Friday, December 18, 2009

Shaping the Local Church – Who Decides?

There is a proliferation of models out there. In their book, "Eleven Innovations in the Local Church" Towns, Stetzer and Bird list the following sampling:

  • Organic house churches
  • Recovery churches
  • Multi-site churches
  • Ancient-future churches
  • City-Reaching churches
  • Community Transformation churches
  • Cyber-Enhanced churches
  • Nickelodeon-Style Children-Focused churches
  • Intentionally Multicultural churches
  • Decision-Journey churches
  • Attractional churches
    • And then they have an appendix with "Extreme Churches!" Yikes!

Now I love to dream about the ideal church that will multiply, transform, and reach a city. But other cross-cultural church planters didn't always share my idea of the ideal church. Tom Steffen, Missions professor at Biola University has found that the primary factor influencing the future shape of a church plant is still the dream in the mind of the church planter(s). By determining shape I mean deciding what a local church will look like (model, design) and how it will gather and function.

Church planting models tend to reflect the history, goals, and aspirations of those who develop them. One could say the same of the models church planters select—they tend to reflect the history, goals, and aspirations of those who select them. Church planters who prefer to take a more controlling role throughout the church plant will select a model that reflects such a philosophy… Those who seek to phase out, i.e., gradually turn the ministry over to nationals, or take a subordinate role under nationals, will select models that support such aspirations, e.g., Patterson's model. Models and church planters tend to find themselves intricately intertwined.

My question is whether missionaries should be the prime movers determining church shape cross-culturally. What do you think? What about indigenous factors like the ministry focus group, receptivity, worldview, and cultural patterns of family and voluntary gatherings? So who should decide what the church should look like? There aren't too many options:

Local Believers - Many would say the best human agents to shape the new church are biblically-informed cultural insiders. Free from outside control and imported designs they can, under the Spirit's direction, become the natural contextualizing community – the group that interprets both Scripture and context to make decisions about how the church will function. "Wait a minute," someone objects. "Have you met the core group in our church plant? Even if they were capable of making weighty decisions about the future of the church, don't they have more pressing things to be working on as new believers?" The problem is that in pioneer settings it may take a while before local believers can make those types of decisions; first they need to understand the church, its nature and purposes.

Expatriate Missionaries - Missionaries bring much to the table: their theological training, experiences and models from other cultures, and (in most cases) teamwork and critical thinking skills. As students of culture they may have insights that a local person might overlook. Besides, sometimes the best approach is counter-cultural. For example, hospitality to people outside one's inner circle of family and friends is biblically important even it is not part of the cultural norm. But obviously, new missionaries may lack cultural savvy. And even veteran missionaries have been known to be ethnocentric and unable to put aside their personal preferences – or to see them as such.

Expatriate and local believers together – Do local believers really need to be mature to be cultural mentors? Some instinctively know what a good cultural fit is. It does not take theological training to anticipate how unbelievers will respond to evangelistic approaches and types of gatherings. A recent convert needs only to remember how he/she reacted or check out how friends and family respond to an idea. Why shouldn't a bi-cultural group be formed- church planters who are growing in their understanding of the culture and local believers who are growing in their understanding of the Scriptures and the church? Missionaries can begin with a simple family-style Christian community until biblically-informed cultural insiders join them in the shaping of the church. Then they can teach about the local church and empower and advise local believers toward structures they can embrace together.

If we agree that both have significant pieces to contribute, how should they proceed together? Let us explore some best practices for shaping a church plant in a cross-cultural context.

Toward Best Practices for a Bi-Cultural Strategy Group

Here are some ideas to start with. Please respond by sharing your own experience or opinion on who should decide and how to decide. Very little is written on this. We need to learn from each other.

1. Select those who decide church structure carefully. Sometimes local believers become a Christian subculture out of touch with the contemporary culture. Local contextualizing agents should be believers who understand their neighbors and are able to be relevant while remaining biblical. Also if they have the support of the other believers then the decisions about church shape. A missionary may have a hard time distinguishing between what is a biblical non-negotiable and a cultural expectation. Anyone – local or expatriate – who is unable or unwilling to distinguish between the two should sit it out. One pioneer church planting team formed an advisory board of mature, sympathetic and likeminded nationals – some from within the church plant and some from without - to advise them in the work in the initial stages.

