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The Transforming Church (Part Two)
by Tricia Tillin

CONTENTS of Part Two

An Altered Emphasis

Rufus Anderson (1796-1880), Secretary of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, was a strong influence on missionary principles. Rufus, a Calvinist and a Congregationalist, taught the importance of evangelising the heathen because he expected the Church to establish the Kingdom of God worldwide as demonstrated by two of his papers: "Promised Advent of the Spirit" and "Time for the World's Conversion Come".

But the man regarded as the founder of the Protestant science of missions is the German Lutheran Gustav Warneck (1834-1910) whose dominant understanding of mission was "education" for the "extending of the kingdom" and who aimed at the christianising of entire people-groups by making the gospel relevant to their existing language, culture and customs.

Several of the basic principles McGavran used in developing his approach to church growth come from these Anglo-American and German missiological roots, including the concepts of responsive peoples, mass conversions, people movements, Christianization, the use of small groups led by local leaders, and the development of an indigenous 'people's' church.

However, the man whom McGravan credited with having the most influence over his new thinking was J. Waskom Pickett, whose 1933 study "Mass Movements in India" proposed three concepts that have become central to the thinking of Church Growth:

(1) more people came to Christ when mass conversion was allowed than individual conversion.

(2) the quality of converts was equal to the post-baptismal care given them.

(3) forming people into churches was not necessarily a long and difficult task, as commonly believed.

Over a period of seventeen years McGravan studied 145 mission stations and eventually published his findings in 1955 in a controversial book called "The Bridges of God."

The book's main concept was the shift away from individual conversion to group decisions amongst whole households, clans and people groups, and in discipling entire nations, rather than reaching individuals.

The "Homogeneous Unit Principle" was based upon McGavran's observation that people are more likely to listen to the Christian message if their racial, linguistic, or class barriers are not disturbed. His application of working within existing social structures by maintaining 'homogeneity' within an individual church was an adaption of the German missiological "people's churches" concept.

A study on the theme says:

According to McGavran the Lord of the church is not satisfied with search theology, which proclaims the Word without regard for results. The Lord wants a harvest theology. Numbers are important to him. This work can be done most effectively on a world level, McGavran asserts, through concentrating evangelism efforts on homogeneous units within people movements, especially among such units which give promise of being winnable peoples. This is in keeping with the Lord's Great Commission to disciple the tribes, McGavran maintains. Moreover, we must aim for measurable growth, he continues. A numerical approach is essential. This requires, of course, a careful analysis of growth factors and statistics.

One does not get too far into McGavran's writings without coming to an uneasy feeling that one is dealing with a supersalesman who in his enthusiasm is becoming guilty of overselling his product by bending the truth a bit here and there. The name of the game is numbers. One critic suggests that church growth people assume you can make Christians the way you make cars and sausages. The missionary becomes a professional agent geared to the philosophy that success is the sine qua non of church work. The Bible does, of course, contain success stories. But it also records places, especially in the General Epistles, where scattered little groups are called upon to face the world's hostility without losing hope. One could point to places in Africa where missionaries waited years before winning the first convert. Today these same areas are witnessing the most rapid church growth in all the world.

One wonders what might have happened if the early pioneers had not been willing to bear the heat and burden of the day! Had they pursued church growth strategies, they would not have persisted as they did. The most telling attacks against McGavran have been directed against his shoddy exegesis of the Great Commission. To interpret Christ';s reference to all nations as to separate races, tribes or castes is contrary to all proper Greek usage as well as to Christ';s clearly intended meaning to include every creature, regardless of race, tribe or caste. His distinction between discipling and perfecting as two separate stages in church growth violates Greek usage as well as the entire sense of Scripture as to what discipleship involves, namely, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever the Lord Jesus has commanded. ["An Evaluation of Current Missiology" By Ernst H. Wendland. Emphasis added.]

In 1960, McGravan was invited to establish an Institute for Church Growth on the campus of Northwest Christian College in Eugene, Oregon. But far more significant in terms of today's CGM, was the invitation he received in 1965 to come to Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, where he became the founding dean of the Fuller School of World Mission.

In 1970, he wrote "Understanding Church Growth" which is now in its third edition, having been revised and edited by C. Peter Wagner. It goes beyond "Bridges to God" and gives us a good idea of his more mature thinking of the "theology, sociology, and methodology of church growth."

