Science in Christian Perspective



Research, A Key to Renewal*
Director, Missions Advanced Research & Communication Center 
919 W. Huntington Drive Monrovia, California 91016

From: JASA 21 (March 1969): 15-17.

It is the purpose of this paper to make a plea for additional research into the operational life of the church, to describe the type of information and research center that might be useful in carrying out such research, and to describe briefly the work of the Missions Advanced Research and Communication Center in Monrovia, California.


It is paradoxical that the Protestant church, and in particular, the American Protestant church, has lagged in doing systematized research on the effectiveness of its own operations. In a society which is characterized by its emphasis on feedback and its glorification of the new and changing, little has been done descriptively to place the church in the society in which it finds itself. This applies not only to those church members and leaders who come out of a nonscientific background, but it is also true for that part of the scientific community which calls itself  Christian. A review of ASA Journals of the past few years adequately makes the point. There is considerable concern for a scientific approach to geology, anthropology, linguistics, and the nature of man. There is a good amount of discussion about the spirit and the body of man. But in this writer's view, there is a dearth of discussion about the church and how it is operationally to face the world in which it finds itself.

The explanation for this is manifold. In a paper prepared for the March 1967 edition of the journal, I attempted to trace one cause of secular/spiritual dichotomy back to the initial split in the church caused by the introduction of the Darwinian theory into scientific teaching. It is also a reaction against the preoccupation of the "liberal" wing of the church with the social salvation of mankind. (Even here we find very little research into what the church is really accomplishing and what is its impact in the world,) A third explanation for this operational separation between the church and its society' lies in an inadequate theology of creation and of man. The result is a modern version of gnosticism in which the world is equated with worldliness and the operation of the church is viewed from a spiritual (other worldly) view.

But the church is, after all, a social organization - social organization hopefully designed to interact with all the social systems that surround it. It is purposeful in its nature. Paul's model of the human body as a description of the church is much closer to the systems engineer's description of life than that of the organization chart mentality which is so prevalent in many ecclesiastical organizations. The total system called "the body" is made up of a large number of subsystems-circulatory', respiratory, digestive, nervous -all of which must operate properly for the health of the entire body. If one attempted to draw an organization chart for this body, instead of the typical pyramid which is the favorite of most organizational leaders, we would find a broad-based rectangle with a single head dominating the whole.

God has placed His church in the world to carry out His will. Even as we state this, we should face the fact that the Bible places two contradictory facts side by side. On the one hand, we have is clear description of the fact that through mans preaching of the good news, God puts men right with himself, It is left up to man, On the other hand, we have the many statements that God will bring men to Himself. He will bring glory' to Himself. He needs no man. It is iay personal opinion that carrying these two concepts in tension through life is part of what faith is all about. When we try to understand what motivates men's hearts, when we seek to find better information and communication systems with which to impart the good news, when we try to create feedback systems which will help us to measure our own effectiveness, we are not trying "to do the work of the Holy Spirit," but only acting under God with the tools that He has placed in our hands.

The life of the church is filled with organizations devoted to missions of one type or another - evangelism, social concern, schools, medical assistance, all types of social welfare programs. More than 500 Protestant North American mission agencies have some 35,000 missionaries overseas. Somewhere between 8300 million and 8400 million is invested yearly in overseas missions. Over one billion dollars is spent each year in the United States for the construction of church buildings. And yet it is doubtful that more than 8200,000 a year is being spent by the entire Protestant church in trying to uncover God's strategy for today's world-to carry out the type of applied research that most of the people in this audience are convinced is a vital part of life and progress.

Here are some illustrations: Between 1925 and 1967 there was no comprehensive encyclopedia of Protestant missions printed in the world. The Missionary Research Library, which was begun in 1914 with such high purpose, soon lost the support of the mission organizations who helped found it. A great many' hooks have been written by missionary theologians in an attempt to define the purpose of "missions" or "mission" or "evangelism," but even within vital mission associations there has been little meaningful analysis of total strategy. Not one large mission organization in twenty has assigned anyone to do applied research of the kind most organizations find imperative to their very life.

It is almost as though it said somewhere in the Bible that when one considers the task of evangelizing a lost world, one should switch to a completely non-rational approach to the problem.

