The journey we find ourselves on

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.


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