EAST ASIA (BP)–The revolution started with 30 doubting farmers.
It was long after dark. Weary from working all day in the fields, they sat in the church — the smallest of only three churches in a county of nearly 700,000 people — and listened to “John,” a visiting Southern Baptist missionary.
John told them of his vision: at least one church in each of the 200-plus towns and villages in the East Asian county within three years. And they were the seeds God would plant to make it happen. They looked at each other, then stared at the missionary as if he were crazy.
“Everyone here can start by holding a ‘family Bible group’ in your own home,” John said.
“How can we do that?” they asked. “Who will teach?”
“You will be the teacher,” John replied.
Frowns. Shaking heads. “But we don’t know how.”
“I will teach you right now how to do it. It’s a very simple way. You have your own story of how you became a Christian. Just write it down on one page.”
John asked them to read their “story” aloud five times to themselves, then tell it to each other.
Next, he told them to list everyone they personally knew who didn’t follow Christ, starting with relatives and friends. Most could easily think of 50, 60, 100 or more.
“Divide them into groups of five,” John said. “Find them in the fields, in the restaurant, at home, anywhere. Bring them to your place and share your story.”
He returned two weeks later to see what had happened. Only 11 of the trainees had shared with anyone. He asked them to tell of their experiences to encourage the others. Several had shared with two or three people; one had told 11.
John again challenged the “silent 19” to share with people on their list — or not to bother coming to the next training session. To the rest, he began teaching a series of simple Bible lessons they in turn could teach — and train others to teach.
By January 2001 (two months later), 20 small worship groups had sprung up. Four months after that, 327 small groups with 4,000 newly baptized believers were meeting in 17 towns. By the end of the year, more than 12,000 new believers were worshiping God in 908 house churches.
“We don’t train teachers. We train trainers,” John explains. “One generation teaches a second generation, and the second generation teaches the third generation. Monday you can teach one group, Wednesday another group, Thursday another. If you teach more, you have more.”
One old farmer took up the challenge — and started more than 100 churches in a year. He rises each day at 5 a.m. with two hours of Bible reading and prayer, works in the fields until 5 p.m., then goes home to his family. At 7 p.m., he heads back out. “I work in God’s fields until midnight,” he proudly says.
CHURCHES PLANTING CHURCHES
John repeated the process in the sprawling urban center nearby, where millions of workers toil in thousands of factories. Many come from surrounding provinces and live in factory dormitories.
“They eat, they work, they sleep inside the factory,” he says. “Every dormitory room has maybe eight or 12 people. They are very lonely. If one person becomes a Christian, he can lead the whole room to Christ.”
The Christian trainers “lost” one factory worker, a new believer they had trained to teach. One day he disappeared.
“After six months we found him again,” John reports. “He had been transferred to another large factory with 10,000 workers in it. During those six months, he had started 70 small groups and seen 10 generations of reproduction” — churches planting churches planting churches.
By mid-2003, less than three years after 30 tired farmers gathered to listen to a missionary they suspected was crazy, the church-planting movement had produced more than 9,300 churches — and more than 104,000 baptized believers.
A SIMPLE BUT GOOD WAY
How did it happen? Prayer (John readily displays the calluses on his knees). Passion. “End vision” — with the ultimate goal in mind. Simple, transferable training skills. Trainees. Accountability. Every lost person is a potential convert; every new believer is a disciple to be trained and sent.
John, who once rejoiced over one church start a year, doubted it could happen — until he saw it with his own eyes.
“Jesus said, ‘Go!’ He said to teach them to become disciples, not just church members. We train everyone to become trainers. That is the CPM [church-planting movement] way. It is very simple, but it is a good way.”
Training trainers who not only evangelize, disciple and start churches but train others to do likewise “starts a ‘chain reaction,'” explains a missionary strategist.
In addition to John’s experience:
— A new missionary led a local student to Christ. He immediately taught the student not only how to share the Gospel with others but how to teach them to share with still others. Hundreds of people became believers within months.
— Another missionary evangelized and trained his language tutor, who in turn led a housemaid to the Lord, who led her husband to the Lord, who led his in-laws to the Lord, followed by a dramatic physical healing and stiff persecution. The eventual result: Within six months, a tribe that once had no Christian believers had churches in more than 20 villages.
— In a third case, a missionary worked with several cycles of church planters who began a cluster of congregations among a tribal group. Six months later a second generation of churches was born. They also began reproducing, and within 18 months a third generation emerged.
Even among nonliterate peoples, church-planting movements can convey the authority of God’s Word through Bible stories, songs and other means. They rely on local lay leaders and multiply through house or cell churches.
Among the hallmarks of church-planting movements:
— They often spring up in an atmosphere of change, uncertainty and chaos. In other words, they’re as ideally suited to our violent 21st-century world as they were to the apostles’ tumultuous first-century world.
— Most movements experience persecution, and believers display bold faith in the face of suffering and martyrdom. “Many of the house church leaders have suffered for their faith, spent time behind bars or endured other types of persecution and hardship,” reports one Asia missionary. “Their lack of fear in sharing their faith is contagious.”
— Signs and wonders, healings and miracles are the norm, not the amazing exception. In a survey of a large Asian movement, 10 out of 11 believers interviewed said they had personally experienced a miraculous healing or knew someone who had been healed. “Signs and wonders are common features, whether in remote mountain villages or among sophisticated urban government officials and factory managers,” says one Asia missionary. Missionaries, meanwhile, often experience various forms of spiritual attack, such as sickness or personal crises.
— Conversions often spread through the family and group relationships that dominate most cultures, rather than the individualistic choices taken for granted in the West.
— New believers are immediately incorporated into ministry and evangelistic work. In India, one elderly man planted 42 churches during his first year as a follower of Christ. Nobody told him he needed to get specialized training first. In many cases, “pre-converts” spontaneously begin spreading the news of Christ before they formally embrace Him as Savior and Lord. Continuous on-the-job training, not lengthy discipleship studies, is the rule. Believers are held accountable for prompt (often same-day) application of what they learn.
What can you do to support church-planting movements among the peoples of the world? Check these suggestions from several missionaries in the thick of the action:
— Support the missionaries now helping to start church-planting movements (and help others to go) by giving generously through your church to the Cooperative Program and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.
— Pray fervently, specifically and strategically for unreached peoples and the missionaries who serve them. Visit http://imb.org/CompassionNet for daily prayer requests.
— Get involved. “God can use anyone!” says one missionary. “In our area short-term workers, hospital chaplains, businessmen, former pastors and laypeople are being used to facilitate church-planting movements.” Visit http://going.imb.org for service opportunities.
— Learn more about how church-planting movements begin and grow by reading Church Planting Movements, in-depth version (CPM-BOOK), or the Church Planting Movements booklet, condensed version (CPM-OVERVIEW) or watching the Church Planting Movements VHS (V-CPM). These resources are available at http://resources.imb.org.
See earlier BP story on church-planting movements at http://www.bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?ID=17222.