But McGravan's book built on the theories of others before him, men who today are hailed as the pioneers of church growth and the 'new paradigm' evangelism:


Emil Brunner (1889-1966) was born in Switzerland, into devout Reformed stock. He studied theology at Berlin and Zurich, taking his doctorate in 1913. He was ordained as a minister of the Swiss Reformed Church, and pastored for several years before appointment at the University of Zurich, where he taught from 1924 to 1953. He was one of Karl Barth's foremost supporters. His books have had a deep impact on theology and missionary thought, as one writer notes:

"During the ten years immediately following the war, which were an exciting period of biblical renewal and theological ferment, American theological students in most mainline seminaries and university divinity schools read more works of Brunner than of any other single theologian....However, even after the market for Brunner’s books in the English-speaking world wanes and his students have passed off the scene, and even when his name is forgotten, Brunner’s impact on American theology is likely to continue for a long time. Key concepts such as the personal nature of revelation and faith, truth as encounter, and the christocentric understanding of the church and ethics have entered our theological consciousness". ["Emil Brunner: A Centennial Perspective" by I. John Hesselink. This article appeared in the Christian Century, December 13, 1989]

Brunner's contribution to the cell-church debate was to look for the renewal for the church, which he saw as free fellowship (koinonia) based on an idealised vision of the early church. He writes:

"The New Testament Ecclesia, the fellowship of Jesus Christ, is pure communion of persons and has nothing of the character of an institution about it" (p. 17); The Ecclesia . . . is no institution. Therefore the church can never be the Ecclesia either by purification or re-creation." (p. 107) [The Misunderstanding of the Church (Philadelphia, 1953)].

Another author writes:

"Soon after the Second World War, Professor Emil Brunner questioned the understanding of ecclesia [held] by the existing churches. ... He saw this legalistic institutionalism as the factor distinguishing them most sharply from the ecclesia of the New Testament, which he recognised as 'communion with God through Jesus Christ, and rooted and springing from it, communion or brotherhood with man'. Brunner did not see this as an invisible concept but rather as a living reality, visible even to unbelievers through manifested love. He saw that some form of institution might be essential for continuity of doctrine and preaching, but that 'the effective winning of souls and creating of live cells of Christian fellowship' was better achieved by organisations like the Student Christian Movement of his day. ...He looked forward to new forms of Christian communion showing a true fellowship in Christ." ["The Significance of Small Groups for English Baptist Churches", a dissertation by K. A. Morgan.]


Jürgen Moltmann was born in Hamburg, Germany, on April 8, 1926. He was raised in a rather "enlightened secular" home and grew up with poets and philosophers of German Idealism: Lessing, Goethe and Nietzsche.

Converted in a prisoner of war camp during World War II, he later adopted the theology of Karl Barth. He was also influenced by Luther and Hegel. Moltmann received his doctorate in theology from Göttingen University and got married, in 1952. Then he served as pastor of the Evangelical Church of Bremen-Wasserhorst for the following five years.

In 1957 he got to know the Dutch theologian Arnold van Ruler, from whom he discovered the Reformed kingdom of God theology and Dutch apostulate theology. His central theme became the "coming kingdom of God". He sees Christian faith as essentially hope for the future of human beings and this world. This hope drives him towards renewal and transformation, in a similar way to Howard Snyder, with the Church as the agent of God's redemptive work on earth.

In "The Church in the Power of the Spirit" (1975) he sees history come to its close with the world filled with the glory of God. He also adopts a pantheistic attitude towards God in creation. For Moltmann eschatology is not about something apocalyptic—"the End" but about "New Beginnings" and the "coming of God" and "the cosmic Shekinah of God."

Moltmann is ecumenistic and has been involved in ecumenical dialogue with Catholics, Orthodox Christians and Jews. Those who are moving towards cell churches see Moltmann's contribution as pushing for Church as "a community". In his book "The Open Church", he calls for new kind of Christian community group in which there is mutual acceptance. God, as love, is not experienced in large organisations and institutions but in communities in which people can embrace each other.


Juan Luis Segundo was a Jesuit priest and the founder of Latin American Liberation Theology. His work was deeply influenced by Jesuit spirituality and traditions and he followed the writings of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and endorsed creation-centered spirituality. After opposition from the Uruguayan government in the 70's he lectured on theology at American universities.

Liberation Theology, which sprang up in the 1960's in Latin America was new social and intellectual movement arose spearheaded by Protestant and Catholic churchmen and closely allied to Marxism which became embodied in the religious "base communities" they set up. These were small, lay-led groups of Christians that saw themselves as part of the Church, working together to improve their lot and establish a more just society. Like the cell-churches of today, they saw their role as "going to the people" with a message of liberation from poverty, oppression, hunger and injustice.

