Solid Grounding Transforms Worldview to Bring Forth Multiplying Fruit
(originally printed September 2009 in eLINK—Magazine of World Team, under the title GO SLOW TO GO FAST: Cell and House Church Multiplication in the Philippines. The article has been updated for this publication.)
Are we in such a hurry to save people that we fail to give an adequate foundation for the gospel?
Preaching New Testament truths without placing them in the larger context of the Bible’s story can result in pasting New Testament teachings on top of the prevailing culture’s world view. Could this be why syncretism, unchanged lives, and resistance to biblical truths are common in many churches?
In planting churches in the Bicol Region of the Philippines from 1991 to 2007, we observed that:
• Converts from traditional methods of evangelism rarely joined evangelical churches.
• Few believers shared the Gospel, forgave others or resolved conflicts biblically.
• Churches typically grew to 30-50 people and did not reproduce.
In 2001 we tried an experiment. We studied Genesis inductively, chapter by chapter, with a small group of seekers, with these results:
• The flaws of the patriarchs convinced them that the Bible is truly God’s Word.
• Relational bonds deepened.
• God spoke to their hearts.
• Lives changed dramatically.
• One couple on the brink of separation committed themselves first to Christ and then to each other.
• Nearly every person in that cell trusted Christ by the end of Genesis.
• We were also changed and deeply bonded with the participants.
• That group started two more groups within 9 months.
The tortoise beat the hare
We are pursuing a church multiplication movement, but the approach we recommend is slow. It takes a year to study all of Genesis and Exodus, and two years to study all of Genesis, Exodus, Galatians, the Gospel of John and Ephesians.
Because Genesis and Exodus present the foundation of the Bible’s world view, this slow process enables the Bible’s story to revise people’s view of reality. Evangelism, discipleship and leadership training take place simultaneously.
By the time the first cell groups in Naga City completed Genesis and Exodus, their world view had been foundationally re-shaped. They applied the Gospel and NT teachings to their lives. Within 2 years, these cells reproduced many new cells. Nearly all members were baptized, endured persecution, repaired relationships, and burned their idols and ungodly books.
We tried in one cell to speed up the process by studying only selected Bible texts, but:
• fewer people trusted Christ,
• believers’ lives were not as deeply changed,
• fewer of them reproduced a cell, and
• it took longer for them to do so.
We gathered these statistics from our six years (2001–2007) with the Naga Community In Christ (NCIC):
• All cells began with unbelievers.
• All but one cell studied all of Genesis, Exodus, Galatians, the Gospel of John and Ephesians before studying other Bible books and topics.
• By November 2005, less than 5 years after the first cell started, six elders were ordained and took charge of leading the church. We then started training groups outside Naga.
• After we left the area in July 2007, more cells had reproduced increasing numbers of leaders and cells.
• The most recent cells were started by fourth and fifth generation leaders, some of whom are the sons and daughters of NCIC leaders.
• NCIC members recited their own vision of having 100 cells by 2010. They revised this in 2011 to 1000 home churches by 2020.
• Cell reproduction normally took place within 1.5 to two years.
Church Multiplication Movement advocates consider 6-9 months the ideal rate for reproducing groups. But our slower approach had an unusually high percentage of reproduction in couples’cells:
• 90% of those who entered cells as unbelievers were baptized within two years.
• 100% of the couples in which both spouses were baptized have reproduced cells and become church leaders.
• 100% of the children from baptized couples have also believed and been baptized.
• 70% of the cells these couples lead also reproduced evangelistic cells.
Lessons we have learned
1. Discovering is better than being taught.
I was trained in seminary to preach and teach. In Naga we discovered that adult learners grow the most when they discover biblical truths while studying Bible books:
• We learned to ask questions and not give answers.
• We wrote Bible discovery guides to make it easy for most people to lead.
• We trained everyone to lead as facilitators before they trust Christ.
We told people:
• The Bible is the teacher.
• The leader’s job is to gather people and ask questions.
• The group’s job is to find the answers in God’s Word.
In this model:
• Wrong answers are corrected when the group finds the correct answers in the Bible.
• Leaders can be trained quickly.
• Reproduction takes place naturally.
2. Study with couples or families.
When married people wait for their spouse before studying or getting baptized, they wrestle with God’s truth together. This brings unity rather than alienating spouses, children and relatives. A community of faith emerges.
3. Involve multiple streams (i.e., many different groups).
In 2006, Koleen and I modified our training manual to reflect the idea, promoted by Southern Baptists, of starting multiple streams in cell and house church multiplication. We started training believers in other areas to apply the approach and materials developed for NCIC.
In one denomination, we trained top regional leaders. They in turn trained trainers, who started five Church Planting Schools in 2007. The number of these schools multiplied to 15 and the number of their students starting new churches tripled. We continue to help lead seminars for the leaders when requested.
As a result of training people in multiple streams, the number of evangelistic Bible studies, cells and house churches using this approach doubled yearly throughout the Bicol Region for 5 years. Multiplication plateaued in the third and fourth generations in the Bicol, but it is still on-going. Disciples and churches are now also multiplying in some other places in the Philippines and in a few other countries.
We praise God for what He has done. We love to watch the Spirit of God transform people’s lives as they discover what the Word of God says chapter by chapter, book by book.