2- Growth

Global expansion

Under Luther Wishart of the YMCA the Student Volunteer Movement became a world wide movement for missions mobilization.

Wishart was an unlikely founder: overweight, nearly blind, lacking the natural charisma of a leader. Regardless, he set off on a four year world tour determined to make college campuses the “strategic points in the world’s conquest.’”

John Mott

John Mott (right) followed close behind on a two year world tour intending to make the colleges throughout the world the bases from which the world would be won for Christ. Mott proved even more effective in creating student organizations with the intention that they become centers for world evangelism.

Following his tour, “Mott reported that he had visited 22 countries, 144 educational institutions, organized 70 new YMCA’s, organized five national intercollegiate organisations, saw the beginning of 11 Christian publications, inducted 12 countries as corresponding members of the WSCF, saw 2,000 commit to keeping the morning watch, and witnessed 505 people accept Jesus Christ as their savior. Finally he saw 300 students commit to become student volunteers for home missions.”

By 1920 the various SVMs of the World Student Christian Federation (WSCF) had recruited 11,079 missionaries.

A key to the SVM’s effectiveness was the focus that it’s watchword provided — “The evangelization of the world in this generation.”

Despite the success of the SVM, by the end of the first decade of the new century, questions and arguments were raised concerning the wisdom of its further use. Opponents of the watchword from within the SVM felt that, “the goal of evangelization was too narrow, and that the Great Commission called for was not the mere proclamation of the gospel but the Christianization of the world.”

Next post: How the decline began.

Accounting for the rise of the SVM


The Student Volunteer Movement was the greatest student missionary movement in the history of the church. What accounts for the success of its early years?

1. A passionate and practical faith

The SVM was served by a lean and effective low cost organization with a minimum of paid staff. The real driving force was the faith and commitment of the volunteers. The leaders of the SVM were recruited from within. They combined a commitment to personal holiness, prayer and the power of the Holy Spirit with a down to earth practicality.

SVM volunteers committed themselves to the “Morning Watch” 30 minutes to an hour of bible study and prayer at the beginning of each day. They believed the evangelization of the world in this generation required both spiritual empowerment and effective methodologies.

2. A clear cause

SVM’s sole purpose was, “The evangelization of the world in this generation.” By that they did not mean the conversion of the whole world. Rather giving “all men an adequate opportunity to know Jesus Christ as their Savior and to become His real disciples.” (John Mott)

The SVM was only interested in recruiting missionaries, not in sending them. Their mandate was to inspire others who would serve with the various mission agencies.

3. Effective structures

The SVM’s organizational structure was simple, lean and capable of rapid expansion. Once a student became a volunteer they joined the SVM group on campus. These campus groups were the heart of the movement. Robert Wilder pioneered the strategy when he was at Princeton.

A small band of students met to pray and to encourage each other in their commitment to missions. They also became mission advocates on the campus. The groups were student run. The sole focus was total commitment to the promotion of missions.

Traveling secretaries set up and sustain an expanding network of campus groups. Without these groups the movement would have lasted long.

Next post: How the SVM went global.

The spreading fires of early Pentecostalism

Allan Anderson has a new book out: Spreading Fires: The Missionary Nature of Early Pentecostalism.

My copy is still on the way but I have read a summary article. Here are some highlights . . .

According to Anderson, Pentecostalism is probably the fastest expanding religious movement ever. Here are five of the main features of Pentecostalism that contributed to its advance from the beginning.

1. The imminent return of Christ

Early Pentecostals were convinced that their experience of Spirit baptism was a fire that would spread all over the world, a last-days universal revival to precede the return of Christ. Missionary newsletters were filled with one overriding concern: to evangelize the nations of the world before the imminent return of Christ.

2. Intercultural origins

From it's inception Pentecostalism was both interracial and intercultural. The Azusa Street Revival was led by William Seymour the son of former slaves. Within two years missionaries were circling the globe with their message of spiritual power.

At the same time, in western India, an equally influential revival was led by Pandita Ramabai at the Mukti mission. Missionaries, mostly young women, were sent throughout India and church planted. Anderson traces the origin of Chilean Pentecostalism back to India rather than North America.

3. Spirit-centered Mission

Pentecostalism grew out of a common experience of the Spirit. That experience of the Spirit led Pentecostals into world missions.

Within two years missionaries were sent out to China, India, Japan, Argentina, Brazil, Palestine, Egypt, Somalia, Liberia, Angola and South Africa.

This was the beginning of what is arguably the most significant global expansion of a Christian movement in history.

These early missionaries had no fixed plan. Many went out believing they had “missionary toungues”. Many left without any source of funds. Their sacrifices were startling. They were poor, untrained and unprepared. Many died on the field.

4. Personal Inflexibility and Adaptability

Like other foreign missionaries Pentecostals were not always sensitive to the local people and culture. Some took too much responsibility for the expansion of the faith and stifled local expressions and leadership.

The result was often secession as new converts reacted to missionary paternalism and control.

