As we got healthier inwardly we grew outwardly” (p.20). “Mission-driven, mission-focused, and relationally rich churches will draw in people longing for something bigger and more significant than themselves” (p. 121). All this is great to read and even believe to be true, but if in the end the willingness to actually implement change does not exist then the mission will not be accomplished. Change is difficult but worth it if we truly desire to impact the world with the hope and healing of Jesus for Kingdom’s sake.

Each year my Global Outreach Team for the East Michigan District of The Wesleyan Church purchases one book for each of the churches in our district in effort to continually equip and encourage our local churches to think and act with the mission in mind. This year, Lasting Impact will be the book that we will purchase. I believe that if we keep our focus on the mission as the why, so many of the other concerns and issues the local church struggles with would dissolve. It would require a willingness to change, a willingness to think, care, and love of others, and willingness to set aside ourselves for the mission.

EFFECTIVE EVANGELISM & Where/How Did the Church Growth Movement Arise?

by Bob Whitesel, D.Min., Ph.D., 10/26/15.

“Effective Evangelism” was the name that Donald McGavran hoped would be its label. And, what came to be known as the Church Growth Movement was actually started by missionaries, who were appalled how ministry in North America is conducted so haphazardly and imprecisely. They argued (among other things) that such a haphazard approach would not be tolerated by mission agencies.

Let me explain. They basically said that just as missionaries are held accountable by people back home to grow a church in the mission field, so too should those churches back home be held accountable to grow (and reach more people with the Good News).  Some churches stepped up to the challenge and began to measure their growth, just the way missionaries had to.  But other churches said they were focusing on “quality” rather than “quantity.”  But, missionaries knew the “quality” excuse didn’t work for them in the mission field, and so they didn’t think people back home should use it to explain their lack of growth either.  Missionaries were saying, “If you are going to make us measure the growth and health of our churches in the mission field or you will cut-off funding; then maybe your churches back home should live by the same standard.”  Here is what one missionary said to me, “We’ve got so many church in America that haven’t won a single person to Christ in 20 years.  Yet, the church leaders still beg for money and the people and the denomination pour more and more money into churches without results.  That would never be tolerated in the mission field.  If we didn’t grow a church by sharing the Good News with people, the mission agency would pull the plug on our mission work, ‘in the name of the churches back home who support the missionaries.’  It is time we pull the plug on a lot of American churches that aren’t fulfilling the Great Commission and stop propping up ineffective ministries in American that we would never tolerate overseas” (personal conversation, Pasadena, CA 2004).

Now, the Church Growth Movement didn’t just criticize American churches, but the movement actually spawned researchers, writers and consultants who dedicated their lives to helping the church in America grow by sharing the Good News (I’m one of those researcher/writers it spawned).

PHOTO McGavran Youg & with a pickSo, here are a few books that lay the groundwork for the Church Growth Movement by a life-long missionary: Dr. Donald McGavran. If you purchase a copy of the first, and maybe the second, you won’t regret it. He demonstrates how the Church Growth Movement was created by missionaries to reach North America. In many ways, missionaries has historically been better strategists and bridge-builders. We need to learn their craft in North America.

And, here you can order a definitive biography of Donald McGavran, written by researcher and writer Gary McIntosh:

Finally, here is a downloadable white paper introduction to McGavran by McIntosh:

CHURCH & A study asks: What’s a church’s economic worth to a community? Avg = $4 million!

by David O’Reilly, Philadelphia Inquirer Newspaper, 2/1/11.

What is the dollar value of a marriage saved? A suicide averted? An addiction conquered? A teenager taught right from wrong?

In short: What is a church’s economic worth to the community it serves?

Last summer, a University of Pennsylvania professor and a national secular research group based in Center City took up that seemingly unanswerable question. With a list they devised of 54 value categories, they attempted to calculate the economic “halo effect” of a dozen religious congregations in Philadelphia – 10 Protestant churches, a Catholic parish, and a synagogue.

They added up the money generated by weddings and funerals, festivals, counseling programs, preschools, elder care. They tallied the salaries of staff and the wages of roofers, plumbers, even snow shovelers. They put dollar signs on intangibles, too, such as helping people find work and teaching children to be socially responsible.

They even measured the diameter of trees on church campuses.

The grand total for the 12 congregations: $50,577,098 in annual economic benefits.

The valuation for 300-member Gloria Dei (Old Swedes’) Episcopal Church in Queen Village, for instance, was a middle-of-the-road $1.65 million. By contrast, the figure for Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Roman Catholic parish in Kensington, with 7,000 congregants, a parochial school, and a community center, was $22.44 million.

