In Don McGavran’s book, he is formulating an evangelistic understanding based on what he sees as “The Crucial Question in Christian Mission” (also the title of the introductory chapter). The crucial question is simply, “how do people become Christian?” He does not ask with any soteriological curiosity, but practically, how do people hear the message of the gospel and decide to live under the Lordship of Christ. For McGavran, present practices in missionary evangelism revealed a categorical al misunderstanding of conversion. This misunderstanding, in turn, perpetuates ineffective and inappropriate evangelism strategies. In particular, McGavran is seeking to understand the phenomena of exponential church growth—simultaneous conversions (note plural) of an entire group rather than the aggregate conversion focused on individual response to evangelism.
The Unfamiliar in People Movements
Before progressing too far, McGavran defines the People Movement for those unfamiliar, i.e., the Western church. His image of a People Movement is an evangelistic multiplication as entire families/tribes/clans come to faith. In the process of coming to faith, they retain their distinctive cultural supports which enable others to join without needing to adopt a new cultural framework.
People and the New Testament Church
To lay the groundwork for restructuring the method of the Church, McGavran examines the record of Acts to see how large groups were brought into the life of the church. Starting at Pentecost, he sees the 3,000 added as proof that the individual method is not the original approach. He also notes the extensive familial connections in the greetings in the epistles as evidence for the strategy of Paul. For example, in the letter to the Romans are listed the names of dozens of family members who Paul has never met. But through these family connections, the gospel finds fertile ground in the acceptability of the family unit.
Down Through the Centuries
It is interesting to see the growth of the church painted in broad strokes to express the dominance of the people movement process historically. This history leads up to the Enlightenment in Europe, after which the collective-worldview began to give way to the preference for individualism.
The Characteristic Pattern of the Great Century
The Great Century which the author speaks of is the time which the church woke up to its mission to take the gospel message to areas outside of European Christendom. This approach has a structural emphasis located in the mission station. In this approach, the mission station becomes a barracks for the church against the greater culture. When people come to faith, they also adopt the way of life of the foreigner and sever ties with their familiar life. The mission station and expatriate staff become the new support system for the converts and the culture is marked by extreme insulation.
Gathered Colony Strategy in the Light of People Movements
In comparing the insular strategy of the mission station with that of the People Movement, there is only one context where the author sees the former remaining pertinent and that is in the area hostile to the Christian message and the church needing a safe place to live and base their evangelistic activity. I do not agree with this exemption, as the protected church will always seem at odds with the community that it is trying to reach.
Co-operating with Growing Churches is Today’s Strategy
Given the premise that there are enough contextualized church movements in existence in different areas of the world, the task before the Western church is in determining their cooperation. In this and a later chapter, McGavran addresses the financial relationship between groups and moves toward an equitable understanding of how the global church is meant to support one another. By comparing the cost of planting new churches and training pastors with the operation costs of mission stations and the services they spawn (hospitals, schools, etc.), he present the People Movement as the most profitable venture that the church can undertake.
Important Aspects of This Strategy, The Marvelous Mosaic of God, Marching with God to the Heart of the Nations
The most important aspect, in my opinion, is allowing the mission station model to cede its seat of prominence in our thinking about how missions ought to be conducted. Recognizing that the indigenous work of evangelism takes place as the message is contextualized and barriers to the Christian community are removed, the world Christian is freed to explore the entirety of humanity as it constitutes all of God’s people.