CPeter Wagner served as a missionary in Bolivia with the South American Mission and Andes Evangelical Mission (now SIM International) from 1956 to 1971.
He joined McGavran as Professor of Church Growth at the Fuller Theological Seminary's School of World Missions in 1971 and served for 30 years (1971 to 2001) until his retirement in 2001. He has been described as a theologian, missiologist, missionary, writer, teacher and founder of several organizations. In his earlier years Wagner became known as a key leader of the Church Growth Movement.
He authored 80 books. He was the founding president of Global Harvest Ministries from 1993 to 2011 and founder and chancellor emeritus of Wagner Leadership Institute (now Wagner University), which trains revivalists and reformers to bring about a global movement of transformation.
Wagner already had a high regard for Pentecostals, especially the Latin American Movement, adopted during his missionary service in South America and developed by his research at Fuller. He wrote his book ‘Look out the Pentecostals are Coming’ in 1974 extolling the virtues of South American Pentecostals and examining the causes of their meteoritic growth. Although a Congregationalist he began to respect and admire those with a different theology, particularly pneumatology, than his own conservative Evangelical viewpoint. Further research prompted him to write ‘Your Spiritual Gifts Can Help Your Church Grow’ in 1979. The title reveals how his understanding of spiritual gifts had shifted dramatically from his former cessationist position.
At the beginning of the decade of the ’80s, Wagner felt that God wanted him to concentrate on the relationship of supernatural signs and wonders to church growth during the decade. In less than two years he was amazed by what God had been doing regarding things he knew little about.
At this time third world students at Fuller who were attending the various courses on church growth developed by Dr. Donald A. McGavran, began saying “We appreciate the great help Fuller courses have been to us. But something else is happening in our countries that Western theologians and missiologists are ignoring. The result is enormous church growth of a first century type.”
Wagner was already convinced, so the intrigued McGavran visited Asia and Africa. He found the reports true. In many cases native evangelists prayed for the sick, they were healed and an astonishing number of conversions resulted.
Other professors contributed similar reports of signs and wonders resulting in massive church growth in other parts of the Third World they had visited.
An accumulating body of missiological research was indicating that, wherever the Gospel was spreading most rapidly it was doing so with signs and wonders following.
One thing that was surprising to Wagner was how open fellow evangelicals were to rethinking their position and opening themselves to new dimensions of God's power. Whenever he stated this, he found it necessary to avoid misunderstanding by making his position clear. He was not advocating that everyone became Pentecostals or charismatics. He was a card-carrying Congregationalist and felt no reason to change. His belief was that God desired to work through all His people in powerful ways, while leaving their denominational commitments intact.
When the faculty of the School of World Mission at Fuller met to consider the phenomena, they came up with the recommendation that an experimental course on the subject of signs, wonders and church growth be offered.
John Wimber, who had worked with Wagner at the Charles E. Fuller Institute of Evangelism and Church Growth for several years before, said to Wagner, “I’d like to prove whether or not what these Third World people are saying is viable in the U.S. Would you object if I started a Bible class in my home based on what the Bible says and then attempted to demonstrate it by doing what first century Christians did ... no theology—just Biblical study and application?"
Signs & Wonders Today 1982. CHRISTIAN LIFE MAGAZINE With the co-operation of C. Peter Wagner
Part 2. C. Peter Wagner