Chapter 11 - In Every Church Planting Movement

Chapter 11 from David Garrison, Church Planting Movements (WIG Take Resources, 2003).

NOW THAT WE'VE completed our survey of Church Planting Movements, it's time to step back and see what we can learn. This is what we began in August 1998 as a handful of missionaries gathered around a conference room table in Virginia. The question we addressed was: "How is God at work in these Church Planting Movements, and how can we join him?"

Equipped with three whiteboards, a flipchart and an army of colored markers we scribbled on the boards while we discussed, analyzed, and debated the nature of what we saw God doing. Gradually, the patterns began to emerge.

After several hours we compiled our findings under three headings:

  1. Elements in Every Church Planting Movement - ten universal elements at work in every Church Planting Movement.
  2. Elements in Most Church Planting Movements - ten qualities and characteristics present in most, though not all, Church Planting Movements.
  3. Obstacles to Church Planting Movement - barriers that, once removed, allowed Church Planting Movements to develop.

Since those initial studies in 1998, we've seen new Church Planting Movements spring-up around the world, but these original lists of ingredients and obstacles still stand as faithful guides to understanding and participating in Church Planting Movements. Some of the findings seemed obvious at first, but there were also surprises.

Some characteristics we expected to find were strangely absent. While others, though present, were different in the ways they had contributed to their respective movements. These were often counter intuitive, and for that reason, their study and application are invaluable to anyone wishing to align themselves with the ways God is at work. Let's look now at the ten uni­versal elements we found in every Church Planting Movement.

In Every Church Planting Movement

  1. Extraordinary Prayer
  2. Abundant Evangelism
  3. Intentional Planting of Reproducing Churches
  4. The Authority of God's Word
  5. Local Leadership
  6. Lay Leadership
  7. House Churches
  8. Churches Planting Churches
  9. Rapid Reproduction
  10. Healthy Churches

1. Extraordinary Prayer

Prayer permeates Church Planting Movements. Whether it's Koreans rising at four in the morning for a two-hour prayer time, or Spanish Gypsies "going to the mountain," as they call their all night prayer vigils. Church Planting Movements are steeped in prayer.

Consequently, prayer has become the first priority of every Church Planting Movement strategist. As soon as a Strategy Coordinator senses the gravity of his calling he immediately falls to his knees and prays, "Oh God, only You can make this happen."

We've identified seven distinct roles that prayer plays in the life of a Church Planting Movement. In Church Planting Movements prayer occupies both intuitive and counter-intuitive roles.

Intuitive Roles of Prayer

#1 Prayer for the missionaries. Missionaries to the world's unreached people groups are invading hostile territory. Many of these unreached peoples have spent centuries, even millennia, under the dominion of "the god of this world"134 and he does not surrender them lightly. Missionaries engaged in Church Planting Movements have come under severe attack on a spiritual level. Their health, their family mem­bers, their vocation are all subject to attack by Satan. Praying for them is the best defense they have.

#2 Prayer for the lost people group. One of our missionary leaders serving in Africa commented on a major goal he'd achieved that was yielding great results. "For years," he said, "our missionaries have had churches praying for them. Now, they are shifting the focus of prayer onto the lost people they are trying to reach."

This shift has been pronounced across the evangelical world. For years, it has been commonplace for Christians to tag onto their prayers: "and God bless the missionaries." While Christians continue to pray for missionaries, they are increasingly pouring out their hearts for the Kurds, Mongols, Uighurs, or Uzbeks. People groups who have never been prayed for in all of history are now being lifted up before the throne of God.

I'm sometimes asked by faithful prayer warriors, "Do my prayers make a difference?" I love to tell them of people like Ibrahim. Ibrahim was a young convert from Islam that I met deep in Inner Asia in 1990. He was the first of his people group to come to faith in Christ. I remember how his face glowed with the radiance of the Holy Spirit in his life. I asked one of the church planters working in the area how they had led Ibrahim to Christ.

"We didn't," they said. "He came to faith through prayers."

"I don't understand," I said.

The church planter explained, "Ibrahim is a student at the university where I teach. He is the son of a mullah (Muslim religious leader). We normally stay away from people like him. But one day Ibrahim came to me and told me of a dream he'd had. In his dream an old man handed him a book and said, 'Read this.' Ibrahim asked me if I knew what the book in his dreams might be. Apparently he'd been asking his friends the same question because the dream had haunted him for weeks. His friends had always pointed him to the Qur'an, but Ibrahim said, 'No. It's not the Qur'an.'"

