SBC Life Articles

A Gospel Chain Reaction

During the 2003 International Missions Emphasis, Nov. 30 – Dec. 7, Southern Baptists will focus on God's intention that every people group hear the good news of His love and salvation in Jesus Christ. This year's theme That All Peoples May Know Him: Follow God's Purpose emphasizes God's people aligning their lives with God's redemptive mission in the world.

The national goal for this year's Lottie Moon Christmas Offering is $133 million, with a challenge goal of $150 million every penny of which will go to send missionaries and support their ministries. The International Mission Board relies on the Lottie Moon Offering for 50 percent of its annual income.

Abdul* stumbled sadly along the side of a road in south Asia.

Rejected by his family and his community, the young man walked alone in the world, facing the threat of death for questioning Islam.

"Hey brother, do you want to get up in this rickshaw and ride with me?"

The invitation startled Abdul. He looked up and nearly went into shock; the words came from the mouth of a white man. He had never seen one in the area before. This one, speaking the local language fluently, was offering Abdul — an outcast — a ride on a hot day. During their journey, Abdul touched the stranger's arm to see if he were man or angel.

"I was totally amazed," Abdul recalled years later. "Not many people were allowed to talk with me because I was shunned and seen as a Muslim sinner boy."

It was a turning point for Abdul-and would become one for his people.

The white man was a Southern Baptist missionary, and he gave Abdul a New Testament. Back home, Abdul opened it to the Gospel of John. He discovered a God who did not condemn him, but displayed mercy and love through Jesus Christ. He embraced God's saving grace that very night. His terrible loneliness was gone at last.

An Isolated Seeker

The isolation had begun years before. Abdul, like most boys in his village, was required to study the Quran in a local Muslim school. An earnest seeker, he questioned the holy book's teachings. First, he was beaten and warned, then expelled and sent home in disgrace when his questions persisted.

His furious father banished him to a shack behind the family home, where he lived in solitary misery for three years. His mother slid meals through a hole in the door. Twice he attempted suicide by drinking poison. Freed at age 13, he continued to be shunned by the community.

But after meeting Christ in 1983, Abdul used his tiny shack to study Scripture in secret. The missionary and a local pastor quietly discipled him. When his father and uncles discovered Abdul's new faith, savage beatings followed. He refused to renounce his faith in Christ or burn his Bible, so they tied him to a stake in the family courtyard to stay until he changed his mind.

His mother quietly untied him and helped him escape to the capital city. Abdul never saw her alive again; she was physically abused for "shaming" the family and later died.

After baptism and studying in the capital with the missionary's help, Abdul returned to his home village, only to endure more abuse. An old classmate named Rafik took pity on his sufferings and nursed his wounds. Abdul led Rafik to Christ and baptized him.

Tomorrow, We Could Be 200

"Yesterday, I was one," Abdul told Rafik. "Today, we are two. Tomorrow, we could be 200."

Abdul's father was next. He sent word for Abdul to visit him when he became seriously ill. Abdul sat beside his father's bed and prayed each night until he was healed. Fully recovered, his father received Jesus as his Savior and was baptized by Abdul.

Meanwhile, a relative of Rafik was sent to persuade him to return to Islam. Rafik journeyed to the relative's village. When he came back, he told Abdul he had baptized seven families — a total of thirty-six people. The excited duo started sharing the gospel of grace everywhere, beginning with their families and friends.

Rafik's bamboo house became the hub of the rapidly widening wheel as the 1990s waned. New believers from surrounding villages came there to receive fifteen days of discipleship training and then went out to start churches. Late one night, Rafik answered a knock on his door. A group of fundamentalist Muslims rushed in and stabbed him to death.

Undeterred, Abdul bravely continues to lead the movement. By mid-2002, a church-planting movement of "historic size, scope, and spiritual depth among Muslims" had emerged from these humble beginnings, according to an International Mission Board field assessment team. It is growing "amidst significant and escalating persecution."

The team found more than 350 evangelists serving in twenty-nine districts, nearly 2,300 pastors serving among some 4,000 churches, and 89,315 baptized members — all direct spiritual descendants of Abdul. More than 23,000 of the baptisms had occurred during the previous year alone. And that's only part of the overall church-planting movement now spreading through Abdul's people, who number in the tens of millions, comprising one of the largest unreached groups in the world.

More Than Twenty CPMs

International Mission Board missionaries and strategists have identified more than twenty other church-planting movements among people groups in Southeast Asia, India, China, North Africa, Latin America, and Europe. Potential or "almost" church-planting movements rapidly approach full bloom among many other peoples.

Missionaries are still learning how church-planting movements begin and grow. They aren't mass evangelism campaigns, or spiritual awakenings, or even church-growth movements. They aren't the latest in a long line of missionary strategies.

So what is a church-planting movement? It is a rapid multiplication of indigenous churches planting churches that sweeps through a people group or population segment.

Mission strategist David Garrison, the International Mission Board's regional leader for South Asia, has explored the phenomenon over the last decade with other missionaries, researchers, and strategists.

"Church-planting movements multiply churches and believers as Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes," Garrison writes. "These churches are satisfied with nothing less than a vision to reach their entire people group or city — and eventually the whole world."

Tipping Point

"A tipping point occurs when new church starts reach critical mass and, like falling dominoes, cascade into an out-of-control movement flowing from church to church to church. When the momentum exceeds the ability of the initiators to control it, a movement is under way."

They tend to occur within people groups or population segments that share a common language, culture, and ethnicity.

"But they rarely stop there," Garrison stresses. "As the gospel works its power in the lives of these new believers, it compels them to take the message of hope to other people groups."

Churches in the movement intentionally plant other churches that will, in turn, rapidly reproduce.

The Lesson God is Teaching

In church-planting movements, church starting and leader training is "essentially the same process," explains IMB strategist Curtis Sergeant. "We have in our minds this long, drawn-out process, but that is never stated or implied in Scripture. A disciple is a follower; that's what the word means. And you can be a follower from very early on."

That doesn't mean leadership training gets a wink and a nod. It's crucial to healthy growth. The difference from traditional Western training: instant accountability and immediate application.

"Where church-planting movements are taking place, you see this pattern of discipleship, where people are held accountable both to apply what they know and to teach others," says Sergeant. "When that happens, you have the potential for evangelism, discipleship, and church planting to take place on a much faster scale. Generations are not measured in decades; they're measured in weeks."

"The lesson God is teaching us is that the 21st century has many parallels with the first century," declares a missionary leader in Asia. "This is the most exciting, challenging, and fruitful era of missions. The fields are literally white unto harvest."

* Name has been changed to protect identity.

    About the Author

  • Erich Bridges