The journey we find ourselves on

Archive for May, 2012

Seven Keys to Effective Church Planting

There are 7 keys to effective church planting (at least according to the article I read recently). Maybe there are more? But this seemed to be a great starting point.

1. More effective church planters spend more time in prayer. The more time spent in prayer, the more effective the church planter. Regardless of field difficulties, those who prayed more tended to be more effective. The most effective church planters average four hours and 15 minutes more in prayer per week than their less effective colleagues.

2. More effective church planters use more broadly based evangelistic efforts. The most effective church planters had a greater tendency to use outreach methods that provide a large number of contacts in a given community. Those who enter a new cross-cultural situation, and devise a method for sharing the gospel with a large number of people, may then identify from this large group those who appear to be spiritually hungry. They invest productive time in discipling those who are more interested.

Starting the process, finding spiritually interested people, is best accomplished by some form of community-wide evangelistic campaign, with lots of noise, excitement, and activity, using many people. Traditionally, this meant nightly meetings with a well-known speaker. But successful church planters are not limited to that method.

They often use a variety of tools, including films, video, door-to-door witnessing, surveys, public meetings, book tables, singing groups, drama, media campaigns, parades, special services, extended prayer meetings, and so on.

Evangelistic methods aimed at a narrow range of people become wider if carried out by a sufficient number of people. For instance, a home Bible study group is not a broad-based method. But if multiple Bible study groups are started in a target community, then the outreach is extended, leading to greater overall results.

This principle supports the current use of church-planting teams. More people together in ministry are better able to carry out broad-based evangelistic methods.

3. More effective church planters are more flexible in their methods. The most effective church planters demonstrate a high degree of creativity in their outreaches. They identify and use culturally relevant ways to communicate.

Each method has a target audience. Some methods hit one class, educational level, or even sex or age group better than others. Using a variety of methods extends the range of potential successes. The broader pool makes it more likely that people in families, clans, and groups will respond individually and simultaneously to the gospel. This increases the chances for a people movement.

More successful church planters combine flexibility with broadbased efforts. They coordinate multiple, broad-based methods. Evangelizing in multiple ways simultaneously compounds their effectiveness. Each method appeals to and attracts a different cross-section of the population, building up the effort to find those who are interested.

These church planters seek to use numbers of people for bursts of intensive outreach. Nearby church people, fellow missionaries, distant national Christians, international teams, and short-term workers make the contacts for later follow-up.

4. More effective church planters are more committed to a doctrinal position. While creativity and flexibility are beneficial in evangelism, rigidity in doctrinal position, at least initially, produces better results. The most effective church planters appear to be very tight in their theology. The specific position itself is not as important as strict adherence to it.

It seems that in establishing new believers it is best not to get into doctrinal controversies, but better to transmit core beliefs. Possibly by focusing on the major point of reaching additional people, rather than taking the time and energy to thrash out all the pros and cons of various theological debates, churches grow faster.

A “this is what we believe, take it or leave it” attitude, while not the best for developing theological creativity, does allow for concentration on the basics. Greater theological diversity, especially at the beginning, can delay expansion. Energy expended in defining and learning the finer points of theology, and then choosing a doctrinal position, is better used in reproduction.

5. More effective church planters establish greater credibility. There is a high degree of correlation between missionaries who emphasize activities to increase credibility and who plant more churches.

Credibility is established in two ways, but meeting social needs and by building relationships with community leaders. These steps of themselves do not make church planters more effective. But as church planters incorporate social work and building relationships into their total ministries, people respond.

Social work is not the primary focus of effective church planters, but one of many activities done by the more effective ones. They do not say, “First we will fill your stomach and then you will be willing to hear our message.” Rather, they say, “We will proclaim our message. If you want to have your stomach filled, that is possible, too.”