The church planter hesitated and then spoke softly, "In my drawer I had a tattered copy of the New Testament. It was written in the old script that most of Ibrahim's people could no longer understand so I had never used it in witnessing to them. I hesitated, but then sensed God wanted me to take a risk with this mullah's son. I showed it to Ibrahim. 'Could this be the book?'

Ibrahim opened the book and said, "Ah, I see it is in the old script. My father taught me how to read this. Do you mind if I borrow it?"

Over the next few weeks Ibrahim read all of it and led himself to faith in Christ."

We both knew that the true source of Ibrahim's conversion could only be found in the many saints who had prayed for so long for Ibrahim's people.

Counter-Intuitive Roles of Prayer

#3 Prayer modeled by the missionaries and church planters.

We often underestimate the way our actions overshadow our words. Only when prayer comes to characterize the life of the missionaries and church planters, does it spread to their team members and to those they are trying to reach. If prayer doesn't characterize the missionary's life then the new believer will not grasp the true source of the missionary's life-changing power. He will either view the missionary as an extraordinary person whom he could never imitate, or worse, a secular person whom he would not wish to imitate.

#4 Prayer for the new believers. In the course of Church Planting Movements no one suffers as much as the first converts into the movement. Missionary newsletters are filled with pleas for churches to pray for Amal who has been imprisoned or Mohammed whose family threatened to kill him. New Church Planting Movements often pass through a crucible of testing in which the first believers are harassed and even killed. If the church survives this initial testing then a Church Planting Movement is not far behind. If Satan can crush the first fruits, then the Church Planting Movement will die.

#5 Prayer by the new believers. In every Church Planting Movement powerful prayer flows through the lives of the believers and their churches, as God's mighty activity flows through their lives. Vices are broken, diseases are healed, opposition is crushed, and lives are changed. Often the prayer was accompanied by a strong sense that God has his hand on this people. It is their time—their appointed day of salvation. This creates a powerful force within a people. They witness with boldness, sensing that God is on their side. They don't flinch under persecution, confident that God is with them.

Finally, we discovered that there were some collateral benefits that emerge from prayer in a Church Planting Move­ment, benefits we had not anticipated finding, but they have emerged as key factors in the success of many Strategy Coordinators' work.

#6 Prayer between partners. Strategy Coordinators in Church Planting Movements invariably have wide networks of partners who come from all over the world. How do they develop such close bonds so quickly that overcome enormous barriers of language, culture, and even theology? The secret is prayer. Strategy Coordinators pray for partners and pray with partners. The call to prayer for an unreached people group is the magnet that first draws these diverse partners together, and the glue that binds them over the years.

#7 Prayer for more workers. Jesus commanded us to "Pray to the Lord of the harvest to call out workers."135 Prayer mobilizes harvesters to come to join the work. More importantly, though, prayer summons new workers to emerge from within the harvest. At the same time, it creates a sense of expectancy on the part of the missionaries and church planters to be watchful, always looking for the new harvesters, the co-laborers that God is raising up. These new co-laborers will take up the mantle of leadership within the movement and propel it to the next level.

We pray because our vision exceeds our abilities. Prayer is the soul's deepest cry of rebellion against the way things are, seeing the lost of this world and crying out, "This does not glorify God, and so, by God's grace, it must change!" Prayer comes from God and ascends back to God on behalf of those who do not know God. Extraordinary prayer lays a firm foundation for a Church Planting Movement.

2. Abundant Evangelism

If prayer links a Church Planting Movement to God, then evangelism is its connection with the people. Essential to every movement is the principle of over-sowing. Just as nature requires a tree to drop thousands of seeds to produce a single sapling, or a human body to generate hundreds of eggs to yield a single baby, so it is with evangelism. In Church Planting Movements we find hundreds and thousands of people hearing the gospel every day and out of this abundant sowing, a growing harvest begins to take place.

Conventional wisdom in the West has often taught a reasonable yet much less effective pattern of gospel transmis­sion. "You must first earn the right to share your faith," goes the traditional model. "Once you have developed a friendship and demonstrated that you are really different, your lost friend will ask you what is special about your life. Then, you can tell them about Jesus."

A passionate purveyor of Church Planting Movements de­nounced this Western model. "We teach that it's not about you or earning the right to share your faith. Jesus earned that right when He died on the cross for us. Then he commanded us to tell others!"

If nature's principle of sowing abundantly to reap abundantly is true, then so is its opposite: if you sow sparingly, you will reap sparingly. Wherever hostile governments or societal pressure has succeeded in stifling Christian witness. Church Planting Movements never get off the ground. This simple truth is so powerful, and yet many well-intentioned missionaries accom­plish every lofty ideal except this one.

