It's better to be a lizard than a frog, Southern Baptist missionaries say. "Frog churches" that sit fat and complacent on their lily pads and wait for the world to come to them are a thing of the past, according to the International Mission Board (IMB) of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Missionaries today are starting "lizard churches" that adapt to their surroundings and aggressively pursue converts, an IMB report says. "They are willing to change their colors and expend enormous energy to bring the lost into the family of God."
"It's a 'whatever it takes' to get the job done attitude, within certain bounds," said Ray Franklin, a twenty-year IMB missionary to Japan. "We have broadened our perspective while maintaining our theological grounding."
Welcome to New Directions, the SBC's updated strategy for evangelizing the world. IMB leaders have overhauled the organization's structure and strategies in the past two years and given missionaries freedom to use new methods, according to IMB Executive Vice President Don Kammerdiener.
New Directions was developed from the experiences of missionaries and the ideas of missions experts and researchers. Its emphasis is on prayer, evangelizing indigenous people groups rather than countries as a whole, cooperating with other Christians, and planting churches, Kammerdiener said.
Lizard churches plant new congregations that in turn plant other new congregations, a multiplication process the IMB says is necessary to spread the gospel worldwide. SBC missionaries have had success planting thousands of cell churches. They meet in homes and attract tens of thousands of converts in nations where church growth had been negligible for decades.
The process includes training leaders to start other cell churches. "Once we get a church-planting movement going, then the growth rate far exceeds older models that we have worked with," Kammerdiener said.
Reaching people groups rather than countries is a major change in strategy. Looking at the world as a collection of individual nations is not the best approach, Kammerdiener said, because it assumes that all people in a country are the same. "Yugoslavia is a classic example. We thought it was one nation, but now we know that there are Serbs, Croats, Bosnians, Muslims – and they are all different."
The IMB divided the world into fourteen regions, each overseen by an on-site missionary leader who plans the best evangelistic strategy there. The IMB used to have to get permission from its board of trustees before entering a new country, but now regional leaders can take the initiative to do that, then rely on the board for support, Kammerdiener said.
"Progress is not measured by how many nations we are in, but how many people groups we have reached. We really turned that on its head."
The IMB is working with like-minded Christian groups in this endeavor. That wasn't the case twenty years ago, but "there has been a growing awareness that we are part of a larger Christian community as part of the Kingdom of God," Kammerdiener said. Fruitful relationships have been formed with groups that share the "Great Commission vision," such as Wycliffe Bible Translators and Campus Crusade for Christ, he said.
Cooperation is broad for food distribution or medical care, but narrows when churches are planted, Kammerdiener said. "The more we work toward church planting, the more we want the theology of those we work with to be close to ours."
Prayer and the need for "spiritual warfare" are emphasized, he said. "Prayer not only supports progress, but it is a wedge to create access to unreached people groups." Prayers are focused on the power of God to change people rather than on identifying evil spirits that may oppress them, he said. "We would not give more attention to the power of Satan than to the power of the Lord."