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Church Planting and the Great Commission

Evangelism is Central to Christian Mission:

S. D. Ponraj: Christian mission to the world has a three-fold responsibility: evangelism, social service and social action. Evangelism involves church planting and church growth based on human spiritual need. Social service involves relief and development activities based on human dignity. Social action involves political, social and economic activities based on human justice. These three responsibilities are part of God's mission and the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. "For the gospel is the root, of which both evangelism and social responsibility are the fruits." (John R.W. Stott).

According to Rodney Stark in "The rise of Christianity: a sociologist reconsiders history", (Princeton NJ: Princeton Univ. Press, 1996), Christianity climbed from about 1,000 adherents in 40 A.D., to 3,000,000 adherents in 300 A.D. This made Christianity the dominant religion of the Roman Empire. This amounts to an annual growth rate of a mere 3%!!
Surely modern Christianity can do better than that!

John Stott rightly defines mission in the context of evangelism and social responsibility when he says: "Mission is our human response to the divine Commission. It is a whole Christian lifestyle, including both evangelism and social responsibility, dominated by the conviction that Christ sends us out into the world..."

Now the question is, what is the place of evangelism in Christian mission? The Lausanne Covenant states: "In the Church's mission of sacrificial service evangelism is primary." When we are involved in social service and in social action, we should not loose sight of the centrality of Christian mission which is evangelism and church planting. All our activities of social emancipation of human beings should not blind us to the fact that man is eternally lost without Christ and that he is in need of eternal salvation of his soul. Of course, our involvement in mission is dependent on our call for a particular ministry and based on the gifts of the Spirit given for a specific task. Therefore, mission and its ministry need not necessarily start with evangelism and church planting. But all mission activities should be centered around evangelism and church planting.

Evangelism Results in Church Planting:

The goal of evangelism as given by our Lord Jesus Christ is to make disciples of all nations as recorded in Matt. 28:18-20. How is this goal to be achieved? It begins when an evangelist or a missionary first approaches a group of people in a town or a village and lives among them for some time and tries to know them and witness to them in different ways. After a period of evangelistic activities, the people may respond to the Gospel. Then the evangelist gives instructions and baptizes them. After baptism the believers are formed into a congregation or worshipping group (where there is no local church) and taught to be responsible followers of Christ. This is how the evangelist or the missionary fulfills the goal of evangelism in discipling people. The goal of evangelism is not just to preach the Gospel, but to persuade the hearers to follow Christ as disciples in the fellowship of a local church. That is how evangelism results in Church Planting.

In making disciples we can trace at least five different stages in a person's life and they are :

1. initial decision to be a follower of Christ

2. Identification by taking baptism (open confession and witness)

3. Incorporation - by joining the fellowship of a local church

4. Instruction - by receiving spiritual nurture from the Word of God

5. Involvement - as a responsible member in witness and service of the local church and society.

Evangelism Results in Church Growth:

The goal of evangelism is to win people to Christ and to make disciples of all nations according to His Great Commission. This results in the forming of worshipping groups or new congregations, so that new believers may interact one another in worship, prayer, Bible study, and witness. New believers in turn bring others to Christ through their witness. As a result of this, not only do older congregations grow but they also form new congregations in other towns and villages. Thus the churches grow and are multiplied through evangelism. It can be said, therefore, that all effective evangelism results in church planting - and in church growth.

"Church growth" means not only a growth in the number of believers and in the multiplication of churches, but also the spiritual growth of believers and organizational growth of churches. Any healthy church must have growth in these and other areas. Adequate attention should be given to all areas of growth.

Hindrances to Involvement in Church Planting

Being involved in mission and evangelism does not necessarily mean planting churches. Many Christian activities are labelled as evangelism and mission work, but in reality such activities have nothing to do with bringing people to Christ or planting churches. Christian workers, and even leaders, have misunderstandings about evangelism and missionary work. Some pastors are afraid to take new believers into their church. They remain satisfied with a small congregation and institutional work. Pastors and Christian workers are not properly trained for evangelism and church planting, and so they are not involved; nor are they prepared to face new believers coming to their church. Proper priorities need to be set so that Christians become involved in planting churches, thus promoting the growth of the Church. The following are some of the reasons why churches, para-church agencies and missions are not involved or are only partially involved in a church planting ministry.

1 . Misunderstanding the Nature of Church Planting Ministry

Even though many churches, missions and para-church agencies are involved in different evangelistic activities, very few are directly involved in church planting ministry. If this is discussed with Christian workers, it is found that many of them do not have a clear understanding about the nature of evangelistic activity which results in church planting and church growth.

Some missions and Christian organizations feel that reviving local churches and evangelizing nominal Christians are the priority.

Many missionaries and evangelists who have gone to the less evangelized parts of the world with great missionary burden and vision are now settled with small bands of believers, derived for the most part from established mainline churches, rather than having planted new churches on virgin soil by winning non-Christians.

In some areas responsive people groups are to be found; yet many evangelists are not able to identify such people and as a result much precious time, energy and talents are not properly used, often they merely duplicate an existing ministry.

Dedicated men and women, if properly taught and trained and guided could be much greater asset in reaching the unreached people with the Gospel and in planting thousands of churches among the non-Christians in the less-evangelized parts of the world.

2. Misunderstanding the Goal of Evangelism:

In evangelism, people respond to the Gospel by deciding to follow Christ. This is not the end, but rather a beginning; they must be brought into the fellowship of the church, either in a local church or in a newly formed congregation where there is no local church. Planting a new church where there is no church is every missionary's privilege.