The numbers, culled from clergy and staff interviews, “just blew us away,” said Robert Jaeger, executive director of the research group Partners for Sacred Places.

The study is not yet published. When it is, the robust sums are likely to be challenged, predicted lead author Ram Cnaan, a Penn professor of social policy.

Some valuations were drawn from existing academic research, such as $19,600 for pastoral counseling that prevents a suicide and $18,000 for an averted divorce. Cnaan himself arrived at other values – for example, $375 on “teaching pro-social values” to a young child.

“Look, it’s quite possible that someone will say we calculated all wrong” in some categories, he said. But, he added, he welcomed scrutiny…

In West Philadelphia, Calvary Methodist Church reported helping 100 people find employment last year. With each job valued at $14,500, the category alone added $1.45 million to its $2.6 million halo….

Read more at …

MULTIPLICATION & Rick Warren’s 10 Points For Structuring Your Church to Grow and Not Plateau

Excerpts from an article by Rick Warren,, 2/20/15.

1) You must develop an unshakable conviction about growth. First and foremost, you need to settle on the idea that God wants his church to grow. And he doesn’t want it to stop growing!

2) You must change the primary role of the pastor from minister to leader. You can grow a church to 300 with pastoral skills or ministry skills, but growing beyond 300 will require leadership skills… A leader also equips others for ministry. Otherwise, you’ll burn out and the church won’t grow…

3) You must organize around the gifts of your people. The team God gives you will show you how to structure… Building your structure on the gifts and talents within the church promotes creativity and allows for spontaneous growth. Ministries bubble up rather than waiting on a board meeting to dissect every possibility…

4) You must budget according to your purposes and priorities. Obviously the budget of the church shows the priorities and the direction of the church. I’d suggest you take the budget items and ask of each item, “Which purpose does this fit under?”..

5) You must add staff on purpose. Build your staff by first adding generalists and then specialists. First, you want to add people who can do lots of things because you’re only going to have one. Then as you go down the road, you can add more and more specialists.

When do you want to add staff? As soon as you can … immediately, if at all possible. You want to build as many volunteers as quickly as you can and also add staff as quickly as you can. Anytime you add a staff member, that’s a faith step and allows the church to grow to the next level.

6) You must offer multiple services. Obviously to expand the structure, you will have to multiply, and to multiply, you have to offer multiple services. Why? Because more hooks in the water mean you can catch more fish.

At what point should you add a new service? I would say when you can have at least 75-100 people in that service. If you’re trying to reach new people, you have to have a large enough crowd so that the new people who just walked in don’t feel like everybody’s looking at them.

7) You must create affinity groups to enhance community. The more affinity groups you have, the more ways you have to connect with people. You want to avoid your church becoming a single-cell amoeba, so deliberately structure your church so it won’t become one big group that doesn’t reach out to other people.

8) You must intentionally break through attendance barriers with big days...When you have big, special days—maybe Easter, maybe a Friend Day—there’s something about seeing an extra 100 people (or an extra 1,000) that expands your congregation’s vision…. These special days help the church to see itself as bigger and growing and vibrant.

Now you know this is coming (Ha!), but this seems like a good time to mention again how a special 40 Days emphasis could energize your church. For more information, visit

9) You must add surplus seating space and parking.

When it comes to building a facility, most churches build too little and too soon. And then the shoe begins to tell the foot how big it can get! …We didn’t build at Saddleback for years because we knew we wouldn’t be able to build big enough—we were growing so fast. So don’t limit yourself by building too early.

10) You must continually evaluate your progress… If you try to study everything, you’ll end up with the paralysis of analysis, so decide to track three or four significant numbers, such as attendance or small groups.

Then compare the numbers of where you are now with where you’ve come from and where you want to be. Don’t compare yourself with a church down the road. Frankly, that won’t help evaluate the health of your own church.

Finally, decide on a standard for measuring the health of your church and shoot for it….

Read more at …

PRAYER & Listen to Donald McGavran Praying #Wheaton

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel:  “The Wheaton College website hosts sound clips of Donald McGavran, the father of the Effective Evangelism Movement, praying before he taught a course on church growth: .  Here are a few transcripts from this archive, to give you a glimpse inside of this man’s heart.

Plus, as a visiting professor for Wheaton College, I had the opportunity to tour the Billy Graham Museum and it is an amazing history of evangelism in North America.  If any of you are near the west side of Chicago, you must visit the powerful (and free 🙂 Billy Graham Museum at Wheaton College.”