The average churchman, missionary committee member, and even some mission executives, have only scant knowledge of which organizations are working where. In Latin America the Pentecostal church is growing many times faster than the population. In the Naga Hills of Assam, India, the Nagaland church believes that all of the people of that area have been evangelized. In Indonesia the growth of the church is phenomenal, In Thailand Christianity has had no effect after a hundred years of evangelization. In Japan the church is viewed as something outside the Japanese culture and of little importance to that country. Yet, few people are asking "Why?" and even those with normally scientific approaches to problems are willing to "leave it in the hands of the Holy Spirit." This is equally true of the work which they are personally supporting. It is almost as though it said somewhere in the Bible that when one considers the task of evangelizing a lost world, one should switch to a completely non-ratioual approach to the problem. Let me be quick to say that I am making no brief for some mechanistic' solution to the task of the chords or the problems of the world. If a strong case can be made for applied research in the church, it is only because of the tremendous imbalance that now exists.

There is a need for a network of socio-religious research centers around the world which will "tell it as it is," as the young people say', and which will act as switching points for information between those who are involved in the task of the church. The Roman Catholic socio-religious research centers have been brought together in a loosely knit organization known as FERES (International Federation of Institutes for Social and Socio-religious Research). They have been boldly examining their own program, reviewing the work of both the Catholic church and the Protestant church. The work is carried out at a high academic level with good documentation. It is available to all who are interested. There are also a number of isolated Protestant research centers around the world. Some of these are engaged in purposeful applied research, others are operating at what might be considered a solely theological level. As far as we know, the Missions Advanced Research and Communication Center, which is a division of World Vision International in Monrovia, California, is the only Protestant organization in the United States that is attempting to specifically apply today's tools of research and today's information and communication systems to the work of the church worldwide.


How would one describe all ideal Christian research center?
1) First, it should be goal oriented. It should have thought through the ultimate theological reasons for its existence, and should then be judging the worth of its present and anticipated programs ill light of this goal.
2) Second, it should enter the problem at an operational level with a problem solving approach.
3) Third, it should be able to communicate with and operate within not only the academic community but also the ecclesiastical and the industrial.
4) Fourth, it should be able to articulate the results of its research.
.5) Fifth, it should be at home with oil the tools of industrial, social, and psychological research.
6) Sixth, and obviously most important, it should be staffed by men competent in their callings and dedicated to bringing their skills and energies to bear for the glory of God.

What kind of staff is needed? This, of course, is dependent on where it begins. However, there is a synergistic quality about research teams. The right combination and content of skills and personalities produces results far beyond the sum total of the parts. It accomplishes little to put one good man to work unless you plan to support him. Sociologists, social anthropologists, information theorists, systems engineers, computer analysts, long-range planners, operational managers, theologians-men who love Cod and righteousness and are willing to be honest with the past and truthful for the future-are all needed.

MARC has officially been in operation for over two years. Let me describe some of our programs:
-An in-depth survey of the 9200 delegates to the IVCF triennial missionary conference at Urbana, Illinois. Done in association with the Fuller Theological Seminary Schools of Psychology and World Mission, this study promises to provide new insights into the motivations of Christian youth with a view toward leading them to Christian service.
-The design of an action/ motivation probe for the local church. By using a standardized question format we are able to provide the local church with a low-cost analysis of its membership.
-An information study of the country of Brazil. More than 2600 missionaries have been queried as to their goals and accountability. Statistics on local church growth over a ten-year period for every Protestant, Roman Catholic, and spiritist congregation are being analyzed. A directory of all mission agencies operating in Brazil has been compiled. A survey of church-related institutions in Brazil is now under way.
-A joint project with the School of World Mission at Fuller Theological Seminary surveying factors present in the conversion experience and in the spiritual maturing of Christians. A computer analysis program is available and the approach is being refined.
-A survey of some 1600 religious organizations on their use of electronic data processing.
-A survey of information systems in the local church and the role of the computer in making the church more effective in its ministry.
-The computer assembling of a new directory of North American Protestant Ministries Overseas for the Missionary Research Library with data on most U.S. and Canadian mission agencies and their fields of operation.
-The beginning of a computerized abstracting and information retrieval service for current mission research.
-The publication of various papers dealing with technical planning and a systems approach to the mission task of the church.
-The establishment of ties with ethers involved in socio-religious research.

We are not interested in becoming the great Protestant research and communication center in the U.S. We are interested in becoming a model for applied research operations in many other Christian organizations.


God has entrusted some men with skills and training particularly suited for the needs of His church. When we understand that these are to be used for His glory, then renewal of His church will begin. Research is one key to that renewal.


E. H. Dayton, Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation, 19,27 (1967).

*Paper presented at ASA Convention, Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan, August 23, 1968.