The Lausanne Covenant rightly states: "In issuing the Gospel invitation we have no liberty to conceal the cost of discipleship. Jesus still calls all who would follow him to deny themselves, take up their cross, and identify themselves with his new community. The results of evangelism include obedience to Christ, incorporation into his church and responsible service in the world." Thus the goal and the result of evangelism is church planting and church growth. This may not work out so easily among non-receptive people, but the goal of evangelism should be clear in the minds of the evangelists and missionaries; they must he constantly praying and looking for people with whom they can attain this goal.

There are thousands of groups and tribes in our country to work with: there is no cause for discouragement when certain groups do not respond. There is no excuse for not planting churches while there are still millions of people to be reached and with many responsive to the Gospel in our country. Every church and mission agency must be clear as to their evangelistic goal; their workers must be clearly told and instructed so that they do not build "on another man's foundation." as Paul says, but rather plant churches in virgin soil where people have not heard the Gospel.

3. Misplaced Priority in Mission:

The word "mission" has a number of different meanings to Christians. Some think of white people living in a big bungalow with a compound wall and driving a jeep. Others think of their education in a mission school, and some about their baby who was born in a mission hospital. Some even think of the famine days when missionaries came and gave rice and milk powder, etc. These are facts regarding what the missions did in the world, and we should be grateful to those missionaries who have done these good deeds. It is true that the "mission of God" has wider implications, e.g. social, cultural, educational, political as well as spiritual causes. The ultimate goal of mission, however, is not mere social emancipation but also spiritual regeneration.

This view is further strengthened by Hedlund when he says: "It is a mistake to define mission in terms of the multifarious activities carried on in the name of mission. It should be defined biblically as to the intended outcome in terms of disciples made among the nations."

Often Christian workers have a wrong order of priority set in their ministry and as a result they lose their basic call and commitment to preach the Gospel. They should not be satisfied with working for social upliftment alone, but should also work for spiritual upliftment.

A good example is found in the life of Stephen (Acts 6). He was selected for serving tables; yet he is seen witnessing to people and finally giving his life, not for serving tables, but for the ministry of the Word. Today one may be called to specific social responsibility in the mission field yet, like Stephen, he must recognize the priority of evangelism and church planting. Ebenezer Sunder Raj presents this fact more forcefully when he says : "While we accept that pushing a tract into the hand of a starving man is not complete Gospel, we do not accept that feeding the under-nourished, holding eye camps, providing quality seeds and high bred chicken is complete Gospel. We stand here or we don't stand at all."

A good number of Christian workers who have gone with missionary vision to the mission field end up with the work of social emancipation as the end in itself and loose the ultimate goal of evangelizing people. Only a few of those who are engaged in social ministries manage to continue to establish worship groups, to nurture them, and thus to enhance church growth. People who are involved in cross-cultural evangelism among responsive People should safeguard themselves and not be led astray from their primary goal. No missionary work is complete which does not have, as its goal, the establishing of new believers in the fellowship of the church so that they may reproduce themselves. In unreached areas the church planting approach to mission should he given top priority.

4. Misinterpreting the Motives of Receptive People:

People respond to the Gospel with different motives. Some are spiritual motives and others are non-spiritual or secular. These motives are based on felt needs, like healing from their sickness, protection from evil spirits, the receiving of free education at a mission school, free medicine from the mission hospital, getting married to a Christian girl. etc., etc. Some people have mixed motives, both spiritual and non-spiritual. Sometimes it is difficult to judge people and their motives. We should beware of the tendency to make wrong judgments. Motives based on felt needs can be used as bridges to bring people to Christ.

For example, the Samaritan woman asked Jesus : "Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw" (John 4:15). Is this a spiritual motive or a non-spiritual motive? It is difficult to judge because of the way she responded later to Jesus' offer of Living Water. Even though at first she asked for the well water, the Lord used the felt need on which her motive was based as a means to give her the Water of Life. Another example is the healing of Bartimaeus. He said to Jesus: "Lord, that I may receive my sight" (Mark 10:51). It was clearly a request for his physical eyes to get their sight and had nothing to do with his spiritual need. When he was healed, however, he followed Jesus glorifying God. Jesus used the physical need as a bridge to meet his spiritual need.

When the Gospel is taken to poor villagers and tribals, these people respond with different motives based on their felt needs. It is unfortunate when a negative attitude results from an attempt to judge their motives. When a hungry man asks for food or a sick man asks for healing (medicine), must their motives be judged and their basic needs, both physical as well as spiritual, be denied? This is not to imply that their physical needs must necessarily be met before meeting their spiritual needs. Jesus did not give the Samaritan woman the well water, but He did give sight to blind Bartimaeus. Both of their spiritual needs were met. Whenever possible physical needs should be met. But spiritual needs can be met by using non-spiritual motives based on felt needs.

5. Misgivings about Taking New Members into the Church:

Churches have problems. When there are more members there are more problems to handle. Problems cannot be avoided, Some pastors and church leaders believe that when new members are added to the Church, there will be more problems to face; thus they avoid taking new believers into their church. This is a mistaken fear. In reality, a stagnant church has more problems than a growing church. A church which takes new members into its fold is a growing church. When a church is occupied

with evangelism and church planting, when her members are kept involved in ministries, they have less time for internal quarreling and fighting.