A colleague working in a Middle Eastern country expressed his frustration over the lack of seed sowing in his country. "In my country," he said, "everyone says, 'We're not reaping a harvest yet, but we're removing stones from the field.' The truth is they haven't even begun sowing the seeds yet. If you ask, they will tell you, 'We're still clearing the fields so we can plant the gospel. We're picking up stones, picking up stones, picking up stones.'

"I'M SICK TO DEATH OF PICKING UP STONES!" he exclaimed, "If God wants to, he can turn these stones into sons of Abraham! So let's stop picking up stones and start telling people about Jesus!"

To remind them of the importance of abundant gospel sowing, many Strategy Coordinators have prominently displayed a one-page sign at their workstation that reads: How many of my people will hear the gospel today? If there's going to be a movement, then the answer must be in the thousands.

In Church Planting Movements there is a buzz in the air about Jesus, about salvation, repentance, turning to God, and new life in Christ. A Strategy Coordinator working in an emerging Central Asian movement exclaimed, "This is the most responsive place I've ever been. The state-run newspaper last year reported that 5,000 adult Muslims in the capital city had become Christian. So the Legislature made it illegal to evangelize any­one, but they left a loophole that you can respond to questions about Christianity."

"And how has this affected the spread of the gospel?"

"It hasn't slowed it a bit," he laughed. "I'm telling you. A person will sneeze. Someone will say, 'God bless you' and a third person will say, 'How can I be saved?'"

The Strategy Coordinator may have been exaggerating, but not by much.

In Church Planting Movements personal evangelism and mass evangelism reinforce and contribute to one another. Mass evangelism always contains feedback loops to ensure that no one who comes to faith in Christ drifts away without discipleship, while personal evangelism ends by encouraging the new believer to share his faith with his family and friends.

Quantity and Quality

If quantity of gospel proclamation is of paramount impor­tance, quality of communication can't be far behind. In its simplest form, evangelism means gospel proclamation, telling the Good News about the gift of new life in Jesus Christ. If it were this simple, though, we could simply translate John 3:16 into every language of the world and drop it from airplanes.

Too often missionaries get sidetracked from a gospel move­ment by questions of whether or not a people group is responsive to the Good News. Questions of responsiveness are often related, not to the news, but to the messenger.

True evangelism goes beyond proclamation to communi­cation. Communication means someone has to hear and under­stand what is proclaimed. Often times, the subtle shift from proclamation to real communication triggers a response that was previously absent. Effective communication requires understand­ing the language and worldview of the people you are trying to reach.

Jesus said, "If I be lifted up, I will draw all men unto me."136 The challenge is to lift Jesus up in a way that is not obscured by cultural barriers that would prevent all peoples coming to faith in him.

Uncovering the worldview of people groups can help to remove these barriers. Communicating the gospel requires us to get inside the mind of those we're trying to reach and that is impossible without .learning the language and culture of the people.

One of many illustrations from the field that highlights the importance of a people group specific worldview study comes from Kenya. Two people groups in northern Kenya shared the same language and origins. They appeared identical to outside observers, except that one group inhabited the lowlands while the other resided in the adjacent mountains.

For years, missionaries had used the same approach to both groups with mixed results. The lowlanders had responded well to the gospel, resulting in many churches. The mountain tribe remained unresponsive. The missionaries had hoped that the lowlanders would take the gospel into the mountains to reach their resistant cousins.

Despite years of effort, the mountain tribe showed little interest in the gospel. Then the missionaries began researching the worldview of the tribes. They discovered the reason for the mountain tribe's lack of response. They found that in previous centuries the lowland tribes had been slave traders, often conduc­ting slaving raids into the mountains to prey on their unwitting cousins. This history of victimization had left an indelible impression on the worldview of the mountain tribes. They could not receive Good News from their lowland neighbors.

Once the missionaries discovered this historical barrier, they were able to overcome it by using other messengers to take the gospel to the mountain tribes.

The quest for effective communication of the gospel has led to great advances in what has been called contextualization, i.e. presenting the timeless gospel message in the worldview and cultural forms of the people being reached.

Church Planting Movement practitioners, typically achieve this same end through indigenization - transferring responsibility for gospel communication to those who naturally present it through their own worldview perspective. Though missionaries often begin the evangelization of a people group, in Church Planting Movements, the primary evangelizers are always the new believers themselves, and they contextualized the gospel better than anyone.