Social activity and gospel witness go on simultaneously. One does not depend on the other. Often national Christians do the social work while others witness. Local people participate as they will. Social ministries, of course, produce additional contacts. Non-Christians get to know Christians and the church building in non-threatening, need-based encounters. They see the church as credible, as part of the community, not an outside agency. They become more open to the gospel.

Building relationships means getting to know the political, religious, government, military, and other community leaders. After getting to know as many of them as possible, effective church planters develop a few deeper friendships. This reduces suspicions and helps alleviate future problems.

For example, new Christians were having a Christmas celebration in a moderately hostile Muslim area of Indonesia. A low-level official came to shut it down. But the national church planter had developed a close relationship with this official’s supervisor. He arrived and asked if there were any problems. The lower-ranking man bowed out and the Christians said everything was fine. What could have been a disaster was avoided because of the care taken to establish a friendship.

6. More effective church planters have a greater ability to identify and then work with people who have a loosely structured religion. Where the religious structure is fairly loose, church planting tends to be more successful. This finding corresponds to the principle that says church planters ought to work among more open people first. As they respond, church planters can build on multiplied contacts provided by new Christians among more resistant people.

Successful church planters in the survey were either finding sectors of society more open to change, or they were using evangelism and making converts in ways that allowed people to become Christians and retain the essence of their culture, while putting a Christian stamp on it. This confirms what Donald McGavran has taught, the “resistance arises primarily from fear that ‘becoming a Christian will separate me from my people.'” (Understanding Church Growth, p. 191).

For example, more people tend to respond to the gospel when they have recently moved. Some of the more effective church planters worked with people who had just migrated into land areas recently opened by the government for settlement.

Other successful church planters find large new housing projects more open to the gospel for the first five years. Once people had settled in and developed new habits, they were no longer as open. They had built a new web of social contacts, so they had more to lose by joining a Christian group than when they first arrived.

7. More effective church planters have a greater ability to incorporate new converts into evangelistic outreach. Consistently, the more effective ones quickly involved new believers in ministry and evangelism, even though they had minimal training. The survey uncovered three positive results from this practice.

First, new convert evangelism takes advantage of natural bridges for sharing the gospel while the new convert still has the greatest number of non-Christian friends. The longer people are Christians, the fewer non-Christian friends they tend to have.

Second, as new believers do evangelism, they develop a stronger commitment to the gospel. They become insiders, part of a new family. Even if forced to cut the ties with their old relationships, they can see new friendships developing.

Third, as they share their faith, new believers immediately are hit with questions about what they believe. Rather than destroying their faith, this forces them to study and learn more about it. As they study the Bible and learn from more experienced Christians, their faith and knowledge grow. Their quest for maturity is need driven.

Check the article for the rest. It’s worth a read.


Keeping My Eyes on the Prize

Just read a great article by Paul Baloche on Ministry, Money, and Motivation. He calls to mind Paul’s words “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves” (Phil. 2:3) and applies them to the pursuit of ministry. As I’m finishing seminary and working actively to determine the next step, I am constantly wrestling with the temptation to do what is easiest and makes most financial sense. I am constantly being tempted to seek first my own kingdom. My prayer has to be, “Lord, help me seek first Your kingdom.” And right now, that’s not easy.

Loving the City

An article I read on loving the city the other day is worth a read. It is a helpful exhortation and a critique of many movements currently happening. The author makes 6 basic points:

(1) Fighting for marriage.”The marriage rate for African Americans has been dropping since the 1960s, and today, we have the lowest marriage rate of any racial group in the United States. In 2001, according to the U.S. Census, 43.3 percent of black men and 41.9 percent of black women in America had never been married, in contrast to 27.4 percent and 20.7 percent respectively for whites. African American women are the least likely in our society to marry. In the period between 1970 and 2001, the overall marriage rate in the United States declined by 17 percent; but for blacks, it fell by 34 percent.”