Some one has rightly observed that "The best remedy for a sick church is to put it on a missionary diet." Today several sick churches exist with problems beyond their handling, but if such churches were devoted to evangelism and church planting, they might find solutions to some of their problems. There will always be "growth pain" for any church which is growing with new members. But such pain is a blessing. Today several churches are nearing extinction because of the absence of the fire of evangelism resulting in church growth.

Biblical Basis for Church Planting

The principles of church planting reflect the teachings of the Bible, specifically the New Testament. The church planting concept is part of God's plan for the world. It is part of the personal mission of our Lord "to seek and to save" for which He was sent by God. It is based on direct statements of our Lord as well as His teachings through the parables. It is clearly seen in our Lord's Great Commission, as found in the four Gospels and in the Book of Acts. The church planting approach to mission is based on the burden and the program of the Holy Spirit which was first accomplished through the preaching of the Apostles. The New Testament pattern of the growth of the churches proves these principles to be biblical.

1. It is Based on the Biblical Mission of God:

"'Mission' is not a word for everything the church does. 'Mission' describes rather everything the church is sent into the world to do," says John Stott in defining the mission of God. The Bible describes God's mission as a "mission of sending." "When the time had fully come, God sent forth His Son" (Gal. 4:4-6). God's revelation in Christ shows us that God Himself is a searching and saving God; He wants men to be reconciled to Himself. After Christ's ascension, the Father and the Son sent the Spirit on the day of Pentecost. Now the Son sends the Church as He Himself was sent by the Father, as we read in John 20:21. "As the Father has sent Me, even so send I you."

Our understanding of mission must be based on the understanding of the mission of God in Christ. Jesus was sent "to seek and to save" (Luke 19:10). He not only proclaimed the Gospel but also made disciples who would follow Him and be in fellowship with Him. And this is the mission of the Church: not only to proclaim the Gospel but to bring people into its fold.

2. It is Based on the Teachings of our Lord

The Lord Jesus used the illustration of a harvest field to emphasize the urgency of winning responsive people and bringing them into the fold of the Church. He instructed His disciples to pray for more laborers to be sent to the harvest field (Matt. 9:37). When the harvest is ready, the grain should be cut, bound into sheaves and carried to the store house. In the same way when a group of people respond to the Gospel they have to be taught, baptized and brought into the fellowship of the local church.

Our Lord's parables of the "lost sheep" and "lost coin" teach that it is not enough to search for the lost sheep or the lost coin; it is necessary that they be found and brought into the house or the fold. The task of evangelism is complete only when people are brought into the fold of the church (Luke 15:1-10).

In the parable of the Great Banquet, when the invited people would not come, the master commanded the servants to "go out in the highways and byways and compel people to come in" (Luke 14:23). It is not enough to invite people; it is important to see that they partake in the feast. When one group of people does not respond to the Gospel invitation, another group must be sought which does respond and can be brought to the spiritual feast. Thus the Lord's teachings are clear on the need for bringing people into the Christian fold and for planting churches.

3. It is Based on the Lord's Commission:

The principles of church planting are based on the Lord's Great Commission as we read in Matt. 28:19, 20: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you..." What did Jesus mean when He commissioned the disciples to go and make disciples of all nations?

There are four important words found in the Great Commission. They are "go," "make disciples," "baptize" and "teach". It is generally assumed that the word "go" is an imperative verb and constitutes the last command of Christ. This is not correct. In the original Greek language, "to make disciples" is the central imperative or action verb and not the word "go". All the other words are helping verbs. The word "go" is a participle which should be translated as "having gone" or "as you go"' and, therefore, rather than a command, it is the method by which disciples are to be made.

In the Greek only one word is used for "make disciples" and it should be translated "disciple" with reference to the nations. The act of making disciples was not confined to Israel or to Jerusalem, but was to extend to "all nations - i.e. - all people groups."

The Great Commission commands believers to bring men and women to Christ and to make them responsible and reproducing members of the local church. This is how to "make disciples of all nations." The evangelistic task is incomplete unless it relates new believers to the local worship group. The Church planting ministry reflects the believers' faithfulness and obedience to the Great Commission of their Lord. 4. It is Based on God's Plan for Building the Church :

In Matthew 16:18, Our Lord has promised that He will build His Church and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it. He chose the Apostle Peter to be part of the "foundation of apostles and prophets" because of his confession of faith in Jesus "the Christ, the Son of the Living God." (Matt. 16:16). The confession was based on God's revelation of Christ to the disciples. Peter also had his personal and first-hand knowledge and was an eyewitness of the Risen Christ. In his sermon in the first chapter of Acts, Peter refers to this: "We are witnesses of these things." Confession of faith and personal witness of Christ were the unique factors that made the Apostles the "foundation," upon which the Lord was building His Church.

In Ephesians 2:19-21, Paul says : "...but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundations of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the Chief Cornerstone, in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord."

From the above two passages of Scripture it can be seen that, in the eternal plan of God for building the Church, He had chosen the "apostles" and "prophets" as the foundation. Through their confession of faith, witness and teaching gift, they fulfilled the unique function of planting new churches, thus building the Church of God. This is seen in the lives and ministry of Peter and Paul and the other Apostles. Today God is building His Church through the "confessing disciples" of modern missionaries and evangelists. It is our privilege to be part of His plan in building His Church in the world.

5. It is Based on the Apostolic Gift and Function:

For the purpose of building the Church, the Holy Spirit has given gifts to its members. We read in I Cor. 12:28 : "And God has appointed in the Church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers..." Thus we see the Holy Spirit has given the gift of apostleship to people in the Church. Their primary function is to go as missionaries and proclaim the Gospel and plant churches on new ground. Peter and Paul are good examples.

