Andrew Evans was born in India to missionary parents. He served as a missionary in Papua New Guinea. Back in Australia he took a church of 150 people and grew it to thousandsâ€”Paradise AOG. For twenty years he led the Assemblies of God (now Australian Christian Churches) in exponential growth of both churches and people.
I met up with Andrew in Adelaide just before he retired from parliament. We talked about the astonishing growth of the Assemblies of God under his leadership.
The Assemblies of God grew steadily from its formation in 1937. Then in the late 1970s the growth became exponential. What happened?
We didn't sit down on day one and said okay this is the way to make it happen. It was an evolving thing, I think that God just gave us clues for each stage as we needed them. All along we felt we were led.
I was narrowly elected National Superintendent at our 1977 National Conference. I was just 41 years old. Afterwards, the deputy, Phil Hills, came up to me and said, before we wind up the conference could you set some goals? We'd never set goals in 40 years of meetings.
We'd set goals for overseas missions and the remarkable thing is we always reached them.
Phil said, what about a growth goal? And I said, let's do it. How much? And he said 50%. I said okay.
50% growth in what timeframe?
The next two years.
It seemed impossible. So I got up and told the conference, we're going to suggest that we go for 50% increase and everyone put their hands up and voted and it happened.
After the conference I began to think how are we going to achieve this. I wrote to each of our churches and challenged them to trust God for a certain number of new decisions for Christ.
Two years later we'd grown by 68%.
So, the next two years, we said we'd go for 100%. And we got 128%.
Risk nothing and you get nothing. If you aim at something your faith will grow.
What else contributed to the change?
Another thing we did was challenge our pastors to visit Korea together. Two hundred and forty came on trip. It was faith building to see the finances come in.
We saw what God was doing in Korea and it inspired us. We were all on a high, all wanting to go back and take the word of God to the nation.
Some pastors went too far. They may have a church of 50, and they believed they would have thousands in two years. It didnâ€™t happen. We learnt that it was far better for a church of 50 to trust God for 70 rather than a 1,000.
Despite this, it was still important to stretch people's faith.
We came back and in the next two years saw a 120% increase. At our next conference I felt God speak say, little by little we'll take the nation.
How was that going to happen?
We decided we'd go for a church in every Australian town of over 1,000 people within two years (1981-83). Then we had to work out how to do that.
And we set out a four point strategy:
1. Identify the towns. 2. Adopt the town in prayer. 3. Seek to start a home group. 4. Begin a small church.
We asked each church of 100 to try and plant a new church every two years. We didnâ€™t want to make it too hard.
Some did some didnâ€™t. Some planted two or three. Others planted none.
Every two years at the National Conference the figures and the stories would come in and people got inspired.
Some states were better than others. Queensland did particularly well. They identified all their towns and they got their districts to allocate where churches should be planted. They reorganised very well.
In the 1990's they'd reached every town of over 1,000.
Sounds like the National Conference played a key role.
Right from the start it was important to change the tone and purpose of our National Conference. Since our beginning it was focused on the issues that divided us. There were long and heated debates about theological technicalities. The rest of the time was taken up with business.
And so, I made my decision that I'd make the conferences inspirational. We reduced the business and limited the time spent debating non-issues.
Year after year the Conference became a place for corporate vision and inspiration as stories came in of progress and as we set new faith goals.
Next post: Andrew Evans part 2