2. Missionaries should be advisors. They should avoid excessive influence or unilateral decisions for three reasons: (1) the local church and its ministry ultimately belong to local believers under Christ. Missionaries lay a foundation and pass the baton. (2) If they impose their preferred model they should not be surprised when that community sheds their idea to adopt a design that seems more natural or promising. (3) If the design is "owned" by the local leadership team it is more likely to follow indigenous lines, draw local people, grow and reproduce.

3. Study Scripture together to understand biblical purposes. The Scriptures allow much discretion as to forms but the biblical values and functions should be clearly identified and understood by the local believers. This will require much corporate Bible study and discussion. In cross-cultural church planting it is especially important that the believers come to their own biblical understandings and convictions about the church so that it is clear to them that the church is not merely an imported idea of the church planter. This will position local believers to discern how those biblical purposes can be fulfilled in culturally appropriate ways.

4. Consider this a spiritual journey. Iron may sharpen iron but where there are too many sparks, fires can break out. Rather than considering these strategy discussions perhaps they should be seen along the lines of the Acts 6 and 13. Those leaders sought God's leading to determine ministries and select people. Prayer and listening skills are needed to come to consensus about God's leading. The group should be united but unafraid to ask tough questions and able to disagree graciously.

5. Put into practice before you decide. The group can discover what it means to be a kingdom community in their context as they live out the biblical purposes and functions of the church. For example while designing small groups they can function as a prototype and evaluate their experiences. A church planter decided to take the entire embryonic community (of about 20 new believers) to visit other more established churches before beginning public worship. They experienced various forms of worship and small group meetings and met to discuss what practices they found were most biblical, edifying, and culturally-appropriate. They identified elements that they decided they would certainly avoid and others they enjoyed. This may sound too existential, but it is extremely practical. The starting point is always "biblical purposes." But the way they are fleshed out is tested before being adopted.

6. Consider shaping the church an ongoing process. Some value tradition and others prefer innovation. But because cultures are always changing, the church must continually reinvent itself while remaining faithful to her divine calling. She must always seek to be more missionally-effective. Shaping the church contextually takes ongoing reflection, dialogue, experimentation and evaluation. It is a refining process because as the local church grows it will need new structures and leaders. Thus missionaries must hold their favorite structures very loosely and trust God to continue shaping HIS church.

Is there a suggested best practice you disagree with or have questions about? Please share that. But also add any words of advice from you reading or experience. Thanks.


[1] Towns, Elmer, Ed Stetzer, and Warren Bird. 2007. 11 innovations in the local church – How today’s leaders can learn, discern and move into the future. Ventura, CA: Regal Books.

[2] Steffen, Tom Missiology: An International Review, Vol XXII, No. 3, July 1994, 366-367[1] This decision making body is sometimes called a “hermeneutical community” (Hiebert 1987, 1994).

[3] This decision making body is sometimes called a “hermeneutical community” (Hiebert 1987, 1994).

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Missionary Roles in Church Planting – Jay Pinney

Missionary roles in Church Planting

A Dallas seminary grad was interested in pursuing the mission field as a possible place where he could be involved in church planting. As we discussed various options, he was adamant. He wanted to plant a multicultural church along with his wife. It didn't matter if multicultural churches were struggling in the city he was interested in, or if American missionaries had yet to produce much fruit as direct church planters in the area, or if there were church planting coaches and trainers needed. He felt he had received a clear call to plant a multicultural church himself, either on the mission field or somewhere in the Dallas area. I do not know where this young man and his wife are today, and I do not want to call into question his call or conviction of what he sensed God wanted him to do. But his story does help introduce the topic of missionary roles in church planting. As we move toward multiplication, what are some roles which missionaries can assume which contribute to indigenous, self-supporting, and reproducing local churches led by national leaders? The roles listed below carry with them the potential to impact a number of churches or even denominations. Often national church leaders have great difficulty filling these roles. This list is not exhaustive. Would you please let us know if you have any comments or have seen a missionary contribute to church planting in other ways?