In I Corinthians 3:6, Paul clearly brings out his apostolic function of planting churches. He says: "I planted, Apollos watered. but God gave the growth." This apostolic gift is something unique for the function of starting new churches. Paul was leading a church planting team, visiting different towns and establishing churches. After planting churches, he appointed local leaders and moved on to new places. Thus the apostolic function was not to retain the responsibilities for and authority over the churches, but to deliver them to other missionaries and local leaders and move on to plant new churches. Even today the Lord calls and separates certain people, giving them the apostolic gift for planting churches on new soil.

Michael Griffiths, in his important book, Shaking the Sleeping Beauty, writes about this apostolic gift: "It is not biblically necessary to deny the continuing existence of apostles in this secondary sense of pioneer church planting missionaries. In missionary societies today we need this charisma more than any other. It is the 'first' of the gifts, and the planting of new congregations still needs to be done cross-culturally in many parts of the world."

Occasionally a missionary evangelizes a group of people and forms a congregation; he becomes satisfied with the results and attempts to settle himself at that place building his denominational and administrative structure, instead of moving to new areas. Occasionally, in a particular responsive village, a small group of people accept Christ and a congregation is established. But there the evangelism ends and the missionary becomes busy looking after the small group of Christians instead of reaching the entire population in the village. Thus the missionary fails to use his apostolic gift and loses his vision for planting more churches. Such dangers must be carefully avoided. As stated earlier, the apostolic function is to continue planting churches on new ground and handing over the planted churches to local leaders and missionaries like Apollos, for their "watering" and "nurturing."

6. It is based on God's Initiative

God causes the Church to grow, both numerically and spiritually. In the I Corinthians 3:5-8, Paul clearly brings out the truth that it is God who gives growth to the church and that He uses people as His instruments for the fulfillment of His plan. "What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are equal, and each shall receive his wages according to his labor."

It is only God who gives the growth to the Church. This mystery is seen on the mission field, when certain groups respond to the Gospel and other groups do not. God, in His sovereign will and in His own time, leads certain groups to respond to the Gospel because it is He who initiates the growth of His Church. He uses missionaries as His instruments to fulfill His purpose. This is clear in the expansion of the Early Church in the Book of Acts. We read in Acts 2:47, that "The Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved." This shows the activity of God in planting and building His Church. Those on the forefront of the mission field are privileged people witnessing God's active involvement in saving people and adding them to His Church, and thus building His universal Church. Even before a work begins in a new place, God is already active; this has been the experience of the pioneering missionaries down through the centuries.

7. It is Based on the Mission of the Local Church:

There is much confusion and vagueness in defining the mission of the local church. Two extreme views prevail among Christians today. One presents a "social gospel", which aims at social development and political freedom; the name of Jesus is not even mentioned when involved in such work. The other view presents a "soul-saving Gospel", which concentrates on perishing souls with no love or demonstration of concern for the hungry or the poor. Such extreme views are contrary to the teaching of the Bible on the mission of the local church.

In the Early Church, while the Apostles devoted themselves to the ministry of the Word, they selected the deacons to serve tables. Importance was given both to the spiritual and the physical needs of the people. Stephen, one of the deacons. apart from serving tables also involved himself "in the ministry of the Word" (Acts 6:1-8).

The mission of the local church is both evangelism and social responsibility; and that evangelism should be the primary or central concern of the local church. The Lausanne Covenant gives further clarification on this point: "in the church's mission of sacrificial service, evangelism is primary. World evangelization requires the whole church to take the whole Gospel to the whole world. The church is at the very center of God's cosmic purpose and is his appointed means of spreading the Gospel." The whole Gospel is for the whole man, to meet his spiritual, mental and physical needs. The Church is God's chosen means of fulfilling this mission.

Evangelism and church planting are part of the mission of the local church. In the words of Emil Bruner, "as the fire exists by burning so the church exists by mission." Both neighborhood evangelism as well as cross-cultural evangelism should be given equal emphasis. Both the home mission and the foreign mission should be emphasized in the total missionary involvement of the local church.

Theodore Williams explains it clearly in his book, The Local Church and Mission: "A church that has no concern for cross-cultural evangelism is not fulfilling its mission." He emphasizes this point from a quotation from the constitution of the Church Of South India which he feels states this point beautifully: "Every congregation of the people of God is basic to mission in its neighborhood and to the ends of the earth. The mission of the local church does not end with the mere proclamation of the gospel. There must be the planting of churches among the people to whom the gospel is proclaimed. The mission of the local church is evangelization with a view to planting churches in the neighborhood and in the world. Local churches reproduce themselves in their neighborhood and on the mission field." Thus the mission of the church is both neighborhood and cross-cultural evangelism.

8. It is Based on the Growth Pattern of the New Testament Churches: The Book of Acts relates how the Early Church grew and expanded and was multiplied in different places. The New Testament report is well-documented with numerical figures. The first church in Jerusalem began with 120 disciples (Acts 1:15). On the Day of Pentecost 3,000 people were added to the church in Jerusalem (2:41, 42). Soon the membership of the Jerusalem church was 5,000 (4:4). Again, "multitudes of men and women were added" (5:14), and "the number of the disciples multiplied greatly" (6:1, 7).

New congregations were planted in every pagan center of the then-known world in less than four decades. Regarding the growth pattern of the Early Church we read, "So the Church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was built up... so, the churches were strengthened in the faith and they increased in numbers daily." (9:31; 16:5; 21:20).