3. Intentional Planting of Reproducing Churches

Intuitively, one might assume that the potent combination of extraordinary prayer and abundant evangelism would naturally result in spontaneously multiplying churches. Many missionaries and church planters have held this view, and so were surprised and disappointed when multiplying new churches did not follow. What we found instead was that Church Planting Movements did not emerge without a deliberate commitment to plant reprodu­cing churches.

A wise person said "you will probably accomplish exactly what you set out to accomplish, nothing more, nothing less." If you aim to do a Bible translation, you will probably produce a Bible translation. If you aim to do ministry, you will likely succeed. But you cannot assume that a Bible translation or Christian ministry alone will result in a church plant. If you want to see churches planted, then you must set out to plant churches. The same axiom can be taken a step further to say, "If you want to see reproducing churches planted, then you must set out to plant reproducing churches."

In the Bhojpuri Church Planting Movement, for example, missionaries had been at work in the area for many years. They were evangelistic, pious models of Christian love and service, but they lacked a clear strategy for planting churches. A turning point occurred when the Strategy Coordinator developed an intensive church planter training school. Out of this practical training, Bhojpuri Christians began starting churches. Today, it seems that everyone working among the Bhojpuri is starting new churches.

Both missionaries and local believers are increasingly realizing the importance of intentional church planting. A number of mission agencies that were not previously known for church planting have begun actively pursuing training in this area. Among the Bhojpuri people, Youth With A Mission (YWAM) leads one of the largest denominations of churches. Not previously known for planting churches, today many YWAM missionaries have become ardent students of church planting and are producing new church starts around the world.

4. The Authority of God's Word

As Church Planting Movements produce multiple repro­ducing churches, what keeps the movement from fragmenting into a thousand heresies like a crack splintering across a car windshield? There can be only one answer: the authority of God's word. Like an invisible spinal cord aligning and supporting the movement, there runs through each Church Planting Movement a commitment to the authority of the Bible.

Even among the largely nonliterate peoples, for whom Scripture reading is rare, converts rely heavily on audiocassettes of the Bible clinging to every word. They have also learned to approach every faith and life situation with the question, "How can I best glorify Christ in this situation?" In following this principle they never venture far from biblical authority.

These two governing forces of biblical authority and Christ's lordship reinforce one another like parallel railroad tracks guiding the movement as it rolls far beyond the direct control of the missionary or initial church planters. Since this internal guide is independent of the missionary, it does not require the missionary's presence to advance. Even without the missionary the movement doesn't become disoriented, because its orienta­tion does not derive from an external source, but rather from the solid framework of God's authoritative word and the lordship of Jesus Christ.

This does not mean that the missionary has no role in the discipleship of new believers or training of the church leaders. He doesn't simply wind-up a Church Planting Movement like a toy and watch it go. Discipleship and leadership training are going on all the time. But even the missionary's teaching and training are evaluated by the same two criteria: is it consistent with God's word and the lordship of Jesus Christ? Any teaching that deviates from the twin tracks of Scripture and lordship are rejected whether they come from a heretical teacher or from the missionary Strategy Coordinator himself.

Consequently, missionaries and church planters engaged in Church Planting Movements leam very quickly to deflect questions of doctrine from themselves and onto these guiding tracks. When asked by a new believer or new church leader, "What should we do in this situation?" rather than answer from his own pool of wisdom or training, the CPM-sawy church planter replies, "Let's see what God's word says."

Those who have successfully navigated a Church Planting Movement are unanimous in their conviction that "it must be God's word that is authoritative for the new believers and the emerging church not the wisdom of the missionary nor some foreign creed nor even the local church authorities." By continually pointing back to the source of one's own authority, the church planter is modeling the proper pattern for the new believers who will soon become the new conveyers of the movement.

Nonliterate Peoples

So many of the world's remaining unreached peoples are non­literate that missionaries involved in Church Planting Move­ments have struggled to overcome the challenge of illiteracy. How do evangelicals, who are fundamentally a "people of the book," multiply among people who cannot read and write? Illiteracy doesn't diminish the importance of the Bible as a source of authority; it simply poses new challenges for its transmission.

There are at least five patterns we've observed for transmit­ting biblical teaching to nonliterate peoples in the world today.

1) Memorization - though a lost art in the West, memorization of Scripture is still quite common in the non-Western world. This is particularly true among Muslims who have a long history of memorizing the entire Qur'an. In one South Asian Muslim country, where a shortage of Bibles coupled with widespread illiteracy threatened the advance of a Church Planting Movement, new converts found an ingenious solution—they ripped their Bibles into pieces! One believer was handed the Gospel of Matthew and told, "Here, you memorize this." Another was given the Gospel of Mark, and so on. Then, as the church convened, these "living Bibles" were called upon to faithfully recite the words of Scripture.