Collection 178, T32 – January 3, 1979 (81 seconds)

[Tape begins in the midst of the prayer]…growth of Your church our first act is to give thanks to Your for the church, the body our Christ, Your household, a sure refuge in the midst of storms, a mighty instrument Lord in Your hand for the reformation of men and societies. We thank You for what each one of us owes to the church. None of us would be here, would be saved, would have hope of heaven or power on earth but for the church. We thank You for the tremendous extension of the church throughout the earth and for the army of missionaries for the gospel, who generation after generation have gone out to proclaim the Good News and disciple the nations. Most of all, good Lord, we thank You for Jesus Christ, the head of the church, our savior and our Lord. Grant, we beseech You, to each of us Your special blessing as we study how to extend the church, how to multiply congregations, how to increase units of the redeemed, units of peace and justice in all peoples, all tribes, all casts. all classes of society that praise and thanksgiving to Your glory may resound from every city and hamlet throughout the earth. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.

Collection 178, Tape T34 – January 8, 1979 [98 seconds]

[Audio of the first half of the prayer badly distorted on the original recording] Let us pray. Gracious God, You are all pervading love enfolds us. Your salvation, made known of old through Your prophets and made operational in the life and death of our savior, flows fast and wide throughout the earth. You send forth a constant stream of missionaries of the Gospel, that those who live in darkness may know the light of the world, even our Lord Jesus Christ. We stand amazed, Lord, at the extent and diversity of the missionary laborers of Your household. We stand even more amazed and humbled and affrighted at the enormous numbers of those who have not yet heard that there is a savior and that by belief in Him sinful men may become righteous and [words unclear] blind men may receive eternal life. [Brief section missing] through the expansion of Christianity, and the advance of the Gospel, and plan for the birth of multitudes of new congregations of the redeemed. Among all the thousands of pieces of the human mosaic, touch our eyes that we may see the truth, and touch our hearts that we may burn with compassion, and steel our wills, good Lord, that we may do those things that we know we ought to do. This we ask in Christ’s blessed name. Amen.

Collection 178, T51 – February 16, 1979 (107 seconds)

Let us pray together. We gather before You, O Lord our God, as men whom You have called, called to be Your ministers and missionaries and administrators. Into our hands, good Lord, You have delivered considerable ability and resources. You have appointed us as stewards. And You have given us responsibilities and from us You will require an accounting. And we are told that it is required of a steward that he be found faithful. We discharge our duties, O Lord, in a very complex world where many priorities war within us and without us. We live in such a welter of demands. So many people are shouting that we should follow what they think is important, and our own hearts, Lord, are pulled this way and that. And so we cry to You our compassionate God, send out Your light and Your truth. Let them lead us. In this class and in every class help us discern what is Your clear command and where we are left to do what we think best. Help us weigh most carefully between two appealing courses of action. Show Your clear light of Your revelation on our pathway. And above all, O God, give us the courage to walk the paths which You show to us. In Christ’s name. Amen.

WESLEY & CHURCH GROWTH Before McGavran: The Methodological Parallels of John Wesley

by Bob Whitesel D.Min. Ph.D.

Delivered October 3, 2014 to The Annual Conference of The Great Commission Research Network, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Ft. Worth, TX.


This article will look at methodological parallels between John B. Wesley and Donald A. McGavran. The influence of both men arose during similar social shifts that were accompanied by a perception of ecclesial apathy. Parallels will be demonstrated in McGavran’s principles of 1) conversion as a priority, 2) effective evangelism as a process model, 3) the danger of redemption and lift, 4) the importance of multiplication and 5) pragmatism in methodology. A final section will look at the legacy of these two men and suggest how identification can help retain focus on principles rather than contextually-bound tactics.

Published in the Great Commission Research Journal (2015).  Delivered in abbreviated form by Dr. Whitesel as a keynote at Renovate: The National Church Revitalization Conference, 11/3/14, Orlando, FL.

Whitesel Wesley RENOVATE 1 copy

Parallel Times

In this article we will look at missiological parallels between the principles of John B. Wesley and Donald A McGavran. Wesley’s methodology was hammered out in mid-18th century England as the Industrial Revolution conquered Europe, driving peasants from agricultural to urban lives in a quest to better their lives though technology. As historian David Watson describers it, “a society which was suffering from radical change and depersonalization.”[1] Only in hindsight would history brand the promises of the Industrial Revolution as overly materialistic and rarely altruistic. Yet amid this cultural shift from organic to mechanistic, spiritual fires leapt from the field sermons and structured discipleship methodology of a former Oxford don.

