Ten Practical Handles
Church Planting Movements are sovereign acts of God, but in His sovereign grace and mercy He has chosen to partner with us. There are some practical things that missionaries can do to help initiate or nurture a Church Planting Movement. These are not sequential steps. Some of them are more important than others, but each of them has been used in the formation of Church Planting Movements somewhere in the world. Each missionary must determine which ones fit his or her situation and how best to adapt them for maximum benefit.
1. Pursue a CPM orientation from the beginning
This is a key point: Church Planting Movements begin the day the work begins. The end-vision is being "realized" from the beginning. Thus, missionaries who want to start a Church Planting Movement must begin by "modeling a CPM-type church" complete with evangelism, discipleship and multiplication training within a cell-group setting. This defies the sequential model that begins with pre-evangelism, then evangelism, then discipleship, church planting, missions, etc.
2. Develop and implement comprehensive strategies
Missionaries who address the scope of all that is required for initiating and nurturing a Church Planting Movement quickly realize that the job is far beyond their personal limitations of time, talent and resources. However, as they look to the broader resource pool of Great Commission Christians and continually ask the question, "What's it going to take to launch a Church Planting Movement?" they find that a comprehensive strategy is required.
A comprehensive strategy stands on at least four pillars: 1) prayer, 2) God's Word, 3) evangelism and 4) church planting. These four pillars are complemented by a matrix of ministries including human needs ministries, communications strategies, mobilization and other efforts. When combined, these comprehensive strategies free the ministry from the limitations of a single missionary or even a single mission agency and maximize the possibilities for initiating and nurturing a Church Planting Movement.
3. Evaluate everything to achieve the end-vision
A missionary once commented, "You can tell a good strategy coordinator from a bad one by what he says 'no' to." This should not be interpreted to mean that widespread experimentation is inappropriate, but the effective strategy coordinator is ruthless in evaluating all he or she does in light of the end-vision--a Church Planting Movement--discarding those things that do not or will not lead to it.
4. Employ precision harvesting
Rather than randomly sowing Gospel seeds and awaiting a harvest, a growing number of missionaries have learned the wisdom of precision harvesting. Precision harvesting uses "response filtering" to identify and locate individuals who have already made a positive response to the Gospel and then places longer-term workers in direct contact with them for discipleship follow-up and church planting. This model recognizes that a missionary who settles onto the mission field may succeed in learning the language, sharing his faith, discipling a group of believers and planting a church, but that there may be a more efficient way to accomplish the same end.
Working with radio broadcasters or other agents of mass evangelism, the missionary church planter is able to glean the names and addresses of respondents to another's sowing ministry. Then, positioning himself in the midst of these new believers or seekers, he is able to begin a discipling and church planting ministry. This ministry of precision harvesting can save years in the process of starting a church or multiple churches.
5. Prepare new believers for persecution
New believers must understand that a call to Christ is a call to the cross. Harassment, persecution and even martyrdom may come, but they should not be a surprise to new believers. Since New Testament times, persecution has come to those who follow Christ. Preparation for harassment doesn't wait until after conversion; it begins in the evangelization process itself. Believers are taught to expect hardships from the beginning as the price of their conversion (see Mark 8:34).
6. Gather them, then win them
A logical progression in church planting is: Win them, disciple them, congregationalize them, then organize them into a church. But this isn't the only way to get the job done. Many effective church planters who have participated in Church Planting Movements have learned to gather a group of lost seekers into evangelistic worship and Bible study groups. These "not-yet Christians" are brought into the vision for a Church Planting Movement even as they are brought into the family of faith.
7. Try a POUCH methodology
The POUCH methodology, described in the case study of the Yanyin people, contains core elements that should be applicable in virtually any church planting context. A POUCH church utilizes Participative Bible study and worship groups, affirms Obedience to the Bible as the sole measure of success, uses Unpaid and non-hierarchical leadership and meets in Cell groups or House churches.
8. Develop multiple leaders within each cell church
Avoid the trap of inadequate leadership required to meet growth needs by starting the work with multiple leaders. Remember the Cambodia Church Planting Movement, which began every new cell church with a seven-person "Central Committee"? This type of multiple leadership is common in Church Planting Movements and ensures an abundance of potential leaders for the cell church itself and for starting new churches.
9. Use on-the-job training
Avoid the temptation to pull new local church leaders away from their churches for years of training in an institution. A decentralized theological education which is punctuated by practical experience is preferable. This approach might include one month of training with two months of pastoral work, or eight sessions of training for two weeks at a time stretched over a couple of years, with ongoing discipleship and skill upgrades that may last a lifetime. Higher education may benefit church leaders at some point, but it can hinder a Church Planting Movement in its early stages.
10. Model, Assist, Watch & Leave (MAWL)
Missionaries who are competent church planters face as much challenge from themselves as they do from the people group they are trying to reach. There is always a temptation to "do it myself" rather than turn the work over to the emerging local leadership. This transfer of responsibilities is complicated by the fact that many, if not most, missionaries enjoy pastoring and ministering to people.
This crisis of transferring responsibility can be minimized when the missionary shares responsibility from the beginning with those he is leading. A church-planting pattern of modeling new church planting and worship, then assisting the church members in the process of doing the same themselves, helps to pass on the missionary's expertise to the next generation of local church planters (see 2 Tim. 2:2).
Only when the missionary has actually stepped away from the work is the cycle of MAWL completed. Only then is a passionate renewal of indigenous church planting assured.
Contents ©2000 by the International Mission Board.
The effective strategy coordinator is ruthless in evaluating all he or she does in light of the end-vision--a Church Planting Movement--discarding those things that do not or will not lead to it.