2) Audio-visual - Missionaries have been quick to adapt the Bible into nonliterate formats such as audio Bibles and the Jesus Film which have provided Scripture to many who are unable to read it.

3) Bible Storying - Recognizing that many people groups are essentially "oral cultures" who communicate great truths through story telling, missionaries and church planters have taken the key stories of the Bible and translated them into oral short stories that they then recite to their nonliterate hearers. These Bible stories have been used for evangelism, discipleship and leadership development. In Church Planting Movements, Bible storytellers are not satisfied until those hearing the stories are able to repeat them back accurately and so multiply the great truths of Scripture throughout their community.137

4) Songs - A typical example comes from an African oral culture where the missionary had spent several weeks translating the gospel message into heart language stories for the people she was trying to reach. While she related the stories, a member of the group was listening intently and translating her message once again—he was putting it into song. "Our people don't just tell the story," he explained, "we sing our stories. It is too much for me to ask you to provide songs for us, but now that you have given us God's word, we will sing it to our children and grandchildren."

5) Using Educated Youth - The challenge of illiteracy in an increasingly literate world is not limited to those propagating the gospel. National governments face the same challenge when they want to communicate some important information regarding taxes or a new law or voting guidelines to a village that is illiterate. We asked a rural evangelist how this problem is surmounted locally. "They ask one of the children from the family to read the letter or message for them," he replied. The same is obviously true for reading God's word. Despite widespread illiteracy, there are usually some children who are attending school and learning to read and write. In the same way it is not uncommon for village elders to call on a schoolboy or girl to read from the God Book. Afterwards the elder is able to interpret and apply what he has heard to the benefit of the entire community.

In trying to reach nonliterate peoples. Church Planting Movement practitioners find encouragement in the New Testament record of rapid church multiplication. The vast majority of the New Testament world was nonliterate, but still the Good News advanced.

Sometimes the question arises, "Why produce a Bible translation for this people group if the people are nonliterate?" A translation is important even if the people group cannot read or write. In the first place, more cultures today had their language reduced to writing for the first time by a Bible translator than by any other means. Out of these initial Bible translations have sprung entire literary traditions that have knitted a people together in a radically changing world.

More importantly, Bible translation into the heart language provides a resource pool for evangelism, discipleship, and leadership development. From a heart language translation of the New Testament a missionary can produce radio broadcasts of the gospel story, cassette testimonies with Scriptural promises, and even a videotape of the Jesus Film so that people can hear and respond to Jesus' story in their own heart language.

5. Local Leadership

Missionaries who successfully launch Church Planting Movements have learned to keep foreigners out of the spotlight. The principle has now been translated into an important watch­word that accompanies Strategy Coordinators everywhere: "The resources are in the harvest." This axiom is a continual reminder to look for local leaders to get the job done. And it provides an important corrective for foreign missionaries whose strategies call for heavy reliance upon foreign teammates.

The most effective teams in Church Planting Movements have relatively few foreigners, but have large networks of local partners. Foreign missionaries understand that their role is to pass on their vision, passion, and skills to the local brothers and sisters with whom they serve.

So in Church Planting Movements, practitioners quickly develop local leaders and entrust to them the future of the movement. The earliest Strategy Coordinators who learned this lesson did so as much out of necessity as out of missiological reasoning. When faced with the overwhelming challenge of reaching millions of lost people, they had no choice but to raise up co-laborers from within the people they were seeking to reach.

The 222 Principle described in the Cambodia Church Planting Movement case study (chapter 5) has also become widespread. CPM practitioners have learned, never do anything by yourself; always bring a brother along with you so you can model and mentor as you go. In every instance the aim is to transfer the driving force of the vision into the hearts and lives of those being reached.

Passing the Torch

Relying on local leaders can be difficult for missionaries. Even today, some missionaries insist on pastoring the new churches they help to plant. Similarly, some missionaries still insist on mother churches sending an ordained pastor on an itinerant route to provide struggling new churches with rites of baptism and the Lord's Supper. This pattern of external dependency has never produced a Church Planting Movement.

Those who are reluctant to transfer this kind of authority quickly point to Paul's instructions in 1 Timothy 3:6 where Paul advises young Timothy that a bishop "must not be a recent convert..." However, Timothy's church was already well estab­lished enough to reference several generations of believers (see 2 Timothy 2:2). In such an environment it was natural for Paul to delegate church oversight to those who had been closest to the original message delivered by the apostles, but nowhere does Paul place church authority in the hands of outsiders.

