At the age of 88, a small, bespectacled man with a barren scalp and impish eyes that no longer see to read, Donald McGavran still seems—there is no other word for it—young. He has a young man’s barely restrained impatience to get on with it—“it” being, always, the task of drawing every people group on earth to Jesus Christ.
Harold Lindsell calls Donald McGavran “a giant of a missiologist, a man of spectacular performance.” Carl Henry notes, “His name belongs in the first ranks of those who have shown a concern for the lost in our lifetime.”
Indeed, not many can claim to have singlehandedly begun a movement. Fewer can take credit for a movement as large and vital as church growth, which finds its center in the bustling Fuller School of World Mission that McGavran started in Pasadena, California, 20 years ago.
Not that McGavran is a household name. Missions leaders of a century ago—William Carey, Hudson Taylor—seem far clearer to the imagination. They were public men. McGavran has mainly influenced leaders, not laypeople. His published writings, which fill five shelves, are mostly scholarly works.
Probably no one has worked so hard as McGavran at applying strategy to evangelism. His studies analyze the techniques that lead to church growth, and emphasize that churches usually grow along ethnic or family lines.
The analysis of statistics, careful documentation, sociological theorizing—what do these have to do with accomplishing the works of God? To Donald McGavran, they have everything to do with it. The church-growth movement views evangelism in much the same way that an engineer views an airplane. The first question is, Does it fly? The second question ...1
Already a CT subscriber? Log in for full digital access.
Subscribe to Christianity Today and get access to this article plus 60+ years of archives.
- Home delivery of CT magazine
- Complete access to articles on ChristianityToday.com
- Over 120 years of magazine archives plus full access to all of CT’s online archives
- Learn more