The truth was often that the national churches grew in spite of, and not because of, these missionaries, who were denying their converts' gifts of leadership. The Holy Spirit was anointing ordinary people to spread the fire to their friends, relatives, and neighbors, and even to other communities, peoples, and nations.

5. Responsive to Local Contexts

Pentecostal mission was inherently flexible, responding creatively to different contexts. Pentecostalism both absorbed and transformed the religio-cultural context wherever it went.


The wildfires of Pentecostalism were chaotic, unpredictable and out-of-control. When human organizations attempted to quench the flames, as they often did, this futile effort resulted in new fires breaking out in other places and the further proliferation of new churches.

Pentecostalism has been most successful in the Majority World where half the world's Christians live today, where forms of Christianity are very different from what Westerners often assume they must be.

How the West was won

Methodist Circuit Rider-2

There has been a lot of discussion recently about the decline of mainline churches and it causes. Some excellent work has been done by Roger Finke and Rodney Stark two sociologists who dabble in history.

Finke and Stark have examined denominational statistics on the US church between 1776 and 1850. They concluded that “the so-called Protestant ‘mainline’ began to collapse rapidly, not in the past several decades as is widely supposed, but in the late 18th Century. Hence by 1850 the Baptists and Methodists — vigorous, evangelical sects in that era — dominated the religious landscape. The key factor they argue was the infection of the ‘mainline’ denominations with secularism and the resulting loss of vigor in evangelism. The result was that the mainline churches watched from the safety of the larger towns and cities along the Atlantic seaboard while the Baptists and Methodists moved West with the frontier.

These two denominations grew significantly because they reached previously unchurched people. In 1776 only 17% of the poppulation was affiliated with a church. By 1850 that number had doubled to 34%. Most of the growth was as a result of the gains by the Methodists and Baptists on the frontier. Why? A key factor was the secularisation of the mainline denominations. ”The religious message had become too vague, too accommodated and too secular to have broad appeal.“

Clericalism was both a contributing factor to and the result of this creeping secularism in the mainline churches. Despite theological and organisational differences between the Baptists and Methodists their clergy were almost identical. They came predominately from among ordinary folk. In contrast to the clergy of the mainline churches who were of genteel origins and highly educated. Their frontier preachers had little education, were poorly paid, spoke the language of the people and preached from the heart. The local preacher was likely to be a neighbor, friend, or relative of many of the people he served. Higher education lifted the mainline clergy further out of the social status of their congregation and turned them into religious professionals more educated than 98% of the population. They were more ‘respectable, but less likely to gather the unchurched.

Secularised theological education and social background influenced the content and form of the message that was delivered. Despite their theological differences Baptists and Methodists emphasized the need for personal conversion and salvation from sin. The power of God was not only to be spoken about, it was experienced.

One contemporary observed, ”Their mode of preaching is entirely extemporaneous, very loud and animated. . . . They appear studiously to avoid connection in their discourses, and are fond of introducing pathetic stories, which are calculated to affect the tender passions. Their manner is very solemn, and their preaching is frequently attended with surprising effect upon their audiences.“

In contrast, the mainline clergy preferred to educate rather than convert their hearers. ”If the goal was to arouse faith, the carefully drafted, scholarly, and often dry, sermons of the learned clergy were no match for the impromptu, emotional pleas of the uneducated preacher.“

Not only were mainline clergy out of touch with the common people. They were also in short supply on the rapidly growing frontier. The expectation of a well educated, well paid clergy, resulted in a shortage of clergy on the frontier. A shortage meant their clergy chose the safety of an established congregation rather than the challenge of pioneering a new one. To be a Baptist or Methodist church leader did not require an up front investment of money and education. Both denominations developed systems which made it easy for gifted laymen to enter the ministry. Their clergy moved with the people rather than waited for them to call. ”It is hard to imagine any sum of money that would have caused an Anglican Bishop to travel nearly 300,000 miles on horseback as Francis Asbury did, disregarding weather and chronic illhealth, ‘to goad his men and to supervise their work.’“

Regardless of their differing denominational polity both the Baptists and the Methodists tended to be self-governing at the local level on the frontier. The Methodists eventually introduced a professional clergy who controlled the denomination centrally leading to their decline. But in the early days of rapid growth congregations were left to control their own destinies much like the Baptists.

Many factors fed into the amazing success of the Baptists and Methodists and the impotency of the Anglicans, Congregationalists and Presbyterians. At the heart of the problem was a professional, highly educated, secularized clergy who secularized the content and form of their message and blocked the mobilization of ordinary people for ministry. In contrast Baptist and Methodist church leaders were hardly distinguishable from the people they served and led. Their self-governing congregations multiplied rapidly in the frontier culture reaching a significant portion of the population who were previously unchurched.

Methodist growth was most dramatic. From 2.5% of the church going population in 1776 to 34.2% in 1850. But their rise was short-lived. By the end of the century the Baptists had overtaken them. Their relative slump began at the same time that their amateur clergy were replaced by seminary educated professionals who claimed episcopal authority over their congregations.

”The Churching Of America, 1776-2005: Winners And Losers In Our Religious Economy“ (Roger Finke, Rodney Stark)