When a new church is started, Paul does not hesitate to appoint local leaders right away. In Acts 14:23, immediately after winning converts in Lystra, Iconium, and Asia Minor's Antioch "Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust." Likewise, he urges Titus to appoint elders, local men with families whom everyone knew, for every town of Crete.138

Meeting with the Church Planting Movement taskforce we posed the question, "When do you pass the torch to new leaders?"

Their unanimous response was, "In a Church Planting Movement you begin with the torch in their hand." The nods of approval around the room testified to the shared experience. Of course this is only possible when the churches are rooted in obedience to God's word and a lifelong commitment to disciple-ship.

Appointing local leaders rather than relying on the leadership of outsiders does several important things:

1) It makes a statement that we are all equally sinners; all equally saved by grace; all equally capable of being used by God.

2) It reinforces the truth that Christianity is not a Western religion, but an expression of Christ's body given to all believers.

3) It avoids setting standards of leadership that are unattainable. Most missionary church planters have far more experience and Bible training than the first generation of new believers will ever hope to achieve. But we shouldn't forget that it took many generations for Westerners to develop the kinds of training opportunities that we now enjoy. New believers need not think they have to reach the same level of education in order to lead God's people.

An African church leader said it well. "We think of you missionaries with great appreciation and affection. Like the person who first taught us to drive a car, we are grateful for what you have taught us. But we would not want our driving instructor sitting beside us every time we get behind the wheel!"

6. Lay Leadership

In Church Planting Movements the laity are clearly in the driver's seat. Unpaid, non-professional common men and women are leading the churches. Why is lay leadership important? There are several reasons:

1) For Practical Reasons - A movement that produces thousands of new churches needs thousands of new leaders and the largest source for finding these leaders is the local church membership itself. To produce these leaders, one must fish from the largest pool of candidates.

2) For Theological Reasons - Lay leadership is firmly grounded in the doctrine of the priesthood of the believer— the most egalitarian doctrine ever set forth. After centuries of reliance on a small tribe of Levitical priests, God turned to the church and said, "You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood..."139

It is not that Christianity has no special status for religious leaders; it is that now every Christian has this special status as a priest of the Lord God. Every believer is fully endowed with the right and responsibility to lead the lost to salvation and maturity in Christ.

3) Following Jesus' Model - Jesus' own pattern of calling laymen and women to come and follow him has not been wasted on Church Planting Movement practitioners. It is a great comfort to bolster a new believer's willingness to be a servant leader of the church by pointing him to the example of the Twelve and those who followed them.

4) For the Purpose of Retention - Around the world, the gospel's invitation to salvation has proven to be far more winsome than its call to a life of discipleship within the church. Within weeks of becoming a new Christian, far too many believers drift out the back door never to be seen again. Putting laymen and women to work within the church has proven to be the single most effective means of "closing the back door" to church membership and ensuring a lifetime of intimate involvement within the body of Christ.

5) For Reasons of Relevance - In traditional church structures, a clergyman is set apart from the congregation both in terms of education and livelihood. In the Catholic Church this is further compounded by vows of celibacy. In Church Planting Movements, the pastors remain one of the people sharing their lifestyles and struggles. This means, if the people are predominantly farmers the leaders will be farmers. If the people are urban, the leadership will be urban. If the people are nonliterate then the leaders will also be nonliterate. If the people are deaf, then the leadership will also be deaf.

6) For Economic Reasons - So many Church Planting Move­ments have occurred in developing countries where financial resources are minimal. By using multiple lay leaders and meeting in homes, these limited financial resources are directed toward missions and ministry, rather than to church-staff salaries and facilities.

Lay leadership doesn't exclude professional ministers. There may be an ordained, seminary trained, professional clergyman or Strategy Coordinator involved at key points in the movement— as in the case with many of the sprawling home cell church networks—but on the cutting edge of its growth it is the laity who are leading the way.

For Church Planting Movements to be able to effectively rely upon lay leadership, two important factors must be present:

First, churches must remain small enough to be manageable by either one or several lay leaders. It is when churches exceed 20-30 members and begin using a separate church building that the task becomes too big for a layperson to lead without leaving their secular employment.

Second, church leaders must be lifelong learners. In Church Planting Movements, lay leaders typically have an insatiable hunger for training. Church Planting Movement practitioners have learned to continually feed and nurture leaders and potential leaders with on-the-job training and just-in-time training (which we'll discuss in greater depth later). Mentoring programs, rural leadership training programs, pastoral training schools, Internet and cassette training materials, pastor study Bibles and workshops all contribute to leadership development.