"It has been within these communities, typically comprising fifteen to twenty families, that the theology has been developed. Whilst further discussion of these basic Christian communities is not appropriate here, the journey they have taken, as described for example in Base Communities by Margaret Hebblethwaite, provides many parallels with the theological reflection which has brought the modern Protestant Cell Church Movement into being." [Ibid.]

I see another other similarity here. Just as Wagner and others fear the independence and unstructured lay-leadership of home groups as a threat to their plan for dominion, and thus incorporate such cells only as part of an overall pastor-led hierarchical structure which keeps tabs on all the members; so Rome reacted in the same way to liberation theology cells:

"Such communities develop a sense of solidarity within the group; generate mutual aid and support; they serve as a training ground for the experience of democracy and direct their social and political actions. As a whole, these communities do not fit into the traditional vertical, hierarchical authority system of the Catholic Church. At some point the powerful and the Church hierarchy itself saw the community as a threat to its domination and used intimidation and violence against them. However, there is no way now to turn the clock back, therefore some bishops opted to include base communities in the overall ecclesial structure and subordinate them to their rule and control as a cell in their organization." ["Liberation Theology: Religious Response to Social Problems, A Survey" Marian Hillar, Published in Humanism and Social Issues. Anthology of Essays. 1993, pp. 35-52.]


David Jacobus Bosch was born into an Afrikaner home on December 13, 1929, near the town of Kuruman in the Cape Province of South Africa. His parents were poor farmers and loyal members of the Dutch Reformed Church (DRC).

Quotations from both Howard Snyder and Jurgen Moltmann, amongst many others, appear in David Bosch's final book "Transforming Mission". (3) Along with Snyder, Bosch calls us to be "kingdom people", not "church people".

In his book Bosch challenges the conventional view of church and evangelism, once again arriving at the conclusion that our understanding and practice of Christian mission is now shifting from the church-centered mission to a mission-centered church. He sees the mission-centered church as a "servant community, a pilgrim people, a sacrament and sign to the world" with a mission to share God's love in the community. The gospel is "the good news of God’s love, incarnated in the witness of community, for the sake of the world".

K. A. Morgan comments:

"In examining the Pauline missionary paradigm, Bosch identifies the early church as a new community of people reconciled and made one together in Christ, bound up in God's plan for redeeming the whole world. Bosch has described the way that churches became institutionalised and static, and the observable shift after the Second World War when Western churches again began seeing 'mission' as 'God's mission'.

This rediscovery has brought with it the challenge of what church structures would best serve both the relational aspect of a church as a community of believers and the mission imperative. In looking at the phenomenon of "small" Christian communities, Bosch identifies many forms: the house church groups in the West, African independent churches, clandestine meetings in countries where Christianity is proscribed, as well as the base ecclesial communities of Latin America.

We would need to add the Cell Church Movement. Bosch sees their particular significance in being that the laity have come of age and are missionally involved in an imaginative way. With Moltmann, Bosch still sees some form of the ordained ministry as essential to enable the priesthood of the whole church and calls for a more organic ecclesiology of clergy and people together."

Once again, we see the shift from pre-millennial theology of the Kingdom in abeyance until the return of Christ, towards the post- or a-millennial theme of the "golden age of the Church" in which missionary effort is directed towards fulfilling the Great Commission and discipling all nations to create the kingdom of God on earth.


The 1970's saw Win Arn establish the Institute of American Church Growth, and John Wimber become the founding director of the Department of Church Growth at Fuller (now the Charles E. Fuller Institute of Evangelism and Church Growth).


It was not until the early 1980's, however, that one person emerged as the leader and chief spokesman of the Church Growth movement in the United States, and that person was C. Peter Wagner. He had served as a missionary to Bolivia, and had studied under McGavran at Fuller, where he had been on staff since 1971.

In 1981, he published "Church Growth and the Whole Gospel," which thrust him into the spotlight as McGavran's successor, and in 1984 he took up his responsibilities as the Donald A. McGavran Professor of Church Growth.

Wagner's influence is huge. He is the founding president of Global Harvest Ministries, focusing prayer on world evangelism. He is coordinator for the AD2000 United Prayer Track. He is also co-founder of the World Prayer Center in Colorado.

He is presiding apostle of the International Coalition of Apostles (ICA) and convening apostle of the New Apostolic Roundtable (NAR). See Wagner's comments on his Global Harvest website.