Not surprisingly in such an era, methods overshadowed principles and soon the derisive appellation “Methodist” was applied to Wesley’s followers. Though they preferred to be called Wesleyans, Wesley would only bend to popular terminology by describing them as “the people called Methodists.[2] Yet the sarcastic term survives and even flourishes in churches and denominations with Wesley’s methodologies in their heritage (though they may not remember what those methods be).

Donald A. McGavran’s principles for what he called effective evangelism[3] were born in a similar cultural transition from farm to factory. In the post-World War II milieu, American ingenuity in science and quantification had defeated Europe’s historical masters of technology: the German nation. Amid the euphoria generated by the passing of the technological baton, Donald A. McGavran began to emphasize measurement and anthropological assessment as valid lenses to follow the unseen movements of the Holy Spirit within societies. Based in part on his background as an executive-level administrator of missionary hospitals in India; McGavran suggested principles and methodologies that appealed to a culture infatuated again with measurement and technology.

But, McGavran and Wesley had similar eye-opening experiences regarding the state of contemporary spirituality. Wesley famously received a letter from his brother Charles, who had just begun his studies at Oxford’s most prestigious seminary: Christ Church College. Charles summed up what he found in these words: “(at Christ Church College) a man stands a very fair chance of being laughed out of his religion.”[4]

McGavran had a similar experience as described by Tim Stafford: “One morning McGavran asked his class what should be the first question a person asks when he reads a biblical passage. One of the most intelligent men answered promptly, ‘What is there in this passage that we cannot believe?’ He meant that anything miraculous or supernatural ought to be deleted or explained as ’poetic.’ ‘I had never before been confronted as bluntly with what the liberal position means to its ordinary Christians.’ McGavran says. ‘It shocked me, and I began at that moment to feel that it could not be the truth’.”[5]

Both men encountered dichotomies that would set their spiritual and tactical trajectories. For both, a popular interpretation of what constitutes biblical spirituality had robbed Christianity of authenticity and relevance. As a result, it should not be unexpected that parallel explorations and codifications of the spiritual journey would result…

DOWNLOAD the presentation handout HERE >>> ARTICLE Whitesel – Wesley & McGavran GCRJ GCRN

DOWNLOAD the Great Commission Research Journal article HERE >>> ARTICLE ©Whitesel – GCRJ Wesley & McGavran

[1] David Lowes Watson, The Early Methodist Class Meeting: Its Origins and Significance (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2002) p. 129.

[2] John Wesley, Letter to John Clayton, 1732.

[3] Similar to what Wesley experienced, McGavran’s more nuanced designation underwent a similar simplification with an accompanying overemphasis upon its tactical nature. Though McGavran preferred his principles be described as effective evangelism (Effective Evangelism: A Theological Mandate, (Presbyterian & Reformed Pub Co, 1988), 43) but much like Wesley 256 years earlier, his work would succumb to the more modish label: church growth.

[4] Kenneth G. C. Newport and Gareth Lloyd, The Letters of Charles Wesley: A Critical Edition, with Instruction and Notes: Volume 1 (1728-1756), (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 25.

[5] Tim Stafford, “The Father of Church Growth,” Mission Frontiers Journal, January 1986.

#Renovate14   #RenegadePastors

CHURCH GROWTH & Defining It + 4 Ways to Measure It #HouseDividedBook

by Bob Whitesel, 10/20/14

Church growth.  Some people distain the term, wrongly believing it is all about numbers. Such a perspective belies a naïve understanding of the real focus of the Church Growth Movement. You can gain a perspective on four types of church growth by looking at Acts 2:42-47 (quoted in the middle of this article).


Donald R. McGavran, missiologist and father of the Church Growth Movement, was sensitive to this misconception and in his later years was trying to find an alternative to this appellation. He was working with the idea of re-labeling church growth as “effective evangelism,” for effectiveness in evangelism is something we sorely need, and for which most churches have few tools to effectively measure. But God called Dr. McGavran home before he should codify an alternative name. And thus, in at least this present authors’ viewpoint, God may have been voting in favor of the more controversial, yet accurate appellation: church growth.