7. House Churches

The churches in Church Planting Movements begin as small fellowships of believers meeting in natural settings such as homes or their equivalent. Among the Maasai, the meetings take place under trees, among the Kui, in open courtyards. The key element in each of these Church Planting Movements was a beginning with an intimate community of believers who were not immediately saddled with the expense or upkeep of a church building.

Meeting in small groups140 certainly has economic impli­cations. Liberating the fledgling movement from the burden of financing a building and professional clergy is no small obstacle to overcome. But there is more. House churches create an atmos­phere that fosters Church Planting Movement formation. Consider the following benefits.

  1. Leadership responsibilities remain small and manage­able.
  2. If heresies do occur they are confined by the small size of the house church. Like a leak that appears in the hull of a great ship, the heresy can be sealed off in a single compartment without endangering the whole.
  3. You can't hide in a small group, so accountability is amplified.
  4. Member care is easier, because everyone knows every­one.
  5. Because house church structure is simple, it is easier to reproduce.
  6. Small groups tend to be much more efficient at evangel­ism and assimilation of new believers.
  7. Meeting in homes positions the church closer to the lost.
  8. House churches blend into the community rendering them less visible to persecutors.
  9. Basing in the home keeps the church's attention on daily life issues.
  10. The very nature of rapidly multiplying house churches promotes the rapid development of new church leaders.

It is important to understand the role of small house and cell churches in the life of a Church Planting Movement. It's now easy to see why missionaries who want to start a Church Planting Movement without house or cell churches will find it so difficult.

8. Churches Planting Churches

Church Planting Movements are not in full flower until the churches begin spontaneously reproducing themselves. Traveling among the Khmer of Cambodia, each house church bore testi­mony to additional churches they had started in the previous year. Among the Bhojpuri, the average church had four new church starts underway. Many Chinese house church leaders taught their flock that the greatest joy was to train someone to start a church in their home.

In most of the Church Planting Movements we've studied there were already a few churches present among the people group before the first missionary arrived. For some reason, though, these churches had stagnated and ceased to reproduce. The missionary, often a Strategy Coordinator, brought a new vision, passion, and training for planting churches.

As the movement gained momentum, the missionary fades into the background and the churches themselves begin reprodu­cing new churches. Only when the movement reaches this expo­nential stage of reproduction does it realize its full potential.

Church Planting Movement practitioners report looking for the fourth generation of church reproduction as a sign that the movement is proceeding under its own momentum. One of them explained, "When I see a church that I helped start reproduce a daughter church which itself reproduces a new church that produces yet another church, I know I've done my job. So long as this pattern of reproduction continues, I can move on to other less-reached population centers and know that this one will continue without me."

In Church Planting Movements, missionaries consciously progress along a four-stage process of Modeling, Assisting, Watching, and Leaving. First, they model the kind of patterns in evangelism, discipleship, and church planting that they want the new believers to imitate. Then, they assist the new believers in following this model. Next, they watch to see that their proteges are able to effectively reproduce what they have learned and experienced. When they see their students carrying out the same reproducing patterns, they know it is time to leave.

"Leaving can be difficult for missionaries, but it is absolutely essential," one missionary explained. "Otherwise the church will keep looking to the missionary rather than to the Lord and their own leaders, for future direction. Departure guarantees the indigenous viability of the church."

Departure does not mean the missionary retires. Instead, he or she is now free to go to another, less reached sector of the people group to begin the process all over again.

9. Rapid Reproduction

Church Planting Movements reproduce churches rapidly. Of course, the word "rapid" is undefined. But missionary church planters often speak of church planting in birthing terms, asking, "How long does it take to birth a new church?" This gestation period varies around the world, just as it does within the animal kingdom. Elephants typically require 22 months to produce an offspring, while rabbits can yield a new litter every three months.

Church Planting Movements reproduce like rabbits! While a healthy gestation rate in a controlled environment might produce a new church every three to four years, a Church Planting Movement might see a new church start every three to four months. Furthermore, because the new churches radiate out from each church rather than from the missionary church, planter, the reproduction multiplies exponentially.

For this kind of multiplication, rapid reproduction must be built into the core values of each church being planted. Among the Kekchi people (in chapter 8) if a church didn't reproduce itself after six months it was considered an unhealthy church. Many of the sprawling cell church networks will not allow a home cell church to continue if it is unable to grow and multiply after a year of existence.

The rapid reproduction paradigm stands in sharp contrast to the more traditional view that a church must first grow large enough and mature enough to be able to afford to sacrifice some of its membership to begin a new work. In Church Planting Movements maturing in Christ is a never-ending process that is enhanced, rather than jeopardized, by starting new churches. In Church Planting Movements, both leadership development and every-member discipleship are built into the ongoing structures of church life—along with a passion for starting new churches.

