Cal Guy and the Church Growth Movement -- By: John Mark Terry

Journal: Faith and Mission
Volume: FM 015:1 (Fall 1997)
Article: Cal Guy and the Church Growth Movement
Author: John Mark Terry

Cal Guy and the Church Growth Movement

John Mark Terry

Professor of Missions
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
2825 Lexington Road
Louisville, Kentucky 40280


Cal Guy began teaching missions at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1946. He admits that he had no personal or integrating philosophy of missions at that time. In fact, Guy says, “I didn’t have a clue when I started teaching missions.” He found that frustrating because his doctoral studies were in the philosophy of religion. He was further frustrated by the paucity of good textbooks to use in his classes. He used works by J. Merle Davis and John Nevius, but he was not completely satisfied with these.1

Guy had placed a standing order with the Friendship Press in New York City, and in 1955 he received a copy of a slim volume entitled The Bridges of God. In that book an obscure missionary to India, Donald A. McGavran, presented a bold new philosophy of missions, a philosophy that eventually influenced the entire evangelical missions enterprise. In The Bridges of God, McGavran first stated his principles of “Church Growth,” principles that he developed more fully and maturely in his later books: How Churches Grow (1959), and Understanding Church Growth (1970).

Cal Guy believes the Holy Spirit led him to his interest in church growth. McGavran’s approach attracted Guy because McGavran was concerned about the poor evangelistic results in many mission fields. The study of church growth offered Guy an approach to fulfill his heart’s desire—”to see folks saved.” He also agreed with McGavran’s call for an end to subsidy of national churches, theological education by extension, catalytic church planting, and hard-nosed evaluation of strategy and methodology.


Cal Guy also played a key role in the development of the Church Growth Movement. The Bridges of God evoked various emotional responses. Some like Cal Guy embraced it enthusiastically, but others rejected it outright. McGavran returned to the United States to begin his “retirement” and produced the manuscript that became How Churches Grow. He had trouble getting the book published and asked Cal Guy to read the manuscript. Guy was impressed with the book, and he promised World Dominion Press that he would guarantee them the sale of 750 copies per year. With this assurance, the book was published.

McGavran’s philosophy was still not widely known or accepted. In 1961 McGavran founded the Institute of Church Growth in Eugene, Oregon, on the campus of Nort...

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