(2) Fighting against abortion, foster care, and for adoption. “In New York, for example, In NYC, Black’s have a 59.8% abortion rate, Hispanics have a 41.3% abortion rate, Asians have a 22.7% abortion rate, and Whites have a 20.4% abortion rate “(prob b/c of the pill). One-third of all kids in foster care are black. There is real race bias in this system.

(3) Working against ethnic violence. “The alarming statistics about violence among African-American boys and men is so oft-cited that they have become cliches: for example, “black men are the leading cause of death among young blacks [male and female]”; “1 in 146 black males are at risk of violent death”; and though comprising only 13 percent of the U.S. population, 43 percent of all murder victims are black, compounded by the fact that 93 percent of them are killed by other blacks.”

(4) Rescuing urban children from substandard education. The Schott Foundation recently reported that only 47 percent of black males graduate from high school on time, compared to 78 percent of white male students.

(5) Helping hurting people to not self-medicate their pain with drugs and alcohol. “The 2006 National Survey on Drug Use and Health showed that the highest rate of current (past month) illicit drug use was among American Indian/Alaska Natives (13.7%), followed by blacks/African Americans (9.8%), persons reporting two or more races (8.9%), whites (8.5%), Native Hawaiian/other Pacific Islanders (7.5%), and Hispanics (6.9%). The lowest rate of current illicit drug use was among Asians (3.6%)”

(6) Working to fight HIV/AIDS proliferation. “Blacks/African Americans accounted for 52% of new HIV diagnoses and 48% of AIDS diagnoses in 2008. Of the total number of people living with HIV in 2007 in the 37 U.S. states and 5 dependent areas, 46% were black/African American; 32% white; 20% Hispanic/Latino; 0.8% multiple races; 0.6% Asian; 0.4% American Indian/Alaska Native; and 0.04% Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander.

See the rest of the article for the discussion of these points and the critiques of the “hipster” vision.

Do You Want Freedom and True Joy?

Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:4

This is the simple truth that was overshadowed in Genesis 3. God’s goodness and truth were traded for moral autonomy – the chance for man to be his own god. The serpent undermined Eve’s view of God, leading her to question God’s loving boundaries. The cost of moral autonomy was and is great. Banishment from the garden and the Tree of Life, physical and spiritual death, toil and pain continue to this day.

As Americans, we talk a lot about freedom, but we rarely pause to give any definition to the word itself. What do we mean by freedom? Is freedom the just rule of law, or the lack of all rules?

Adam and Eve had freedom in the Garden to eat of every tree except one. They had the freedom of trusting in a loving God who had created them to enjoy His presence. Instead, they chose freedom from God and His rule – both His sovereign rule and His single command. They wrongly saw freedom in moral autonomy. Instead, they subjected themselves to the serpent – an animal over which Adam had been commanded to rule. The power structures of the world were turned upside-down (God>Man>Serpent became Serpent>Man>God).

This is where we find ourselves today. Our hearts (yours and mine) long for moral autonomy – the right to make our own rules. We want to be like gods. We desperately believe that we will only find true joy when we rid ourselves of the rule makers in our lives, especially if they disagree with our moral vision. This is the very heart of sin. It is a rebellion against God’s right as our Creator to rule our lives. We have declared our own sovereignty within His territory, making us His enemies. And for this, He has every right and obligation to punish us as traitors.

We are traitors and fugitives. There is no freedom for traitors and fugitives. Traitors and fugitives live in the shadows. They don’t show their face in public. They fear being exposed, and often strike out violently against those who threaten to blow their cover. Does this sound like your heart? In your search for freedom, have you found hopelessness instead?

This is where the good news comes in, and it’s free. On the cross, Jesus paid the penalty for our rebellion. He stood in our place, so that we could stand before God in his place. God’s justice and wrath were poured out on Jesus in place of all who give up their rebellion and see that he is their only hope. His resurrection guarantees the verdict, and grants freedom to rebel captives. Do you want freedom and true joy? This is the only place you will find it! Confess your rebellion and look to the Savior! Delight yourself in the Lord!