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Interview: Dr. William Wagner on Church Planting & Growth

March 18, 2008

Olivet Theological College & Seminary (OTCS) interviewed Professor Dr. William Wagner, a seasoned church-planter and missionary to Africa, Europe, and the Middle East, about his course MS720 Church Planting and Growth.

OTCS: How would you describe your course?

Dr. Wagner: It is important that students of theology understand the church and how it works, since some churches will grow and others will decline in the future. So this is a practical class about that. 

The focus of the first half of the class is to help students understand the physical and spiritual reasons for growth and decline.  To do this we study Nehemiah – this man of God who builds the wall around Jerusalem.  I see this as similar to our work building up the church of Jesus Christ.

The second half of the course emphasizes how to start new churches.  There is birth and death in every institution’s lifecycle.  Churches die every year for a variety of reasons; it is necessary, then, to help birth new, vibrant churches.  There are methods to do this, and the fact that I personally have started eight new churches qualifies me to draw on my experience and teach the students how to do it too.

OTCS: What goals have you set for students taking this course?

Dr. Wagner: This semester I want the students to look carefully at their own churches.  Are they growing or declining?  It is necessary to study the churches they know so that in the future they can help other churches find patterns that will lead to growth. 

I also hope that several new churches will be started as the results of this class. Therefore, students should focus on the practical life of a church.

OTCS: Can you share some of the concepts you are teaching students about starting churches of today?

Dr. Wagner: Today there are many new strategies used to help churches grow, and to help new ones get started that we are studying in this class.

It must be recognized that different cultures require different methods. For this reason, some of my teaching in the class will borrow from anthropology as we try to understand cross-cultural churches.

Efforts to plant churches in areas where the Christian church does not exist or is very weak need special attention.  An important part of the class will be to show how this can be done by what is called "church planting movements." This is an exciting movement that is very successful in Southeast Asia, as well as in other parts of the World.

OTCS: What are some of the main problems churches are facing today, and how can they be overcome?

Dr. Wagner: There are many enemies of the church in today's world.  I feel the two greatest are Islam and secularism.  Both present different problems that need to be overcome.

Possibly the greatest need in the church today is adequate leadership.  That is why Olivet has a Seminary and Theology department.  We want to give as many students as possible the knowledge necessary to help carry out our Lord's mission, and that is to make disciples of all nations.

Another problem is a rampant sense of pessimism.  Many feel that the time for growing churches is past.  Just the opposite is true.  Churches are being planted and are growing like never before.  The fastest growing religion in the world is not Islam, but rather charismatic and evangelical Christianity. So, these are exciting days.