The Boston Church of Christ, home base for more than 3,000 worshipers, and New England’s fastest-growing congregation, is the focus of a controversy that reaches across the country.

Last year, the Christian Chronicle, a Churches of Christ newspaper published in Oklahoma, labeled the Boston congregation divisive, authoritarian, and “dangerous.” Detractors cite excessive demands on members’ time; isolation of church members from family and most outside friends; heavy pressure to succeed in evangelism; and a one-on-one discipleship program that one Churches of Christ periodical called “a glorified snitch system.”

Supporters point to the Boston congregation’s ethnic integration (77 nationalities are represented); to marriages saved and psychological crises ended; and above all, to the congregation’s commitment to evangelism. Commented church-growth specialist Donald McGavran of Fuller Theological Seminary: “All the branches of the universal church in America could look at this [congregation] and see what they can use.”

The rapid growth of the Boston Church of Christ began in 1979 when evangelist Kip McKean was hired by a suburban congregation with fewer than 100 members. By December 1980, Sunday attendance exceeded 250. Today, more than 3,300 people worship weekly at the Boston Garden, home to the Boston Bruins and Celtics. In addition, more than 1,300 were baptized in 1986 at churches planted by the Boston congregation on five continents since 1982.

The heart of the church’s outreach program is evangelistic Bible studies, more than 300 of which are hosted weekly within a 40-mile radius of Boston. McGavran cites those, as well as the use of house churches and rented ...

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