Win Arn Award
In 1970, Dr. Win Arn sat in a classroom at Fuller Theological Seminary, listening to McGavran speak on his principles of church growth. Arn, a denominational executive in California, soon realized that the insights McGavran was sharing were applicable not only to India, but to Indiana...and New York, and Texas, and California. American churches could learn from the experience of churches in India, Asia, and South America. As the American Church was beginning an unprecedented decline in membership and attendance, Arn saw the need to share McGavran's strategies with struggling congregations at home.
Dr. Arn approached McGavran with the idea of a book specifically on applying church growth principles to America. The result was How to Grow a Church, a dialogue between the two men on how local congregations could more effectively reach and disciple their communities. The book, which eventually sold over 250,000 copies, created a new awareness and sense of hope among church leaders and denominational executives. Arn would later create a 16mm film by the same name, and begin the Institute for American Church Growth, an organization devoted to the study and dissemination of church growth thinking in the U.S.
For the next 20 years Arn would research and write about church growth strategy in the American church, including books such as: Ten Steps to Church Growth, Back to Basics, The Master's Plan for Making Disciples, The Church Growth Ratio Book, the Pastors' Church Growth Handbook (Vol. I & II), Who Cares About Love?, and Growth: A New Vision for the Sunday School.
But, Arn introduced even more people to church growth thinking through his films and videos. HOW TO GROW A CHURCH and REACH OUT AND GROW featured interviews with McGavran and other church leaders. The popular CHUCK BRADLEY SERIES included 13 films featuring a likable layman whose cinematic adventures helped viewers gain a new perspective on themselves and their church. The genius of these films, geared toward lay audiences, was to help church members see their normal activities through "church growth eyes." Arn once said his approach to producing these visual resources was to help people "...laugh a little, cry a little, and learn a little."
One evening in May, 1988, at his home in California, Win suffered a stroke and was rushed to the nearby Methodist Hospital. He survived and eventually went back to his work with the help of prayer, love, and therapy. (Win was fond of saying, "Since my stroke, I can't see as well, hear very much, and my reactions have slowed way down. But, thank God I can still drive!") His experience with the stroke also stimulated Win's awareness to the large number of senior adults outside of Christ and a local church. As a result, Win spent the next ten years researching, writing, and producing films on how church growth thinking could help reach this aging demographic cohort. Win wrote four additional books, designed and led training seminars, and produced six more films on the topic of reaching older adults.
Into his 80s, as the stroke began to take its toll, Win spent more time at home and eventually moved into a retirement community with his wife, Barbara. He sought to avoid the limelight while encouraging those who followed to carry the torch of effective evangelism into the next generation.
Three weeks before his passing, Win was in a coma at Pomona General Hospital. But, his final moments on earth remind us of the hope that every Christian has in meeting Jesus face to face. His daughter, who had been sitting at his bedside, later wrote of her experience that evening of December 12, 2006:
Dad had been ill off and on for a number of years and unable to move on his own for the past couple weeks. His eyes did not have much life, just a dull gray unfocused look. In the last few days, he had been breathing for 25 seconds, then not breathing for about 35 seconds. But tonight, a little while before 9:20 p.m., his breathing was continuous and very shallow.
"I looked at dad and, to my surprise, saw his eyes completely open (something that hadn't happened for days). And, he seemed to be looking at something above him. The incredible thing was that his eyes were a brilliant crystal, deep blue (versus his normal gray color). And there was a clear, unwavering focus. He was seeing-I am sure-angels. And, as he watched what must have been a spectacular sight occur in front of him (I looked but didn't see anything)...he began smiling. His smile became more and more joyously happy".
This lasted what seemed like about 30 seconds. Then, his face muscles relaxed and a whiteness came over him. There were no struggles or shortness of breath, just what seemed to be a warm feeling of abundant joy and happiness.
Never again will I think of death as unknown or frightening. What I saw on my dad's face confirmed to me that Heaven is, indeed, a wonderful place!
--Sue Arn DeGioia
George Hunter III
R. Kent Hunter
Carl F. George