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more about Elmer Towns

Elmer Towns has a bunch of the books he’s written on his website in PDF form, available for free download. Of the 76 items there, a handful are study guides, and he has Church Aflame available in two parts, leaving roughly 69 books. Of those, by my count 19 or 20, or about 28%, are devoted to various aspects of church growth: church growth techniques, Sunday School techniques, studies of fast-growing churches, historical revivals, etc. And it turns out I was wrong about him being outside the mainstream of the Church Growth Movement: his Practical Encyclopedia of Church Growth is replete with references to Donald McGavran, former missionary to India and founder of the movement. Oddly enough I didn’t find any references to management guru Peter Drucker; it’s entirely possible that I didn’t look in the right place, or it may be that Drucker’s influence in the movement has been overstated.

Regardless, Towns’s influence on Jerry Falwell, on Thomas Road, and on Liberty has been huge; he’s the head of the School of Religion (not the seminary; that’s another part of the organization chart), was one of the founders of the college, and was one of Jerry’s right-hand men for years. He was rumored (unconfirmed and probably false), along with Harold Willmington, to write Jerry’s sermons. During my time there in the Eighties, while Jerry Jr was in law school and Jonathan was still an undergraduate at Liberty, it was rumored (unconfirmed) that if Jerry had died suddenly the ministry would have passed into the hands of four people who would have acted as regents, more or less: Towns, Ed Dobson, singer Don Norman, and Harold Willmington. Of those four, Norman left in 1989 or so to return to singing gospel music with The Harvesters Quartet, and Dobson left in 1987 to follow M. R. DeHaan as pastor of Calvary Church in Grand Rapids, MI. Towns and Willmington are still at Liberty.

I hesitate to use a term like “first-rate mind” to describe Towns or Willmington because I’m not in a position to judge, really, but in every anecdote I ever heard about either one of them they came off as smart, quick, well-prepared, etc. I don’t know how Jerry found them but they were great finds and have made huge contributions to the ministry over a period of more than forty years.

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