Missiologist Donald McGavran, widely regarded as the father of the contemporary church-growth movement, died of cancer on July 10 at the age of 92 at his home in Altadena, California.

Like his grandparents and parents before him, McGavran was a missionary to India under the auspices of the Disciples of Christ.

McGavran was a virtual outsider to the evangelical world until he became a senior citizen. Though he had barely heard of Fuller Theological Seminary, McGavran, at age 67, accepted the seminary’s offer to launch its School of World Mission. With this school as his platform, McGavran’s missiological views began to take root, particularly among scholars.

Said Ralph Winter, head of the U.S. Center for World Mission, “There is no man who has tramped more places and investigated more mission-field situations than Donald McGavran, and there probably never will be another.” Winter credited McGavran with single-handedly launching the now popular “unreached peoples” missiological movement and with virtually creating the scholarly field of evangelical missiology.

McGavran’s views were characterized by a strident pragmatism. He spoke in terms of research and evangelistic strategies. McGavran insisted that evangelistic efforts be assessed in terms of their success in winning people to Christ. Critics felt such an approach risked short-circuiting the work of the Holy Spirit. But McGavran justified his views by appealing to the theology of stewardship. And no one questioned McGavran’s motives, or the intensity of his love for the lost.

James Engel, distinguished professor of marketing, research, and strategy in the graduate program at Eastern College, called McGavran a “pioneer in demanding that we evaluate churches on some objective ...

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