1) Church Planting Researcher: The research role is undervalued amongst most evangelicals. At a 2008 European church planting institute, a young Slovak pastor showed other attendees a map of his country in which cities and regions were color coded in such a way as to designate areas which had the most and least evangelical churches. It was even coded to distinguish between charismatic and non-charismatic groups. Two missionaries had worked to produce the map and the accompanying statistics. The map was having an important impact across the country, according to the young pastor. The need for new churches was clearly evident and nationals were responding to the need by mobilizing themselves for church planting. Two missionaries put in the work and the national church was inspired to take up the task. In Canada, a database with information about all evangelical churches is generated using a mapping program. Denominations can pinpoint areas where there is significant population growth and few evangelical works exist. This research has demonstrated how the number of new churches is now increasing in Canada and how Canadian church attendance as a whole is now on the rise after dropping for decades. This has encouraged all denominations to continue their progress in planting new churches. They can see tangible results.

2) Church Planting Coach: Church Planting guru Ed Stetzer's PhD thesis was a study of those factors which positively influenced the growth of newly planted churches. One of the factors he noted was the importance of each church planter having a coach and meeting with that coach on a regular basis. Stetzer's data suggested that instituting regular appointments was one of the most effective ways to increase attendance in new church plants. This coaching function should continue through the first four years of the church plant. Stetzer's statistics showed a 25% higher attendance for churches by year four whose planters had received regular coaching over against churches whose planters had no coaching. Coaches keep church planters on track and accountable and encourage them as they go through difficult or discouraging periods in their ministry. They also keep their ear to the ground for potential resources and try to spot potential problems before they grow to affect the church plant negatively. Several denominations in the U.S. have committed themselves to not plant churches without providing a coach of some kind for their church planters. Yet on the mission field, unfortunately coaches are the exception, rather than the rule. It would seem obvious that a great missionary role would be to help national church planters, those who have a greater understanding of the language and culture, become more effective through coaching.

3) Church Planting Catalyzer: Catalyzers are people who use systems, structures, or resources to increase both the number and viability of new church plants. These catalyzers can operate on a national or regional level, with a single association or inter-denominationally. Many denominations in North America have recognized the need for someone to catalyze church plants for them and have placed someone in charge of development for the denomination either nationally or regionally. Some denominations have set up church planting committees, composed of pastors and other leaders who have a heart to see the number of church plants increase and the attendance in new churches increase more rapidly. Catalyzers can operate in a variety of ways, either formally or informally encouraging and supporting church planting through promoting church planting, training church planters, seeking funding for new churches, recruiting candidates to become church planters, or in creating training resources for church planting. In France, a number of denominations and missions are coming together to form a network with the goal of promoting best practices. In order for a denomination to establish someone as a catalyzer, there needs to be an important commitment to church planting already in place and some funding available for such a position. Until the resources are available for a national catalyzer, a missionary could fulfill this function. Some associations (EFC Brazil and Germany for example) use the term Church Planting Director for this role.

4) Church Planting Master Trainer/Professor: In Quebec, leaders from all major denominations have come together to partner in training church planters. A yearly church planters' boot camp is offered with segments being taught by five or six experienced church planters from different denominations. This approach has enabled all the denominations to have high quality church planter training accessible to them on a yearly basis, taught by national church planters. A missionary coordinates the training and updates the French church planting manual yearly with the help of the Quebec trainers. The same missionary works to organize training events in which best practices and their practitioners are given a platform to speak from. In Africa our sister mission ReachAfrica has launched their church multiplication training. But they believe they will not be able to contextualize and distribute the training to meet the needs of the African continent without also training Master Trainers. These master trainers select and coach trainers as well as handle the training.

