This is an article from the March-April 2000 issue: The African American & Missions

Tips For Fine-tuning a CPM

Tips For Fine-tuning a CPM

Alongside the models of Church Planting Move ments we have examined, many others could be described as near misses. A number of these show many of the characteristics we've come to identify with Church Planting Movements, but lack some essential components and thus may result in aborted movements.

An example of this is a Turkic Muslim people who have been turning to Christ by the tens of thousands over the past five years. As recently as 1992 there were no more than 50 known believers among this population of several million. Beginning in 1989, a strategy built on prayer, evangelism and ministry was initiated among them. Work was slow at first, but in late 1995 the turn to Christ began. By the end of the following year, local churches in the area reported baptizing more than 15,000 of these Turkic Muslims.

Today, the swell of new believers has subsided somewhat, but still features somewhere between 20,000 and 30,000 adult converts. The troubling factor is the relative lack of new churches to assimilate the growth. While convert growth has exploded, there has been little increase in the number of church starts, threatening to leave thousands of churchless orphans to fend for themselves.

Perhaps it is not too late for missionaries to implement a strategy of planting indigenously reproducing cell or house churches among this people group. Training lay believers to plant new cell churches could redeem this movement.

A similar situation has taken place among a Muslim people group in Africa. As a result of widespread Gospel radio broadcast and video evangelism, conservative reports estimate more than 15,000 Muslim converts to Christianity. Despite these encouraging numbers, only 30 known churches exist in the region. Unless a more effective and indigenously reproducible model of church can be introduced, there will likely be a great loss of new believers.

More common types of "near misses" are the many places around the world where missionaries have experienced moderate growth when much greater growth may be possible. In these instances, missionaries have been faithfully evangelizing and planting churches among their people group for decades. People are responding to the Gospel and the kingdom is slowly growing. While church growth is steady, it is far from explosive. No one would confuse this with a Church Planting Movement. In this pattern of incremental church growth, church starts are not even able to keep pace with the population growth rate.

Are Church Planting Movements possible in these kinds of settings? Only God can say for sure, but CPM practitioners suggest that some steps might be taken that could help tip the scales in favor of a Church Planting Movement. In some cases, the gestation period for church starts is just too lengthy. In these instances, it may be possible to shorten the reproductive cycle of a church plant. Here are some tips that may help to speed the process:

If you're using chronological storying to communicate the Gospel, remember that storying is a method, not an end in itself. As a method, it can be adapted and modified. Consider using five to 10 stories to provide a panorama overview of the Bible leading to a Gospel presentation and a call to commitment. You can then follow up the panorama presentation with a lengthier walk through the Bible aimed at discipleship and additional presentations of the Gospel.

You might also try shortening the chronological storying approach. Some storiers spend as much as 110 weeks working through the Bible from creation to the consummation of the ages. Could this be reduced either by choosing fewer stories or by offering the stories more frequently? Perhaps both methods could be implemented. This might reduce the time required for a church start from two years to a few weeks!

In the same manner, consider compressing a 12-week evangelistic Bible study into a 12-night Bible study. You get the picture. Remember, speed of reproduction is one of the universal characteristics of a Church Planting Movement. Resist the assumption that greater speed equals diminished quality. The notion that slower is better isn't necessarily true.

You also can accelerate church planting by raising the expectations and church-planting responsibilities of new believers. In a Church Planting Movement, discipleship and leadership development are ongoing processes rather than stages in a linear progression that individuals must pass through before they can begin planting churches themselves. Remember, in a Church Planting Movement in India, one new believer planted 42 churches in a single year. No one told him he was too spiritually immature for such behavior!

Finally, some missionaries may find themselves in a situation that does not appear to have any of the elements that indicate a potential for a Church Planting Movement. What do you do then?

Many of those factors that contribute to--or hinder--a Church Planting Movement take years to develop or change. Like a toy boat floating on a pond, if we gradually stack pebbles on top of it, one by one, the weight will eventually become too much and the vessel will submerge. So it is with Church Planting Movements. Working steadily to add elements that contribute to a Church Planting Movement and removing known obstacles may someday result in a critical mass that transforms the situation from a hard, dry, unproductive field into a dynamic Church Planting Movement.

The beginning point for this change is a spiritual renewal, a passionate desire in the heart of every missionary to see all the peoples of the world come to saving faith. Only when our vision is revived and we hunger for a Church Planting Movement are we willing to take any and every action necessary to pursue this goal.

Contents ©2000 by the International Mission Board.


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