The Bridges of God

Several weeks ago I pulled a little book off of the shelf that has been holding its place for years but had never been read. I decided that it was time to read the book because, after all, it is a classic in the field of missions and church planting.

The book is The Bridges of God. It was written by Donald McGavran and published in 1955.

I believe that the book was such a break-through in missiological thinking and practice because of the crucial question that it asks: “How do Peoples, not just individuals, but clans, tribes, and castes, become Christian?”

This is still a very relevant question being asked today, 54 years after the book’s publication, as we seek to reach thousand’s of Unreached People Groups in the world for Christ.

McGavran’s answer to the question is simple: People Movements. Today we might think in terms of Church Planting Movements.

It is emphasized in the book that People Movements do not occur when we are content to simply extract individuals out of their family and social networks and “Christianize” them.

In leading peoples to become Christian, the Church must aim to win individuals in their corporate life. The steady goal must be the Christianization of the entire fabric which is the people, or large enough parts of it that the social life of the individual is not destroyed.” (p. 16)

When McGavran wrote about not “snatching” individuals out of their people groups when they become Christians, I thought about an article entitled Extraction Groups vs. Community Groups written by David Watson, former IMB missionary to India. That article can be read here.

The emphasis in both McGavran and Watson is that if we are going to truly penetrate and saturate people groups and communities with the Gospel, we must follow the relational connections of the new believer back into their “world” – family (both immediate and extended), community, employment, yes, and even “religious” – if we are going to see a movement toward Christ.

McGavran devotes three chapters of The Bridges of God to telling the story of the spread of the Gospel through people movements in the New Testament world on down through the centuries.

I especially enjoyed the chapter entitled “Peoples And The New Testament Church”. In this chapter McGavran writes about the Christian movement within Judaism, the Greek movement in Antioch, how Paul “chose new centres for People Movements,” and responsive groups as bridges for the spreading of the Gospel.

What was very interesting to me in this chapter is that McGavran uses a word several times that I find in much of today’s writing on church planting movements, house churches, and house church networking. It is the word “organic” or a form of the word.

When writing about the people movement in Antioch, McGavran states that

 … the coming to Christ of Greeks at Antioch was unplanned and depended on the burning faith of some unknown Christians who were organically linked with both Jews and Greeks, thus forming a bridges between the two peoples…. This bond of relationship was the bridge over which the faith passed.” (p.24)

There has been much discussion about how Paul chose the fields in which he would labor. Roland Allen’s little book, Missionary Methods: Paul’s or Ours? is perhaps the classic on this subject.

McGavran expresses his belief on this subject when he writes,

To be accurate we must say that he (Paul) did not choose fields. He followed up groups of people who had living relations in the People Movement to Christ.” (p.31)

He then writes on page 33,

 … lack of conversions is exactly what happens all over the world as the Christian faith is proclaimed to non-Christians not in organic connection with believers.”

When writing about the Christian movement within the Greek world, the author speaks of relationships being “small bridges” over which the Gospel moves.

By means of the ‘Gentile on the bridge’ there came to be in town after town within a comparatively short time a considerable number of Gentile converts who remained in close organic connection with large numbers of unconverted relatives.” (p.34)

McGavran concludes this particular chapter by stating that the intentional missionary labors of Paul were in large measure devoted

 … to following responsive peoples and to expanding exisitng impulses to Christ in the hearts of peoples.” (p.36)

McGavran’s insight into and teaching on the subject and importance of organic networking for the sake of the spreading of the Gospel is a much needed word of reminder from the past. His emphasis is simply on the fact that the great avenue, or “bridge”, for the spreading of the Gospel that is already in place for us all is that of relationships.

This may be one of those statements that elicits a ”Duh!” or “I already know that” response, but the question that I ask myself is, “Am I intentionally thinking through and sharing Christ with those with whom I am organically connected?” Family members, peers at work, neighbors on my block, my mechanic. If I’m not, then I should be.

About the time that I was finishing The Bridges of God and starting to write this post, early last week, I started reading a paper about the “T4T – Training for Trainers” approach to church planting and church multiplication. In it I read that there are two reasons that believers don’t share their faith more. One reason is that we don’t know how. The second is that we don’t know who we should share our faith with.

The T4T paper makes a great suggestion for knowing who to share the Gospel with. Make a list of 100 people, or as many as you can, that you know do not have a personal relationship with Christ as Savior and Lord. Group those 100 people into groups of five, preferably people who know or have connections with one another, and then share the Gospel with them that first week. Share the Gospel with the second group the second week, the third group the third week, and so on until you have shared with as many of the 100 as possible.

People will accept Christ. As they do, begin discipling them with the T4T material, train them to share their faith with their “100,″ and start organic, simple churches.

As we obey the Great Commission and share Christ, beginning with those we are organically connected to, perhaps we’ll be blessed by the LORD to find ourselves in the midst of a People Movement toward Christ.


In my next post, I plan to share several quotes from The Bridges of God that caught my attention as I read through the book.

(Originally written and posted on taethnenetwork, November 11, 2009)


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