At times a theological educator with experience in church planting can contribute significantly by teaching church planting and/or using Biblical and theological training to strengthen national movements. As denominations or associations of churches grow, they need leaders who have greater training and understanding of the Scriptures and missiology to keep their movement on track. In Latin America, ReachGlobal has developed Masters-level training which combines sound practice with biblical training in leadership and ministry. This is a great use of missionary personnel as a long term help to depth and stability among the churches of a nation or people group.

5) Equipper of Evangelists: In many places where ReachGlobal works, the greatest challenge is the slow rate of conversion. The key to seeing large numbers of newly planted churches is effective evangelism. But who is helping equip and train evangelists? What methods and means of presenting the Gospel are most effective among various people groups? Who is helping promote the most effective methods? Who is recruiting evangelists to work with new church plants, to help them grow and become stable? Again missionaries could have a dramatic impact on a nation through the training of evangelists. The Billy Graham association offers on occasion large gatherings for evangelists to come and be encouraged in their ministry. There is a great need for training at the grass roots level for those who want to share the Gospel effectively. In countries where post-modernism or agnosticism reigns, there is great need for training to be given so that those who are gifted to share the Gospel can respond intelligently to the rebuttals they receive to the claims of Christ. An equipper of evangelists could see multiplied thousands of conversions take place through their influence and ministry.

6) Church Co-Planter: In Quebec, American missionaries working alongside national church planters are seeing better success in their church planting efforts than those who have taken on the church planter role alone. By working closely with one or more national church planters or on a team, the individual church plant does not depend on the missionary. This also avoids the frequently difficult transition from missionary leadership to local leadership. In one Quebec case, the missionary was called back to the States for a six month period and the church continued to grow in his absence. The national 'co-planter' was more than able to shoulder the additional burden with some help from the mother church. Having missionaries 'go it alone' was discouraged by two French denominational leaders who felt that missionaries have a tendency to experiment by using 'fresh new ideas' which seldom seem to work in their culture. They much preferred pairing missionaries with French church planters, thereby providing some further direction on what was most effective in planting healthy new churches in France. A missionary who steps up into a direct church planting leadership role, becoming the "up front leader" for a local church, creates an entire set of expectations and certain dependencies. Without knowing it, this missionary may well hamper the growth of the church due to his status as a respected outsider. This can take place even if the church initially grows quite quickly under missionary leadership.

Conclusion: These six roles are by no means exhaustive and they are not meant to rule out a missionary doing direct church planting in pioneering situations where there are no local church planters. Which approach will bear the most fruit over a missionary career - working to directly plant one church over a period of ten to fifteen years or impacting dozens of church plants or whole denominations as a catalyzer, coach, master trainer, co-planter or researcher? This allows a missionary to move on more quickly and see more churches planted over their career. Missionaries can have a
greater impact over a longer time frame in a given culture or region by investing in roles which nationals often cannot assume and allow nationals to assume direct planting roles for which they are often better prepared. And isn't this closer to the Pauline model? From a biblical perspective, the missionary role is an apostolic role, not a permanent leadership role in a given church. Before taking on a direct church planting role, missionaries need to consider the possibilities and the multiplied impact of indirect roles which have been effective in impacting larger numbers of people for the Gospel and in creating greater numbers of healthy churches.

Jay Pinney

ReachGlobal missionary,

Montreal, Quebec

September, 2009


Thursday, August 6, 2009

Hot in Colombia! It was 104 degrees in Cartagena so we struggled with the heat but at least had a simple room with AC to sleep. No toilet seats but who cares when you have AC and can get a good night’s sleep! J The people were as warm and hospitable as the weather. One highlight was traveling by bus for the first time to Sincelejo on a road which had been controlled by the FARC guerrillas for years. There we (four Colombian national leaders, Mike Gunderson and I) encouraged the saints and ordained their church planter Guillermo.

Church Planting Advance in Colombia

The first time I tried to go to Colombia, Linda didn't want me to go. Crime and kidnappings were at an all time high. We checked with someone in the country and they said the day we planned to arrive was election day and trouble was expected. We postponed.

