Defining “Effective” Evangelism

But He said to them, “I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities also, for I was sent for this purpose.” – See more at:,-ministry-of#sthash.oeSHdTqH.dpuf

But He said to them, “I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities also, for I was sent for this purpose.” – See more at:,-ministry-of#sthash.oeSHdTqH.dpuf


But He said to them, “I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities also, for I was sent for this purpose.” – See more at:,-ministry-of#sthash.oeSHdTqH.dpuf

But he said, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.” (Luke 4:43)

Donald McGavran

Donald McGavran (1897 – 1990)

Donald McGavran was a missionary and Founding Dean of the School of World Mission, at Fuller Theological Seminary, in Pasadena, California. He spent his career as a missiologist, studying the interaction of the gospel and church with culture in order to identify and overcome barriers to effective evangelism and Christian conversion.

His findings challenged and changed the way missionaries identify and prioritize groups of people for missionary work today. His writings also influenced the successful evangelism of Pastor Rick Warren at the Saddleback Church in Orange County, California.

As important and rewarding as it might be to convert an individual, Prof. McGavran believed it was more important to bring groups of families to Christian faith so that the whole population is Christianized in just a few decades. His research showed that this whole-scale approach to conversion resulted in a stronger church.

Understanding culture plays an important role in successful evangelism. In Western culture, Christianization is an individualistic process. One family member can become and live as a Christian without being ostracized by the rest of the family. People in most cultures, by comparison, are not an aggregation of individuals, but part of the whole — bound together by common social practices, religious beliefs, and even by common blood. They’re a proud part of a social organism and a separate race. Ignoring the significance of these societal factors hinders Christianization and makes enemies instead of allies.

The “Mission Station Approach” vs. “People Movement” to Christ

The “Mission Station Approach” predominated during the 19th and early 20th centuries. When conversion to Christianity failed to consider a community’s social foundation, the new Christian was ostracized from the non-Christian family, with a loss of their social support system. It also aroused antagonism toward Christianity and created barriers to the spread of the Gospel. Ultimately, this approach produced anemic churches, with no true leadership and dependence on the mission or the missionary.

Mission Stations built by missionaries gave their converts housing and employment. It was successful to a point, but also expensive to maintain when judged by the number of converts. The system even worked against further conversions when existing converts, recognizing the finite resources of the mission, discouraged others in order to save their jobs!

In contrast, Prof. McGavran advocated the “People Movement” approach based on seven principles. As you read them, they will remind you of Paul’s approach to evangelism.

  1. Cluster Growth. Never aim to create one church. It’s OK if that’s what you get, but the goal is to achieve a cluster of growing, indigenous congregations.
  2. Focus on one group of people. Openly confess to hoping that within a social group (blue or white collar, rich or poor, rural or urban) there soon will be thousands of followers of Jesus Christ.
  3. Maintain community. Encourage converts to remain one with their people in most matters (except sinful acts), and bear cheerfully any exclusion, oppression, and persecution that they may encounter from their people.
  4. Group decisions. Try to get group decisions for Christ. Ostracism is effective against one person, but weak against a dozen. Against two hundred it has practically no power.
  5. Keep converting. The missionary must keep reaching out to new groups rather than stay with one “flock.” Trust the Holy Spirit, and believe that God has called those people out of darkness into his wonderful light.
  6. Advance guard. Converts ought to say or at least feel that they are the advance guard of their segment of society, which will result in a better way of life for their family and neighbors.
  7. Emphasize brotherhood. All people are equally precious in God’s sight — sinners are saved by grace. The most effective way to achieve brotherhood is to lead increasing numbers of adults and children from every segment of society into an obedient relationship with Christ.

Donald McGavran believed that if their calling is to lead people to Christ one-by-one, then missionaries should follow that path. However, the goal should be Christward movements within each segment of society. We should take advantage of the dynamics of social cohesion in order to advance the Gospel and lead large numbers of people out of darkness into His wonderful life.