A Church Growth Study of the Zuni IndiansRalph Bruce Terry
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Chapter 1


Throughout the ages, God has revealed Himself to man in the movement of history. Even His supreme revelation, Jesus Christ, did not break into the world with a legion of angels at Rome, but was born in a stable in the obscure Judean village of Bethlehem. And His servants who have taught the Good News of Jesus and the kingdom of God through the years have come to realize that there was a greater force than themselves at work in spreading the gospel. For this reason many have begun to seek the strategy of God as He brings the world into reconciliation with Himself and to search for their role in this strategy. In order to help discover God's strategy for any one particular area, a new discipline has arisen in the field of sociology: the study of church growth.

The results of God's activity among the Zunis of New Mexico are not easily discerned. The Catholic friars who came with the Spanish conquerors soon came to believe that the Zunis were the most unreceptive tribe of New Mexico. Their mission there was deserted for almost a hundred years from 1821 to 1921. Today, in spite of over 240 years of work by the Catholics and over 70 years by the Christian Reformed Church, along with several new works by other churches during the past decade, the tribe as a whole still remains pagan.


Purpose of the study. This thesis is a study of the culture of the Zuni Indians and the missionary methods and the growth experienced by the missions through the years. It presents an attempt to ascertain why, sociologically speaking, certain ups and downs in the Christian community have occurred. Using the disciplines of cultural anthropology, missiology, and theology, an evaluation of the past work has been made and suggestions for an effective missionary policy for the Churches of Christ in the light of God's past and anticipated action have been included.

Limitations of the study. Although a survey study of the culture is included in order to present the setting, this thesis should not be understood to be an attempt at an in-depth cultural study. Also, this thesis is not primarily an evaluation of the different theories of missionary methods in order to determine which is best. The basis on which the missionary methods employed at Zuni were evaluated has been limited to the experiences and conclusions of other researchers in missiology. It should be noted, too, that this work is basically a sociological rather than a theological study. While some attention has been given to the message and, more especially, to the cultural framework of the message, the main thrust of the study involves principles of cross-cultural communication.

Definitions and Assumptions. Unless otherwise qualified the term "Zuni" in this thesis refers to the cultural entity that is located in the main at Zuni Pueblo, but which to a certain extent includes all of the Zuni Reservation. Although most earlier writings included a tilde over the "n" in "Zuni," the Zunis do not use a palatalized "n" indicated by the Spanish orthography in pronouncing the common name for their village, and thus this paper follows the practice of later researchers and government records in omitting the tilde.

The word "Church" has been capitalized when it refers to a particular denomination or fellowship, and left in small letters when it refers to the church universal, an individual congregation, or an adjectival use of the word. The term "Christian" in this thesis refers to anyone who professes to believe in Christ or to their baptized children. "Christo- pagan" refers to those Christians who also worship other gods.

This thesis has assumed that for a church to be strong it must be growing not only spiritually but numerically as well and that for a church to achieve maximum numerical growth its outreach requires the use of sound sociological principles. This is assuming, of course, that God often works through sociological phenomena; otherwise, the previous assumption would be valueless.

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