Crowds of Souls: For the Church and the Kingdom
By Clinton Wunder
The Judson Press, 1926, 183 pp.
Several weeks ago, I published a short history of the Baptist Temple of Rochester, N.Y., which included how young and dynamic pastor, Clinton Wunder, led the building of the “Skyscraper Church” complex: the Baptist Temple auditorium and the connected, 14-story Temple Office Building (see here).
After I published that post, I continued to search the internet and discovered that Wunder had written this book and promptly ordered a former-library copy.*
The dedication of the Baptist Temple complex in 1925 and subsequent large crowds were big news in Protestant society across the USA. 34YO Pastor Wunder was hailed as a clerical wunderkind. He capitalized on his notoriety and “success” by writing this “how to” book the following year and many ministers were eager to learn his secrets to church growth.
Wunder opens with the assessment that Sundays weren’t what they had been in the past, with secular activities increasingly competing for people’s time and attention. The church, advises Wunder, must fight fire with fire and adopt “modern” entertainment ploys and business methods to attract the city dweller. You can view the chapter headings below to see where Wunder places the emphases and we’ll also cover a little bit as we summarize.
In addition to its spiritual mission, the big city church is a business organization, states Wunder, and the pastor is CEO who oversees a large staff of paid employees and volunteers who work closely together to to ensure the church delivers a product the public will enjoy and will want to participate in and contribute to. No aspect is left to chance: the building and grounds, the atmosphere, the music, the sermon, the educational and recreational programs, finances and collections, and advertising. Wunder also promotes his “business church” model whereby a church links to a secular business as its “economic engine” as Baptist Temple did with its 14-story Temple Office Building.
Well, we all thought that the seeker/church-growth model began with Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, and business guru, Peter Drucker, in the mid-1980s. Nope, Pastor Clinton Wunder was teaching the seeker model sixty-years previous. There’s “some” good ideas here. A church certainly should make visitors and its members feel welcome and “all things should be done decently and in order” (1 Cor. 14:40). But there’s very little in the book about Jesus Christ and the Gospel. It’s almost all about the “process and the product.” Wunder mentions in his forward that an older minister had asked of him and his new-fangled growth ideas, “Young man, what are you after, crowds or souls?” Wunder quickly retorted, “I am after crowds of souls,” hence the title of this book. That sounds great, but the emphasis is definitely on numbers rather than on genuine conversions to Jesus Christ and discipleship.
I mentioned in my other post that the seeds of theological liberalism seemed to be already creeping into Baptist Temple and the Northern Baptist Convention (later American Baptist Convention) at the time of the church’s construction. At the NBC convention in 1925, Wunderkind Wunder was the celebrity keynote speaker and pleaded with the Fundamentalist (Bible believing) and Modernist (Bible denying) factions to stop their in-fighting and just get along (see here). In this book, Wunder extols Walter Rauschenbush, father of the social gospel (p. 83), as well Bible-denying modernists, Harry Emerson Fosdick and S. Parkes Cadman (p. 143). Was Wunder even born-again?
Regarding finances, I must say that Wunder is downright scary. His Baptist Temple and Office Building complex had a $53M (2023 dollars) price tag and fundraising was not done casually or left to chance. Members were coerced to pledge above their means and then bullied to contribute systematically as promised. Members who fell behind on their obligation were quickly contacted by church staff with threats of removal from the membership rolls. Wunder’s chapter on strong-arm, coercive financing would make a pro-tithing IFB pastor run for cover.
The sub-title of this book should have been, “Pastor, find out how you too can build a monument to yourself just like I did, in eleven easy lessons.”
*Postscript: My used copy of “Crowds of Souls” has the markings of Pearlman Memorial Library of Central Bible College, a former Assemblies of God school in Springfield, Illinois. I checked Wikipedia, which states that TBN founder, Paul Crouch, graduated from the college in 1955. Hmm. Did Crouch read this book when he was a student at CBC? It seems like he stole chapters right out of this book for his bogus television ministry.
- The Church Must Compete
- The Place of the Minister
- The Use of Volunteers
- Creating Atmosphere
- The Sermon Centric
- The Church as Educator
- Business Churches
- The Necessity of Finances
- Publish Glad tidings
- The “Ad” in the Making