Donald McGavran’s Understanding of Revival
In Understanding Church Growth, Donald McGavran dedicated an entire chapter to the theme of revival as it relates to church growth. Since McGavran was most concerned with conversion growth among the hidden peoples of the world, he took a cautious approach to revival. He was particularly concerned that revival referred primarily with the revivification of existing believers, whereas people movements involve the “original turnings of non-Christians to Christ.” Though acknowledging the similarities between revivals and people movements, McGavran argued that they are two distinct types of movements. Still, McGavran had a lot to say about revivals.
He identified two “principle preconditions of revival”: prayer and feeding on God’s Word. Both of these events, he points out, occur within the church (i.e. among believers), particularly knowledge of the Christian Scriptures:
The God of righteousness and love, prayer for revival, ethical heights reached by the revived, concern to share salvation with those for whom Christ died, reality of the Holy Spirit, and many other aspects of Christian revival would be impossible without knowledge of the Christian Scriptures.
Also significant, he identifies three outcomes of revival: holy living, spiritual power, and zeal for proclaiming the gospel. Again, all of these are traits common to those who are already believers.
He contrasts the preconditions and outcomes of revival with “conversion on new grounds” either through a long process of gathering a few out of their people into dependent churches, later to be revived, or through people movements:
A people movement results from the joint decision of a number of individuals all from the same people group, which enables them to become Christians without social dislocation, while remaining in full contact with their non-Christian relatives, thus enabling other segments of that people group, across the years, after suitable instruction, to come to similar decisions and form Christian churches made up exclusively of members of that people.
He calls these conversions “multi-individual, mutually interdependent conversion[s].”
The types of revival that are important to McGavran are those that aid or lead to church growth—“Under certain conditions revival may be said to cause growth. Under others, its relationship to church growth is so distant that apparently revival occurs without growth and growth without revival.” He lists seven ways, of many possible ways, that “revival bears on church growth”:
- If the revived Christians, in spirit-empowered Christian witness focus on a single homogenous unit in “living kin-contact.”
- “When a constant stream of converts is flowing into [a growing Christian congregation].”
- If pastors have “church growth eyes” looking for receptivity, understanding which churches are “growing greatly” and why, allowing group conversions, and keeping Christ central; and that policies and methods utilize “whatever means” have been successful in the power of the Holy Spirit.
- If the movements focus on “winnable elements” within the population, if “leaders from among the new converts are discovered and trained” and whole congregations and leaders are given “as much biblical training as possible.”
- “When leaders of revival are taught all we know about how God has brought about great ingatherings”: readiness, right methods, right revivals, and right priorities.
- “If the choice has to be between revival and knowledge, Christians should choose revival.”
- “Revivals issue in great church growth when revival plus knowledge is counted of even greater importance. Christians should learn all God has to teach us about church growth, and pray without ceasing for revival.”
He concludes his chapter by stating: “Great growth of the church following revival will come where all the conditions are right.”
So, while McGavran wants to maintain a distinction between revivification of existing churches and new conversion growth, he still presents a useful discussion on revival. The important thing for the historian of revivals among traditionally non-Christian peoples is to look for areas where revivals led to church growth and where church growth occurred without a preceding revival. One wonders if church growth, i.e. people movements, occur where some form of church had not already been established and where the prayers of the saints have not already been poured out for revival.
 Donald McGavran, Understanding Church Growth. ed., C. Peter Wagner, 3d edition (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), 133–143.
 Ibid., 136.
 Ibid., 137–8.
 Ibid., 223.
 Ibid., 227.
 Ibid., 133
 Ibid., 142–3. For the purpose of the Shantung Revival, especially in light of Mark Shaw’s rubric for revival, these seven ways are invaluable. Cf. Mark Shaw, Global Awakening: How 20th Century Revivals Triggered a Christian Revolution (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2010), 12–29.
 McGavran, UCG, 143.