Whither Swarming?

In a column in the January 5, 1939 issue of the Gospel Advocate, G. C. Brewer gives inadvertent testimony to the decline of the practice — so influential in the growth of the Nashville churches — of “swarming” to start new congregations.

Noting F. D. Srygley’s assertion that we are “a people decidedly argumentative in [our] theology,” Brewer makes the following observation:

“Illustration: In an elders’ meeting of a certain congregation recently the question of starting a new congregation was discussed. ‘Where will we get members to compose this new congregation?’ some one asked. ‘Take them from our congregation,’ some one else replied. ‘But no one wants to leave this church, and we cannot make members go elsewhere!’ Thus one elder argued, and all agreed in that. Then this revealing remark was made: ‘You cannot start a new church without a faction. If you will get up some strife and cause a division, you can start a really working band at some other place, and those who remain here will work ten times harder in order to keep the others from outdoing them.'” (pp. 6-7)

Several observations could be made here. Allow me just one (recognizing that it is not GCB’s main point). In 1939, it was already the case that the anti-swarming argument (i.e. that ‘no one wants to leave this church, and we cannot make members go elsewhere!’) was seen as perfectly reasonable, unarguable even. This represents a huge shift from ca. 1900 or even 1920.

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2 responses to “Whither Swarming?

  1. The idea that starting a new congregation is inherently bad strikes me as at least one of three things: a lack of faith, an unwillingness to undertake a little discomfort, or a fear over a loss of personal power. (Granted, there may be times when it would be bad judgment; note the phrase “inherently bad”).

    In the Charlotte area, for example, there had been only 4 non-institutional churches, the last started in 1984. In the intervening 3 decades, the Charlotte metro area has grown from 1.5m to 2.5m. Needless to say, the total membership of these 4 churches hasn’t seen a corresponding near-doubling.

    Meanwhile, an institutional church in Rock Hill (20 minutes to the south) set out on a plan of aggressive church-planting back in the early 1990s. By my count, the total number of churches established as a result of that beginning is 5 or 6. Granted, I don’t agree with some of the practices they used in establishing those works or doctrines they teach, but you have to wonder: what if NI churches had shown a little more faith and vision?

    We were one of a handful of families who helped start the State Line church immediately south of Charlotte at the beginning of this year. It’s been an immensely rewarding but sometimes difficult experience. Easily the worst part has been the attitudes of some brethren who seem more threatened by a new church (or, at best, apathetic) than desirous of seeing the cause of Christ advanced. Oh, well. As your article shows, some things never change.

    • I think you’re right on, Jeff. It’s amazing to me, given how much swarming was a part of who we were, how difficult or impossible it is now to even broach the subject.

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