A few months later we went and we were restricted to the major cities. The only way to drive from Bogota to Cartagena was in a caravan with military escorts. We went to the cities.

This time (July 09) for the first time we could travel freely outisde the cities. One church plant in Sincelejo had not been visited in years. The plan was to visit, encourage the brothers and sisters and ordain the church planter. Three other goals had been set:
  1. Help them with church planting plans and strategies using lay church planting teams

  2. Encourage and advise all the workers

  3. Introduce Mike my replacement as church planting coach for Latin America
It was so encouraging to find out that our Colombian friends didn’t wait for us to make their CPing plans. They chose three new sites in Monteria, Bogota and Baranquilla and had already discussed who would be interested in planting the churches. Most of the pastors would love to leave their pastoral ministry to evangelize and start a new church. One pastor has already made an exploratory trip to one of the new sites on his own. The real challenge we discussed was raising up new workers and pastors in the churches to replace the pastors who want to go out. Our colleague Omar Rodriguez will be going in a few weeks to launch a new Church Based Training ministry that comes from Spain. We see so clearly how Missions and Leadership Development must go hand in hand. Please pray for Omar’s ministry and the facilitators he will be training from each region.

picture 1: Carlos, Gene, Guillermo, Giovanni, Mike and Jhollman

picture 2: church plant that had 7 people 3 years ago when Guillermo arrived

picture 3: Giovanni the national leader prays for Guillermo

In Bogota
The last 2 ½ days were much cooler - about 65-70 during the day and cold at night. Bogota is a mile high and the people are more reserved and professional. There is less interest in church planting but the pastors we met want to plant a church together. Two of them feel God’s call to be missionaries one day. It is so encouraging to see how God is tugging at the hearts of Latin Americans to reach Post-Christian Europeans and Muslims.

Anoth highlight personally was spending the entire week (including flights) with Mike Gunderson who is replacing me as Latin America Church Planting Coach. He is a joy to work with and an able equipper and coach with 20 years of experience in Brazil. Please pray for Mike as he transitions to this role and builds on what God has already done to raise up church planting leaders and coaches.
Soon after I got home Orlando, one of the pastor who was away during our visit called me on skype. He asked about my new role. I assured him that roles change but friendships remain. Some relationships last for time and eternity. What a joy to work with these fine men.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Best Practices for New Church Strategy Development

Best Practices for Strategy Development
Strategy Development Cycle: Six P's

Do you have a viable, biblical, long-term church planting and multiplication strategy?

Another way to ask that question is: "Is the end product indigenous, self-supporting, health and reproducing churches?" Occasionally God plants a church with little or no planning. God can act as He chooses. We must also be aware that there are many tragic failures in church planting that could be avoided.

  • One author calls church planting in the modern world "getting a church started in the face of insurmountable obstacles with limited resources in unlikely circumstances".
  • Ramon Carmona of Colombia claims that the greatest obstacles to effective church planting are 1) the lack of a clear call, 2) the inability to work on a team and 3) the lack of an adequate strategy.
  • John Worcester "Purpose Driven Church Planting" claims that 80% of church plants die within 5 years. The same percentage as business start-ups that fail (Klippenes 2001).
  • Many church plants miss the target. They gather believers instead of reaching non-believers.
  • Many church plants plateau at 65 people. They may never overcome the "100 people hurdle".
  • Church plants that succeed and grow often do not multiply.

    Robert Logan says that in his opinion 80% of the problems in church planting come from problems of conception (Logan 1992).

These facts demonstrate that we can't rely on strategy but we must take it seriously. In Proverbs 24: 3-4 we read: "By wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established; through knowledge its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures." If it takes wisdom to build our physical homes, how much more to build the house of God! Please take time to respond to the Best Practices suggested below. Let us know what you think! We can learn together.

Starting at the starting point

A strategy that God will use and bless is built on God's mandate, the Great Commission, and Biblical principles and precedents. It is bathed in prayer and builds on what God is already doing and revealing. First seek God's counsel then the counsel of wise advisors. Understanding the demographic make-up, the worldview, and the cultural-religious traditions of the ministry focus groups is also critical. For this reason plans should not be made in haste but be bathed in prayer and study.