However, to ensure in your personal and professional ministry that church growth does not get an unwarranted and inappropriate designation; remind yourself that church growth as seen in the Book of Acts incorporated the following four foundational types of growth (adapted from Whitesel and Hunter, 2001):

Acts 2:42-47They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

  • Growing in Maturity (Acts 2:42, 43). Immediately after the Holy Spirit’s visitation at Pentecost, the young church drew together in a time of maturation growth. The significance of its members’ devotion to teaching and fellowship, combined with the attesting miracles, testifies to a congregation maturing in its understanding and practice of spiritual principles.
  • Growing in unity. (Acts 2:44 – 47a). The early church drew together in a unity and harmony that led to selfless acts of inter-reliance. Though pooling their money was not the norm for all or even most New Testament churches, unity and interdependence is certainly a growth goal of all Christian communities. Unity and harmony create an atmosphere of mutual dependence and reciprocity, that bonds participants to the community and their Lord.
  • Growing in favor. “…and enjoying the favor of all the people” (Acts 2:47b). Church growth includes growth in testimony and respect among the unchurched people of the community. The result can be openness to the Good News. Too often however, an adversarial role develops between the church and the community. In reality, the role should be one of mutual respect, appreciation and communication. When a church is meeting the felt needs of the community, the church will receive the community’s gratitude and acknowledgement. This gratitude then becomes a powerful conduit through which the Good News flows into a community.
  • Growing in numbers. “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” ( 47c). The aftermath of the first three types of church growth is the last; growth in numerical size.

BUSYNESS & How Activity Makes Churches Forget Their Purposes & Goals

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: “George G. Hunter III correctly applies to the church the warnings of famous management theorist George Odiorne (Management and the Activity Trap, New York: Harper & Row, 1974).  Hunter points out the following:

“(An organization) typically begins with a clear mission and goals, and they devise programs and activities to achieve the goals and fulfill mission. But over time, the ends are forgotten and the programs and activities become ends in themselves. The people now focus on ‘the way we’ve always done things around here.’ The programs and activities become impotent and less meaningful, and the organization bogs down in the ‘activity trap’.”

George G. Hunter III, To Spread the Power: Church Growth in the Wesleyan Spirit (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1987), p. 186

McGAVRAN & Basic Tenets of the Church Growth Movement

by Herb Kopp, Directions Journal, Fall 1991, vol. 20, No. 2, pp. 50-66.


It is only fair that in establishing the basic tenets of the Church Growth Movement (CGM) we should go directly to the founding fathers and their writings. Every worthwhile movement soon attracts a fringe element which distorts the defined centre by highlighting one propositional aspect of the movement at the expense of others. The CGM deserves to be defined, not by the fringe element, but by its most serious thinkers.

C. Peter Wagner is correct when he claims that after thirty years of dialogue, testing and writing “. . . the CGM is [now] {51} commonly recognized as a permanent feature on the religious landscape of America and the world.” 1 There are four fundamental issues at the centre of this movement….

Read about the four fundamental tenets at …

GROWTH BARRIERS: The 200 Barrier in Churches: 9 Observations

The 200 Growth Barrier in Churches Revisited: 9 Observations
by Thom Rainer, 3/20/14

“It was a fascinating journey to read again works from the 1970s and 1980s by Bill Sullivan, C. Peter Wagner, Elmer Towns, Bill Easum, John Maxwell (pre-leadership guru days), Carl George, George Hunter, and others. I was particularly interested in those works dealing with the 200 attendance barrier in churches. So I took a day to review those specific works. Allow me to share with you some observations.”

Read more at …

MULTIPLICATION & Multisite Reformed Churches

Christian Reformed Church & Reformed Church of America … How Does Your Garden Grow?

“One result that took me by surprise was the number of growing churches who were restarts or church revitalization efforts. I wonder if our general attitude is that it is nearly impossible to turn a church around from a path of decline, so we hesitate to try. Yet, so many of these churches I interviewed were at a point in their story where they had to choose life or death. Choosing life meant letting go of some long-held traditions, sometimes it meant finding new leadership, and it meant stepping out of their comfort zones. But today they are growing, thriving congregations that are impacting their community.”

Read more at …


The 5 Defining Questions for Every Visionary Church Planter -by Will Mancini, Dec. 28, 2010.

I see these five tug-of-war ropes with every planter I meet. Each of these tensions starts with a defining question:

  1. Am I running from or photocopying the ministry DNA of where I am leaving?
  2. Will I build the church that’s in my head only, or the one that God will begin to grow?
  3. Will my definition of success be limited by the metrics of yesterday?
  4. Will I leverage the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to lay a vision foundation?
  5. Will I choose to translate the DNA well to the core team or rely on my own talent?

COACHING & 5 Reasons for Hiring a Consultant/Coach by Thom Rainer

Photo on 2014-02-22 at 17:22.jpg 5 Reasons Churches Benefit From Outside Consultants
Commentary by Prof. B.: I was reminded of this relevant article by Thom Rainer as I trained in my yearly cohort of 6 new missional coaches in Miami (pic):