From the above account of the pattern of the growth of the Early Church it is clear that the church should grow in numbers by adding new believers to existing church and by planting new churches with new believers. We should not be satisfied with our existing churches; the churches should grow, as is demonstrated by the Early Church.

The growth pattern of the New Testament churches is both quantitative and qualitative. Vergil Gerber explains this fact clearly as follows: "In the New Testament, evangelistic effectiveness is a quality that is constantly measured in quantitative terms. Precise figures are given regarding the number of professions of faith (quantity). These are always based upon those who follow on, are baptized and continue in the Apostle's doctrine, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayers (quality). Just as faith without works is dead, so spiritual growth in the New Testament is frequently expressed in terms of quantities. This is possible because quality and quantity are two aspects of the same reality."

9. It is Based on the Nature of the Gospel:

The Apostle Paul declares in Romans 1:16 "For I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek." He repeats it clearly in I Cor. 1:18,23,24: "For the message of the Cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God... but we preach Christ crucified... Christ the power of God..." Notice the phrase "power of God to salvation" which he uses three times.

Inherent in the Gospel is a power capable of saving people from their sin, which can deliver from Satan and all bondage. The Gospel, when communicated faithfully by the human agent, produces results. Faithful and effective communication of the Gospel should result in salvation of people and the establishment of churches. The Gospel seed when planted faithfully and watered with tears and prayers will bring forth much fruit. That is what is meant by planting churches.

10. It is Based on the Work of the Holy Spirit:

The Christian mission of church planting is not a human enterprise, but it is a divine operation, directed and controlled by the Holy Spirit. The clearest example is found in the Acts 13, where the direction and control of the Holy Spirit is demonstrated in the Church at Antioch. "While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said: set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them... So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia ... to Cyprus" (Acts 13:2-4). These missionaries (Apostles) as a first church planting team were sent out by the Holy Spirit. Later on in their missionary journey, the Holy Spirit used them to "make disciples" and to "plant churches" in different towns (Acts 13:52; 14:22). The direction and control of the Holy Spirit is clearly seen in the ministry of the evangelist Philip (Acts 8). The Holy Spirit was actively involved in the selection and sending of men and in using them for planting churches.

The missionary or the evangelist should live in conscious dependence on the Holy Spirit. No amount of study, training and experience would substitute for the power of the Holy Spirit. This fact has been rightly emphasized by Philip Hogan of Assemblies of God : "I am persuaded to believe, that after taking advantage of every tool, pursuing every possible human plan, all one needs to do to find plenty of service is simply to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. When one engages this truth and begins to live by its principle, there will be whole communities, whole cities, whole nations, whole cultures and whole segments of pagan religions that will suddenly be thrust open to the Gospel witness..."

The Lausanne Covenant states- "The Father sent the Spirit to bear witness to his Son; without this witness ours is futile. Conviction of sin, faith in Christ, new birth, and Christian growth are all the Spirit's work. Further, the Holy Spirit is a missionary spirit; thus evangelism should arise spontaneously from a Spirit-filled Church. A Church that is not a missionary Church is contradicting itself and quenching the Spirit. Worldwide evangelization will become a realistic possibility only when the Spirit renews the Church in truth and wisdom, faith, holiness, love and power."

Applied Principles for Church Planting

These principles are both biblical and anthropological. They are biblical, because church planting is basically God's work; it is based on God's grace. All our human efforts will be futile if His grace is not operating. Therefore we have to follow the biblical principles for effective church planting. However, there is an another side to this truth. Even though church planting is basically God's work, yet it is man's response to God's saving grace. God uses human efforts; pastors, missionaries and evangelists are needed, we have to understand the local people and their cultural context; to study the anthropological factors and to follow certain methods of approach. Thus church planting is a joint effort of God and man, and so there is the need for studying biblical as well as anthropological principles.

1 . Make it a Priority Task to win Non-Christians:

The missionary on the field must constantly keep in mind his primary task of winning non-Christians for Christ. There is always the temptation to engage in reviving the local church instead of evangelizing non-Christians. Such temptations should be carefully avoided. Certainly a missionary has a responsibility towards the local church where he is sent to evangelize the non-Christians. But that local church is not his primary responsibility. He must keep his contact with the local church for spiritual encouragement and fellowship and should contribute towards its spiritual edification. He should not, however, confuse this with his priorities in reaching the unreached for Christ. The missionary is one with an apostolic calling to reach the people and he should be faithful to his call.

There are many important and urgent responsibilities to attract the missionary's attention on the mission field, e.g. adult literacy. social and developmental projects, educational and medical work. If a person has call for specialized ministry he should pursue such work because social concern is part of God's mission. But when a person comes with specific call and burden for evangelism and church planting, his interest should not be diverted to other work.

Again even those who are involved in social and developmental work in church planting areas should have evangelism as part of their goal and their work should enhance the church growth.

Ebenezer Sunder Raj warns about this danger, when he said: "Liberation theology, which views social emancipation of people, as un ultimate and complete goal in itself, is having powerful infiltration and influence even among evangelicals, who are involved in cross-cultural mission." The missionary must be aware of such dangers and be careful to avoid them.

Another danger to be avoided is the tendency to become involved in supervision and administrative work to the neglect of spiritual nurture, training local leadership and all other ministries necessary for forming new congregations. The church planter must be released to plant churches. As part of his church planting ministry he must train people to be reproducing Christians who will work with him in planting new churches. In other words, missionaries engaged in church planting should not allow themselves to be sidetracked.