Key questions regarding the MACRO or "movement" dimension:

1. How has God been at work and how can we fit into what he is already doing?

2. What do we know about the terrain (lay out of the land, major arteries and communication)?

3. How is God preparing this target group (demographics, people group profile, and worldview)?

4. Who is God bringing together to be part of the church planting team?

5. Who will partner with us in this new faith venture?

Does the strategy focus on people?

The main goal of church-planting teams is the multiplication of reproducing disciples and spiritual communities. Building and programs become a way to provide the movement a roof and wheels when they are needed. "It is easier to plant a seed than to transplant a tree. This is especially true of trees that have no root system. In the same way, it is easier to plant the essence of the church than to transplant a certain cultural expression of the church. In nature, seeds grow into plants that produce new seeds, that in turn are to be planted. In the same way, the church is planted in culture so that it can produce seeds that will insure its reproduction. We fulfill the Great Commission as we arc faithful in planting seeds that are capable of growing into reproducing churches." (David Guiles, GBIM)

Who puts it together?

David Garrison has said that the best means of contextualization is indigenization (Garrison 2004) – that means it is necessary to empower local practitioners to design and implement their own strategies. Where there are local indigenous church planters, they will have special insights into the people to be reached, felt needs, evangelistic and helping ministries and relevant ways to shape the church and its ministry for greater impact. In a pioneer setting the missionary team would have to take the initiative in consultation with cultural insiders.

Leadership roles also come into play. The church planting leader coordinates the research and strategic planning, delegating to team members according to their skills and insight into the culture. Then together they will be able to evaluate their progress and make adjustments to the strategy as they go along.

What are some best practices for the church planting strategy design?

One suggestion would be to work from the unchanging to the changing, from the principles to local applications.

Unchanging Elements

  • Biblical Mandate
  • Biblical Principles
  • Biblical Precedents

Changing Elements

  • Church Planting Terrain
  • Church Planting Target (ministry focus group)
  • Church Planting Team

What does that look like? Here are some specific building blocks.

Going from Macro to Micro: (see chart 6 Ps of an Integrated CP Strategy at beginning of this post)

An effective, integrated church planting strategy will answer the following 6 P's:

1) Purpose - What is the church planting vision God has given (regional and local vision)?
2) Place - Where is he calling us to begin (geographic or ethnographic)?
3) Person - Who is God setting apart to lead this effort (apostolic, pastoral or catalytic)?
4) Players - Who will be on the team (support team and church planting team)?
5) Plan - What will the churches look like and how will they be planted (design and steps)?
6) Provision -What resources are needed and how will we find them (human and financial)?

What Process and Best Practices could be used?

We have already talked about prayer, faithfulness to biblical foundations, reliance on indigenous principles and engagement in solid research as some of the building blocks. Here are some other practical things to consider:

1. When is the best time to develop this strategy? It could be done too early before there is sufficient understanding of the people to be reached? Should you wait for local disciples to be involved?

2. What should be included in the plan? The vision, ministry focus group, core values, and church planting approach should unquestionably be chosen early on. But how about evangelistic, disciple-making and leadership training plans? What else should be included?

3. Who should be involved in the process besides the team? We mentioned the role cultural insiders have to play. But should this plan be reviewed by the immediate supervision, national church leaders, and/or a church planting coach?

4. How often should the execution of the strategy be evaluated and the plan itself be reviewed? Monthly? Quarterly? Yearly?

What best practices do you suggest? Please respond so others can benefit.


Gene Wilson

p.s. If you would like someone to review your church planting plans, I would be happy to do it or find someone better qualified to do it for you.

Church Planting Ideas

Church Planting Ideas
Click on my picture for more information

Search This Blog

Follow by Email

About Me

My photo
Gene is serving as Church Planting Director for ReachGlobal and has been a church planter in Quebec and a church planting coach in Latin America.