The Ten Common Factors
Beyond the ten universal elements found in every Church Planting Movement, there are at least ten frequently, though not universally, found characteristics. These are not listed in any particular order of priority or frequency. In most CPMs, however, we are seeing most if not all of these factors.
1. Worship in the Heart Language
There are cases in which God's Word has not yet been translated into the heart language of the people and worship is conducted in a trade language. Even in those rare instances, though, the heart language of the people emerges in their prayers, songs, sermon illustrations and applications. Worship in the common heart language keeps it accessible and within reach of all members of the community and allows everyone to participate in a new church's formation. Missionaries who identify and embrace the heart language of the people they are trying to reach are well positioned to stimulate a Church Planting Movement. Nothing reveals a people group's worldview as much as an intimate knowledge of their heart language. Missionaries who choose to work through a trade language begin their ministry with a curtain between themselves and the hearts of the people they are seeking to reach.
2. Evangelism has communal implications
Unlike the predominant pattern in the West with its emphasis on individualism and personal commitment, Church Planting Movements typically rely on a much stronger family and social connection. Missionaries in CPMs have recognized this and urged new believers to follow the web of their own family relationships to draw new believers into the community of faith (see Acts 16:31-32). In many cases, the churches come to consist of family units and are led by the family's head.
3. Rapid incorporation of new converts into the life and ministry of the church
In most Church Planting Movements, baptism is not delayed by lengthy discipleship requirements. On the contrary, discipleship typically precedes conversion and continues indefinitely. Even when baptisms are delayed, new believers are expected to become witnesses immediately; these new disciples immediately become disciplers of others and even church planters. One elderly man who came to Christ in a Church Planting Movement in India planted 42 churches in his first year as a believer. In an effort to keep the movement growing outward, CPM-oriented missionaries typically encourage new believers to join or help start new churches, rather than simply adding larger numbers to existing congregations.
4. Passion and fearlessness
Church planting movements are characterized by passion and a sense of urgency that attests to the importance of salvation and the necessity of conversion. New believers exhibit a boldness in the face of opposition. A spirit of timidity or fear quenches a CPM. Boldness may invite persecution, but it fuels a Church Planting Movement (see Joshua 1:6).
5. Persecution of New Believers
Church Planting Movements often emerge in difficult settings where conversion to the Gospel of Jesus Christ is not a popular or socially advantageous thing to do. In many cases, conversion leads to severe persecution or even death. In the face of this persecution, believers find strong support in the testimony of Jesus and the New Testament church (see Matt. 10:17-25). Persecution tends to screen out the uncommitted and ensures a highly dedicated membership.
6. Perceived leadership crisis or spiritual vacuum in society
A country or people group that has experienced a loss of leadership or a spiritual void coming from war, natural disaster or displacement may create a ripe environment for a Church Planting Movement. Societal disintegration is becoming increasingly common in our rapidly changing world and bodes well for Church Planting Movements. The removal of long-held symbols of stability and security prompts individuals to reconsider matters of eternal significance.
7. On-the-job training for church leadership
With the rapid increase in the number of churches, effective leadership training is critical to the success of the movement. If new church leaders have to leave their churches for extended periods for theological training, the momentum of the movement will be diminished. At the same time, this vital component of church growth must not be overlooked. The most beneficial training brings education as close to the action as possible. Theological Education by Extension, with an emphasis on practical learning interspersed with ongoing ministry, has proven to be a strong complement to Church Planting Movements. The forms of this on-the-job training vary from field to field, but typically include a series of short-term training modules that do not impede the primary tasks of evangelism, church planting and pastoral leadership. Missionaries also attest to the importance of ongoing leadership training for the continued growth and strong development of a Church Planting Movement.
8. Leadership authority is decentralized
Denominations and church structures that impose a hierarchy of authority or require bureaucratic decision-making are ill-suited to handle the dynamism of a Church Planting Movement. It is important that every cell or house church leader has all the authority required to do whatever needs to be done in terms of evangelism, ministry and new church planting without seeking approval from a church hierarchy.
9. Outsiders keep a low profile
Missionaries who have been involved in Church Planting Movements point to the importance of keeping a low personal profile as they seek to initiate and nurture the movement. A key concern is to minimize foreignness and encourage indigeneity. Rather than waiting for new believers to prove themselves worthy of leadership, missionaries begin by drawing new believers into leadership roles through participative Bible studies and mentoring pastors from behind the scenes.
10. Missionaries suffer
A list of missionaries who have been engaged in Church Planting Movements reads like a catalog of calamity. Many have suffered illness, derision and shame. In some instances the suffering was due to their own self-destructive behavior; in other cases it came at the hands of opponents. Students of Church Planting Movements suggest that the affliction may be related to a higher spiritual price required for rolling back the darkness (Rev. 12:12). Whatever the cause, the disproportionate degree of suffering by missionaries engaged in Church Planting Movements is noteworthy. Missionaries intent on this course of action are well-advised to be on their guard, to watch, be careful and pray.
Contents ©2000 by the International Mission Board.