2. Seek and Find the Responsive People Group:

God in His sovereign will has a definite time for each person, people group, tribe, community and nation to respond to His Gospel. The Lord exhorted the disciples to see how the fields were already "white for harvest" (John 4:25). Jesus was referring to the responsive hearts of the Samaritan people. Today the missionary must be on the look out for such responsive hearts which are "white for harvest." The Lord also said that, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him" (John 6:44). This speaks of God's appointed time for each person to respond to His call.

Frederick and Margaret Stock explain this factor clearly in their book People Movements in the Punjab: "God loves all and longs that all may come to know Him, but for reasons beyond our comprehension, He has prepared some groups to accept Him now, while others will be ready at another time."

The following are some of the categories of peoples who may be likely to be responsive to the Gospel:

Socio-Economic Categories:

** People who are under social and economic oppression. ** The socially uprooted refugees of war, flood, famine. ** People who have migrated to big cities in search of employment, education and economic advancement. ** Slum dwellers, day laborers, and other groups of the poor.

Religious and Cultural Categories:

** Animists - worshipers of spirits and ancestors. People practicing astrology, sorcery, magic and manipulation of unseen forces; people who merely follow popular religious beliefs and practices.

** People who practice blood sacrifice.

** Some sects within major religious traditions, such as Ahmedias, Neo-Buddhists and other sects.

** People who are closely knit as a "homogenous unit" - tribal, caste, linguistic and other ethnic minorities.

A field survey of unreached responsive people groups should be undertaken before beginning church planting efforts. Such a survey should include the culture, customs, language of the people as well as the different categories mentioned above.

3. Concentrate on the Responsive:

It is not enough to locate responsive people, but to concentrate our efforts to bringing them into the Christian faith. This is because we have no way of knowing how long their receptiveness will last. They are like fields that are "white for harvest" and we have to reap them before the grain spoils from being overripe.

There is a tendency on the mission field for the missionaries to be involved in too many activities at the neglect of reaching the unreached. Different activities may be necessary but they should complement the primary task of evangelism and church planting and not divert time, energy, talents and finances from it. Missionaries involved in different activities should work as a team with a common goal of establishing new churches. Every effort should be made to bring responsive people into the Christian fold before it is too late.

"Hit-and-run" strategy will not help plant churches m rural areas. It requires a long term plan and it must aim at reaching the whole community of people. Missionaries should live among the people and identify with them in their everyday life. Living with the people will help the missionaries to win their confidence and the communication of the Gospel will be easier.

Concentrated effort is essential to a church planting ministry because it is not an easy job; it requires talented people who can learn a new language, who can make several adjustments to a new culture, who can work hard, are willing to walk, cycle, climb mountains, and who can maintain good health despite difficult conditions. Because all these qualities and abilities may not be found in one person, a team of workers is required. A Church planting ministry may also require concentration of finance for adequate support for field personnel, equipment and field programs.

4. Maintain Witness among the Resistant:

Often missionaries and evangelists ask, "What shall we do with the resistant people? Shall we abandon them? Are we not responsible to preach the Gospel to them?" Yes, we are responsible for all unreached people and therefore, there is no need for completely giving up and closing mission fields. Sometimes we may have to change the mission fields from one town to another town in the same district or among the same people group. But top priority must be given to the responsive area while continuing seed-sowing in the resistant one. Witness must be maintained in the resistant area hoping and expecting to see God's time for them to respond to the Gospel. [Is. 55: 10, 11].

McGavran explains it clearly when he says: "Recognition of variations in receptivity is resisted by some mission thinkers because they fear that, if they accept it, they will he forced to abandon resistant fields. Abandonment is not called for. Fields must be sown. Stony fields must be plowed before they are sown. No one should conclude that if receptivity is low, the Church should withdraw mission."

5. Expect and Aim at Numerical Church Growth:

Before anyone becomes involved in a church planting ministry, he must be sure that he believes in numerical church growth. It is God's will as stated in I Timothy 2:3,4: "... God our Saviour who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." It is also the growth pattern of the church in the New Testament. The missionary must believe and expect people to turn - as families, groups, as entire villages, or even as whole tribes - to the Christian faith at a time or over a period of time. He should not feel that the church would be weakened in its spirituality by gathering large number of people into it. For this is not true. Nor should he doubt the motives of the people when they express their desire to embrace the Christian faith as a group.

Our Lord was not only interested in individuals who came to Him (like Nicodemus and the rich young ruler), but He was also concerned about the crowds of people. "When He saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd ... the harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few." Matt 9: 36-38 ). The Lord of the Harvest is interested in people turning in large number; in His sight they are not merely numbers but precious people for whom He died. The missionary should not be satisfied with a few individuals responding, but rather expect and try to bring the whole family, joint families, groups and communities to the Lord. This is how churches can be multiplied to enhance church growth.

Numerical growth is neither opposed to nor achieved at the expense of spiritual growth. But it is the result and the proof of it. In fact, there cannot be spiritual growth without growth in numbers. Both are necessary and important for a healthy church. They are like two eyes of the body; and both have to he taken care of otherwise the body suffers. The church must grow both spiritually and numerically.

6. Try for Group Decisions:

In India, group living in "joint families" and "extended families" is common. "Group decisions" are part of their group process. Tribal and caste societies are traditionally family and group oriented. So when involved in church planting, the missionary or the evangelist must expect people as "families" and "joint families" and as "groups" and even as "villages" to collectively decide to accept Christ.