It was Peter Wagner who took the CGM in a new spiritual direction as he moved into the signs and wonders camp, under the influenced by John Wimber, and then the Manifested Sons of God agenda of Bill Hamon and suchlike "prophetic" leaders.

Wagner strongly endorsed Bill Hamon's book on 'Apostles, Prophets and the Coming Moves of God: God’s End-Time Plans for His Church and Planet Earth.' He even wrote the foreword. There he says that Bill Hamon was influential in nurturing him through what he calls a "paradigm shift from traditional Christianity to an openness to the full ministry of the Holy Spirit." He also believes that Bill Hamon is at the "cutting edge" of what he calls "The New Apostolic Reformation."

Bill Hamon says in "Meeting from House-To-House" (11/9/00)

The Apostolic Reformation will make church leaders and pastors more committed to raising up an army of equipped saints than an audience of paying spectators and fans. Church cell home groups will increase and transition into doing the work of the ministry. The pastor will make sure everyone works together in fulfilling the pastor's vision for that local church. The senior headship of the local church (pastor) will no longer be a one-man band but a band director. He will function as a choir director who makes sure all members not only sing their part well, but are in harmony with all the 'choir'. The 21st church will not function anything like the traditional church of today. Many leaders will not be able to make the transition because of their fear of losing control or lessening their authoritative position.

Wagner has progressively shifted towards the MSOG agenda, taking the Church Growth movement with him, and the cell-church idea as we have seen is part of the plan.

A recent meeting of "APOSTOLIC COUNCIL OF PROPHETIC ELDERS" as they style themselves, "a select group of prophets who feel the need to build personal relationships with peer-level prophets" listed as members: Wesley and Stacey Campbell, Jim Goll, Bill and Evelyn Hamon, Mike and Cindy Jacobs, Jim Laffoon, Bart Pierce, Chuck D. Pierce, Rick Ridings, John and Paula Sandford, Michael and Andrea Schiffmann, Gwen Shaw, Dutch Sheets, Sharon Stone, Tommy Tenney, Hector Torres, Peter and Doris Wagner, and Barbara Wentroble.

One graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena California, Richard Joseph Krejcir, has woken up to the horrifying truth about his mentor, Wagner:

"I personally worked with Wagner for over five years. He was a friend and mentor to me. I was at one of his harvest meetings recently, (11/01 Pasadena, Ca), where I was shocked and appalled! They are on the verge of cult status with crazy, unbiblical doctrine. They claim to be real apostles, they search for demons under every bush, and they lift prophecy over and against Biblical precepts. They have a total disregard of solid, essential Biblical doctrine. They ridicule people who hold to the Bible, while they lift themselves up rather than our Lord! If you are very, very, very discerning, you can pick up some good insights on prayer and some other things, but it will be like digging through trash to find bottles!" ["The Problem With Most Church Growth Paradigms" By Richard Krejcir April 01, 2002] (Note 2)

Today Peter Wagner is a vociferous proponent of cell churches that combine celebration, congregation, and cell although he is not as keen on small independent house churches (and the reason for that will readily be seen when we discuss the leadership models of the cell church.)

C. Peter Wagner proposes six minimum elements of the Church Growth movement:

  1. Non-growth displeases God (it is abnormal, a disease, and correctable)
  2. Numerical growth of the church is a priority with God and focuses on new disciples rather than on decisions
  3. Disciples are tangible, identifiable, countable people that increase the church numerically
  4. Limited time, money, and resources require strategy based on results
  5. Social and behavioral sciences are valid tools in measuring and encouraging church growth
  6. Research is essential for maximum growth.

See some astonishing quotes by Peter Wagner at the DITC site.

continue  Part Three: The Problem With Church Growth


(2) Richard Joseph Krejcir is the Director of 'Into Thy Word Ministries', a discipling ministry. He is the author of the book, "Into Thy Word" and is also a pastor, teacher, speaker and a graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena California. He has over 20 years of pastoral ministry experience, mostly in youth ministry, including serving as a church growth consultant. His website, Into Thy Word Ministries, is located at

(3) "Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission" by David J. Bosch, Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1991.

© 1995-2013 Tricia Tillin of Banner Ministries. All rights reserved. Cross+Word Website:  This document is the property of its author and is not to be displayed on other websites, redistributed, sold, reprinted, or reproduced in printed in any other format without permission. Websites may link to this article, if they provide proper title and author information. One copy may be downloaded, stored and/or printed for personal research. All spelling and phraseology is UK English.