The Rev. Dr. George E. Morris, founding director of the World Methodist Evangelism Institute, died last week at the age of 86.
I did not know Morris personally, though I learned from his legacy as a scholar and church leader when studying congregational vitality. As a tribute, this post provides a glimpse of his vision of “kingdom-oriented” congregations in contrast to the reigning “church growth” paradigm of evangelism.
Morris drew attention to idea of “vital congregations” in the early 1980s by hosting a five-day consultation of 100 church leaders from Canada, the United States, and Mexico. In the resulting edited volume, he explained his views. “The congregations we develop must be kingdom-oriented . . . mean[ing] that the local church is essentially evangelistic and missionary, or it is not a church.” This description anticipated by several years the main theme and image of the widely read book, The Logic of Evangelism by the late William Abraham. Both men offered a critique of the church growth movement.
Contrary to church growth’s homogeneous principle, Morris advocated expending more resources and energy evangelizing in areas that did not yield immediately quantifiable success.
Since Jesus’ proclamation of the gospel to the poor is a concrete sign of the kingdom of God, it also becomes a powerful criterion by which we judge the validity of our congregational development. It will mean that mission analysis always gains ascendance over demographic analysis and that we concentrate larger and larger amounts of human and material resources in our cities, among the poor of the earth, and with struggling ethnic minorities.George E. Morris, Rethinking Congregational Development, p. 32.
The measure of missional vitality for Morris was not church growth, as such. Instead of measuring faithfulness by the fruit of increased church membership, his “kingdom-oriented” congregation focused primarily on ministry to the poor.
Rest in Peace, George. The kingdom is always but coming.
The above is adapted from my article “Healing Congregations: A Corrective to the Metrics of Congregational Vitality,” Witness: The Journal of the Academy for Evangelism in Theological Education 34. September 2020.