The Western pattern of individual decision-making is not appropriate and effective in India, especially in the villages and among the tribals. However, this does not mean that we should neglect individuals when they respond to the Gospel. While accepting the individuals we have to try to bring their relatives and friends.

Regarding the group decision, a good example is found in the Amri tribe of Assam which accepted the Christian faith in large numbers, 797 in one year, between 1963 and 1984. A writer for Onlooker magazine, reports: "Pitamber Teron, a farmer and head of a joint family in Chasalgaon, was one of the first converts. Quiet and introspective at 56, Teron is emphatic about his - and his tribe's - reasons for converting to the Christian faith. 'We hope to improve our condition by adopting this religion' he says. 'Why did I convert? It was not an individual decision. We discussed it in our society for more than a year.' On July 23, 1983, the executive bodies of the four representative organizations of the tribe ... unanimously passed a resolution to set up the Amri Baptist Council and authorized delegates to embrace the Christian faith. The resolution was signed by all 269 delegates to the meeting."

The New Testament reports several group conversions, e.g. on the Day of Pentecost 3,000 people were added to the Church in Jerusalem (Acts 2:41): it soon increased to 5,000 people (4:4); a great number of people( 6:7): all in Lydda and Sharon believed (9:35); all in Cornelius' house were baptized (10:44). In the Book of Acts the conversion of households is repeatedly mentioned - an important pattern for people movements to Christ. "Household" certainly means individual men, women and children, all of whom represent a "group decision" to accept Christ.

McGavran defines group decision as, "multi-individual, mutually interdependent conversion... Each individual makes up his mind. He hears about Jesus Christ. He debates with himself and others whether it is a good thing to become a Christian. He believes or does not believe. If he believes he joins those who are becoming Christian." It is not one man deciding for the whole group, but each individual deciding for himself, but in consultation with the whole group.

In preparing individuals for a group decision, the missionary must wait for a majority in the group to decide. Sometimes it is difficult to wait, but it is always worth it - and its reward is high. Not only will a large number turn to Christ, but they attract others to do so in the future. There are several advantages for such group decisions. Frederick and Margaret Stock explain some of these advantages: "When a large enough group is won together, the power of ostracism and pressure to recant are greatly reduced. Fellowship and moral support are available to strengthen each member of the group, and marriage arrangements can be made. All these help to create a stable Church, attractive to others of the same caste."

There are also certain weaknesses and dangers in group decision. Sometimes a nominal Christianity could develop with group decisions because some people embrace the Christian faith without a genuine salvation experience. Another danger is backsliding from the Christian faith because some people have not fully understood the implications of becoming a Christian. These and other dangers could be avoided if the missionary is careful in his pre- and post-baptismal teaching. Much of this failure is a result not of the group decisions, but of the lack of spiritual nurture given to the new believers.

7. Give Baptism as First Step Without Much Delay:

All missions and denominations have certain procedures to follow before giving baptism, e. g. teaching of catechism, follow-up classes, personal counselling, guiding them to make a personal commitment to Christ. This pre-baptismal teaching should be completed within three to six months. If we prolong this period the people may lose interest and may turn back from their earlier decision to join the Christian faith. There should not be any unnecessary restrictions imposed on the people to respond to the Gospel. The movement to Christ should be spontaneous and quick with no unnecessary formalities or rites to follow. The missionary must be able to make a proper judgement of the situation and act withOUt any delay.

Delay in giving baptism can result in loss of people both to the Church and to the Lord. An example is the case of a church in Jullundur: "although 5,000 people were baptized in the decade from 1915 to 1925, many more might have been, but... the missionaries in Jullundur felt more strongly than many, that converts should have adequate instruction and give evidence of individual commitment. Because of this many converts were denied baptism until better prepared, and as a result were lost to the Church."

Before giving baptism we should not expect the enquirer to understand all that we want to teach. They, as I group, decide to "turn from their idols to serve the true and the living God" (I Thess. 1:9), which in itself is a good reason for giving baptism. After this first step, they must be taught and helped to grow in their Christian faith. It is important to note that, "In the Great Commission we are commanded to baptize and then teach. This, Scriptural order produces a far more vital, growing Church."

Roland Allen, based on the methods of Paul, emphasizes that, "this teaching followed, it did not precede, baptism. For baptism, apparently very little knowledge of Christian truth was required as an indispensable condition. Any one who was prepared to confess his sins and acknowledge Jesus as Lord might be baptized..."

8. Arrange for immediate and Effective Spiritual Nurture:

An immediate and effective spiritual nurture is important after a group baptism; the failure of such teaching would produce nominal Christians. The aim of evangelism is not lukewarm Christians, but lively and reproducing Christians. Effective spiritual nurture should follow baptism. Regular and systematic Bible teaching according to the intellectual level of new believers should be given for six months to one year. Special Bible camps, spiritual conventions and revival meetings can also be arranged as part of the spiritual nurture program.

In baptism, these new believers have made an initial commitment which should not be considered as the end but the beginning of Christian experience. They must be taught biblical truths leading to a deeper commitment to the Lord. Proper pastoral care should be arranged for the new believers to have regular worship, prayer. Bible camps, retreats and conventions are sound investments towards a stable indigenous church.

More importance should be given to spiritual nurture when churches are formed through group decisions. If not, such a failure could result in nominal and lukewarm churches; but effective spiritual nurture in people movement churches would enhance the growth of the local churches as well as to help to plant new churches. Follow-up teaching for spiritual nurture is vital to the ongoing church planting ministry.

