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Donald A. McGavran (1897-1990) was dean emeritus and former senior professor of mission, church growth, and South Asian studies at the School of World Mission, Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. A child of missionaries in India, and later a missionary himself, McGavran spent much of his life trying to overcome social barriers to Christian conversion. These barriers are primary in India, which stratifies people by economics and caste, substantially hindering the spread of Christian influences.
McGavran's work, which includes the seminal church growth text, Understanding Church Growth, is influential because of essays and lectures at missionary conferences in which he identified differences of caste and economic social position as major barriers to the spread of Christianity. His work substantially changed the methods by which missionaries identify and prioritize groups of persons for missionary work and stimulated the Church Growth Movement.
McGavran developed his church growth principles after rejecting the popular view that mission was ‘philanthropy, education, medicine, famine relief, evangelism, and world friendship’ and become convinced that good deeds – while necessary – ‘must never replace the essential task of mission, discipling the peoples of the earth’. (Donald A. McGavran, ‘My Pilgrimage in Mission’, International Bulletin of Missionary Research 10, no.2 (April 1986): 53-58, p.54.)
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