When discipleship and leadership development are contained in the DNA of the first churches, they will naturally transfer that DNA to their offspring. The opposite is also true. When you teach your first churches to labor for many years under a missionary pastor while waiting to receive their own seminary trained leader; then require the church to purchase their own property and building; fill it with enough tithing members to support all of the above, you can't expect them to generate rapidly reproducing daughter churches. Rapid reproduction starts with the DNA of the first church.

In a Church Planting Movement the body of Christ reclaims the sense of urgency that characterized the Gospels and the New Testament churches. Rapid reproduction indicates that several healthy dynamics are present in the movement:

  1. The movement has gone beyond the control of the missionary or any other outsider.
  2. The movement has its own internal momentum.
  3. The new Christians passionately believe their message to be so important it must be spread rapidly.
  4. The fields are confirmed to be ripe unto harvest.
  5. All the elements that are foreign to the church—and not easily reproduced—have been eliminated.

Missionaries experienced in Church Planting Movements would never admit to sacrificing orthodoxy for the sake of rapid reproduction. Instead, they have learned to build the theological controls into the DNA of each church rather than trying to continually reinforce them from the outside.

10. Healthy Churches

What kind of churches do you find in Church Planting Movements? This is the question many outsiders want to know. In addressing this question, the panel of Church Planting Move­ment practitioners used several words to describe the nature of the churches in the movements they had known. We can group these qualities under the term "healthy churches."

One Strategy Coordinator put it this way, "I'll put these churches up against any churches in the West and see how they stack up. They are more vibrant; more committed to God's word; more name it."

One can forgive this missionary's pride in the churches' character. It comes from an acute awareness not only of their heroic courage in the face of tremendous persecution, but also from a sad awareness of how anemic Western Christianity has become.

What are the marks of a healthy church? Well, you don't measure it by the number of Sunday Schools, the size of its congregation or the credentials of its church staff.

In The Purpose-Driven Church, Rick Warren reminded the church of a more biblical standard for measuring church health. Drawing on Christ's Great Commandment and Great Commis­sion, Warren points to five purposes in a healthy church: 141

  1. Fellowship
  2. Discipleship
  3. Ministry
  4. Evangelism/Missions
  5. Worship

Healthy churches exhibit all five purposes naturally, because these purposes flow from the church's identity with the living Christ. Jesus endowed the church with these purposes when he issued the Great Commandment to "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul strength and mind; and love your neighbor as yourself"142 and the Great Commission to "Go and make disciples of all nations baptizing them... and teaching them to observe whatsoever things I have commanded you."143

When polled, the missionaries who had witnessed Church Planting Movements were unanimous in their opinion that the churches in these movements exhibited each of the five purposes. "They're all there," was their response, "but some of the purposes look different than they do in the West."

This difference was particularly pronounced in the area of ministry. One Strategy Coordinator explained, "Their type of ministry is closer to what you find in the New Testament. They heal the sick, cast out demons, and share from their poverty with others in need." Sounds pretty healthy.

Of course the ultimate test of a healthy church is: "Does it glorify God?" Do these churches reveal and exhibit God's nature as revealed in Jesus Christ?

With this definition of health, each of the Church Planting Movements we've studied scored very well. This was the same sort of question that the imprisoned John the Baptist sent his disciples to ask of Jesus. "Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?"

The Lord's response to John's disciples still teaches us today. He said, "Go back and report to John what you hear and see." 144

Jesus was saying, "If my words and deeds don't reveal to you the full glory of God, then you should look for someone else."

In the same manner, we should ask, "Is God's glory, his true nature as revealed in the person of Christ, evident in these move­ments?" The answer is seen in the millions of changed lives, healed bodies and souls, passion for holiness, intolerance of sin, submission to God's word, and vision to reach a lost world.

There is much more that we can learn about Church Planting Movements from our observations of case studies, but before we do, let's return to the Bible and see what it has to say about Church Planting Movements.


  1. 2 Corinthians 4:4
  2. Matthew 9:38
  3. John 12:32
  4. For more on Chronological Bible Storying visit the resourceful website:
  5. Titus 1:5-6
  6. 1 Peter 2:9
  7. We'll explore the differences between house and cell churches in chapter 13 Frequently Asked Questions.
  8. Rick Warren, The Purpose-Driven Church (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995).
  9. Matthew 22:37-40
  10. Matthew 28:20
  11. Matthew 11:2-6