MARION, Ind., — Thom S. Rainer, president and CEO of Lifeway Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention, was honored Nov. 11 as the recipient of the 2010 Donald A. McGavran award for outstanding leadership in church growth from the Great Commission Research Network (GCRN).
The annual meeting of the GCRN was held at Indiana Wesleyan University and hosted about 140 Christian writers, researchers, professors, practitioners and students whose purpose is to study church growth trends and issues and identify effective evangelistic methods.
Conferring this award on Rainer is recognition of a significant voice and leader in the church growth movement, said Bob Whitesel, current president of the GCRN and professor of Christian ministry and missional leadership at Wesley Seminary in Marion, Ind.
“As we considered this year’s award it became clear that only one person deserved to be named, and that was Thom Rainer,” he said. “Thom’s research and writings have been and continue to be key resources to those who care about church health and growth. This award is long overdue to one who truly deserves it.”
The award is named after Donald A. McGavran, founding dean of the School of World Missions at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif. His seminal books “Bridges of God” (1955) and “Understanding Church Growth” (1970) pioneered scholastic projects on church growth and launched the movement under the same name.
“I’m grateful to receive this award for many reasons,” Rainer said, “not the least of which is because of the name it bears. Donald McGavran insisted that churches focus on ‘effective evangelism,’ a term that is synonymous with conversion growth. I have no doubt that, if he were alive today, he would be deeply concerned that most American church growth is transfer growth.”
Rainer was named as the ninth president of Lifeway Christian Resources in 2005. Prior to coming to Lifeway, he was the founding dean of The Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth and professor of evangelism and church growth at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.
Gary McIntosh, professor of Christian ministry and leadership at Biola University’s Talbot School of Theology, introduced Rainer and insisted that the award carries with it a notable endorsement.
“Having known Dr. McGavran,” he said, “I can say with certainty that he would want Thom Rainer to receive this award and he would be proud of Thom for his excellent contribution to our field of interest and study.”
McIntosh reminded the GCRN that Rainer’s body of work deserves to be recognized for its importance and influence.
Rainer’s catalogue of books includes: “The Book of Church Growth” (B&H, 1993), “Effective Evangelistic Churches” (B&H, 1996), “Surprising Insights from the Unchurched” (Zondervan, 2001), “The Unchurched Next Door” (Zondervan, 2003), “Breakout Churches” (Zondervan, 2005), “Simple Church” (B&H, 2006), “Essential Church” (B&H, 2008), and “Transformational Church” (B&H, 2010).
Rainer summed up his acceptance of the award by noting its intrigue throughout his professional career.
“Many years ago I remember thinking that if I ever received the McGavran award it would be a significant life achievement as a church growth researcher and practitioner,” he said. “I am humbled and grateful to be selected as this year’s recipient.”
by Micah Carter