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God is Setting All Things Right. So I am Blogging Through the Bible in a Year.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Book Review 1: The Bridges of God by Donald McGavran



For my first Church Planting book review, I read Donald McGavran’s book The Bridges of God.

Donald McGavran grew up in India and worked there for 30 years as a missionary. Upon coming home, he began a school in Oregon dedicated to the study of missions. In 1965, he establish the School of World Mission (now the School of Intercultural Studies) at Fuller Theological Seminary. His is best known for his approach to missions called the “Church Growth Movement.”

The major thesis of The Bridges of God is given by McGavran himself, “The era has come when Christian Missions should hold lightly all mission station work, which cannot be proved to nurture growing churches, and should support the Christward movements within Peoples as long as they continue to grow at the rate of 50 per cent per decade or more” (109).

The major problem McGavran sees with the “Mission Station Approach” is that churches near these stations have grown stagnate. The solution to this problem is not to redouble our current (to 1955) efforts, but to learn how people groups are converted to Christianity and adapt to those strategies to create “People Movements” – large numbers of people in a certain tribe, race or community becoming disciples of Jesus.

The most glaring problem is that Westerners often have an ignorance of group dynamics in conversion. Western society stresses individual spirituality in Christianity which produce churches made of individual Christians. In group-based societies becoming a Christian may ostracize the Christian from his/her people group unless the group is converted as a whole.

McGavran sees mission work in Acts as people building “bridges” between Christians in Jerusalem and their family and friends in other cities to convert entire families in preparation for the gospel. Paul’s mission journeys were not to convert random people far away but to cross bridges built by Christians and create a vibrant, growing “People Movement.”

This concept is extremely important to Christian missions today. Missionaries must rely on native Christians to direct their work since they have built the best bridges to their friends and family. This concept has been expanded by David Garrison (Church Planting Movements, 2004) by encouraging missionaries to allow native Christians to not only build bridges but to disciple as well.

Overall, the book is meant to be read by mission organizations and church organizations with hopes of reviewing and re-appropriating their workers and money. This is the dated part of the entire book. His major view is that foreign missionaries should continue to live and work with the people (and grow as the group grows) until the church has reached maximum potential. This attitude continues Western hegemony over mission works instead of focusing on turning over all the work to the people. However, the first half of the book is very interesting and worth reading.

McGavran, Donald A. 1955. The bridges of God; a study in the strategy of missions. New York: Distributed by Friendship Press. (Reprinted 2005 by Wipf & Stock)