9. Encourage the Believers to Construct Prayer Shed:

Although we believe that God's presence is not confined to a building and that He is present everywhere in Spirit (John 4:24) and that He has promised to be present wherever His people gather to worship (Matt. 18:20), yet the new believers generally sense the need for a public worship place. This is especially true in villages, but it may not hold true in cities and among the higher caste people. In the earlier mission work in South India and in some parts of North India, every village had a church building and a school. In other religions too, the worship place is the center of the village or community. "Live not where there is no temple" is a favorite Tamil proverb, which shows the importance of a worship place in a community or in a village.

In villages, a public worship place helps the new believers to gather regularly for worship, prayer and Bible study, which may not be practical if a private house is used. Also not all new believers may feel free to come to a private house for spiritual meetings. In a public place of worship not only the new believers but their non-Christian friends and relatives feel encouraged to come and listen to the Gospel. Thus in some situations, provision of a public worship place may be helpful to enhance church growth.

It is a good principle for the local people to take the initiative and get involved in building a prayer shed. In the initial stage an expensive building is not necessary. Any village-type shed would be enough.

10. Give Top Priority for Training Local Leadership:

There are two kinds of leadership to be trained and developed from local congregations. One is full-time and supported, and the other is part-time and voluntary leadership. Full-time evangelists and pastors are the supported leaders while the church elders and lay leaders or deacons are the voluntary leaders. The different levels of leadership depends upon the local congregation according to its cultural context.

The local church should decide matters concerning its leadership, such as the number of leaders it needs, the levels of leadership and the leaders' qualifications (according to biblical guidelines). The leadership development should occur in and through the local church; the mission may assist the local church but should not impose its own leaders nor its own structures of leadership.

The Church elders must be men of maturity both in age and in experience, and they must be accepted and recognized by the members of the local congregations. The missionary should help these elders to recognize their spiritual gifts and help them to develop and use their gifts for the edification of the congregation. Preferably, they should be able to read and write, and, if they are not literate, such elders can be included in the adult literacy classes. Systematic Bible teaching should be given to such elders by the missionary.

The elders should assist in conducting worship services, prayer meetings, visiting the sick, etc. The missionary should not hesitate in using these elders for such purposes. Melvin Hodges says: "it may be objected that elders with so little training cannot be trusted to do things in the proper way. Yet the Apostle Paul trusted them. It is true that they will make mistakes. The missionary himself makes mistakes even after years of service." The missionary should trust the local elders and train them to take independent charge of the newly formed congregations.

Local leadership should also include full-time supported evangelists and pastors. A careful selection should he made before sending them for long-term Bible training. Before a final selection, they can be sent to some short-term Bible camps where the missionary can judge their standard of faith, commitment to serve the Lord, ability, and desire to learn and be trained.

The missionary should train these new believers as God's servants through a close association with them both in life and in ministry. New leaders learn more from the life and ministry of the missionary than from books and the classroom. The temptation to delegate his work to local evangelists and pastors and disassociate himself from the work too soon should be avoided by the missionary. Such disassociation would harm the work and the development of the local leaders.

For training local leadership, a rural Bible school is necessary in each district and for each ethnic group. The Bible school should be situated in the mission field rather than in an urbanized town. For such training short term courses for three to six months with a few months of practical work in the fields should be conducted.

A co-operative effort in such training programs by different missions and churches working in a particular area should be explored. Smaller missions and churches would be benefited by localized and co-operated programs. Sending new believers from a rural background to the westernized and urbanized theological colleges in the cities should be avoided, as this will spoil rather than train them as leaders of village congregations.

11. Plan for Enlarged Evangelistic and Church Planting Programs for Each Area and Each People Group:

Some years back, Samuel Kamaleson, president of Friends Missionary Prayer Band (FMPB), commenting on their goal of sending 440 missionaries to North India in ten years said: "Sending 440 missionaries is challenging, but not impossible. When compared to the need, it is a drop in the ocean." India is a vast country with a population nearing 800 million. Thousands of missionaries, evangelists and Christian workers are needed to reach these teeming millions.

It is worth quoting at this point the famous and challenging cry of the father of the Modern Missionary Movement, William Carey: "Expect great things from God and attempt great things for God." Belief in a great God demands great plans. Bold and enlarged plans should be made for church planting and church growth.

Between 1980 and 1982, FMPB introduced a two-year intensive and enlarged evangelistic and church planting program for South Gujarat and Western Maharashtra called "SWEEP" which means "South West Enlarged Evangelistic Plan." The plan was to plant one hundred churches, build one hundred prayer sheds, and train one hundred local leaders. The author worked under this program and can witness that, by God's grace, it was 90% successful. This project gave participating missionaries a sense of urgency and a goal to accomplish and, as a result about 3000 to 4000 people were added to the Church. Such programs need to be introduced every three to five years for a greater harvest or souls.

Presenting such plans before the public for prayer and support should not be seen as a missionary promotional stunt, but rather as a missionary strategy to save the lost. From time to time the churches and missions which are involved in a church planting ministry should evaluate their present work, make bold plans, and work out new strategies on a five year basis for a particular area or people group. The plan should be an enlarged one to cover the entire population of a tribe or community. Separate plans should be worked out for each people group so that the very last man of that particular tribe might hear the Gospel message and respond to it.

Go to The Stages of Church Planting

Excerpted from "Church Planting Approach to Mission" by S. Devasagayam Ponraj, Bethel Bible Institute, Danishpet - 636354, Salem Dist., Tamil Nadu, India. 1987.


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