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The Top 10 Most Influential Churches of 1990

In 1990, Elmer Towns released a very popular book, 10 of Today’s Most Innovative Churches. The ten churches featured in the book became models for future church leaders over the next several years. The selections were largely based on subjective criteria. Dr. Towns wanted to feature churches that were growing numerically and that represented a diversity of backgrounds and geographical locations.

But his primary interest was locating and understanding churches that had affected significant and cutting-edge change. These churches particularly were innovators that were well positioned to reach a huge demographic: the baby boomers.

Looking Back

It’s been over twenty years since the book was released. It’s a fun exercise to take a brief historical journey to see the most discussed churches in America two decades ago. I will share the list of churches with the pastor’s name and a quick description of why Dr. Towns considered these churches to be innovative.

The List in 1990

Three of the churches noted are in California and two are in Georgia; no other state has multiple representatives. Let’s take our historical excursion and see what was considered innovative in 1990.

1. Skyline Wesleyan Church, San Diego, CA. Pastor: John Maxwell.

Don’t Miss

The pastor has introduced many key leadership principles for growth to the church and has become a widely known expert on being a change agent.

2. Willow Creek Community Church, South Barrington, IL. Pastor: Bill Hybels.

The church has become a pioneer in the seeker-friendly approach to reaching people. The leaders coined the concept “Unchurched Harry.”

3. The Church on the Way, Van Nuys, CA. Pastor: Jack Hayford.

The pastor has led the church to focus on a reformation of worship. He wrote the hymn “Majesty,” which reflects his philosophy of worship.

4. New Hope Community Church, Portland, OR. Pastor: Dale Galloway.

The church was one of the first in America to be built on cell groups, which numbered over 500 in 1990.

5. Perimeter Church, Atlanta, GA. Pastor: Randy Pope.

Perimeter became a model for churches with multiple campuses and locations well before the concept was popularized.

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Thom S. Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources (LifeWay.com). Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and six grandchildren. He was founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism, and Church Growth at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His many books include Surprising Insights from the Unchurched, The Unexpected Journey, and Breakout Churches.