Church Planting Movements – Part 1: An Overview

By D Stewart

D coaches church planting movements and currently lives among the unreached.

Every few years a new paradigm comes along and changes the way we think and talk about important and historic concepts. This is true in many areas of life including missions.

A few years ago the “new” thing in mission circles was “Unreached People Groups” or UPG’s; a people group among which there is no indigenous community of believing Christians with adequate numbers and resources to evangelize this people group.

[1] This perspective is now widely accepted and has helped to focus more Kingdom resources on those with the least opportunity to hear about the King. More recently, mission leaders have begun to talk about a new paradigm, “Church Planting Movements” or CPM. David Garrison is a well known proponent of this idea.

Garrison defines CPM as “a rapid multiplication of indigenous churches planting churches that sweeps through a people group or population segment.”[2]

These paradigms are not really brand new ideas; rather they take familiar, biblical themes and ideas and describe them in a way that resonates with people today. In times past we might have referred to these dramatic moves of the Spirit in different terms, like “awakening” or “revival”.

William Carey and Hudson Taylor would never have heard of a UPG or a CPM, but were practitioners of the concepts none the less. Each of them went to those with the least opportunity of hearing and responding to the Gospel with the goal of seeing the Church planted and thriving among them.

At times the Church has wandered and lost its way in theology and practice. When that happens, the Lord typically raises someone up to draw attention to some jewel of our faith that has been lost, de-emphasized, or discarded.

The CPM paradigm is helping the Church today to rediscover God’s love for and purpose for the Church. The current emphasis on CPM is not without controversy or danger, but this concept has mobilized and galvanized many and has been used by God to propel Kingdom expansion in many places.

CPM is a way to describe how God plants His church and to discover how we can partner with Him, and one another, to accomplish His will. CPM is broader than just church planting. CPM helps to place all of the various components of missions in a broader paradigm.

Many missionaries and agencies excel in a particular facet of ministry, but often fail to grasp how their part fits into the scope of what God is doing to reach a particular UPG. There is no single way that God moves to accomplish this. CPM’s are dynamic moves of the Spirit.

He uses various people with different gifts to accomplish His will. As each member of the Body does His part, the whole Body works together and is strengthened while reproducing itself. Garrison has written extensively about this concept and you can find much of what he has written online.[3] I will not attempt to repeat what Garrison has written, but instead would like to examine this idea of CPM more closely.

The heart of CPM is the idea that churches reproduce themselves. The goal is to plant churches which plant churches, rather than just starting a single community.

This is a necessary corrective for most of us, because today many churches have lost the idea of multiplying or reproducing themselves and have settled for something else, something more akin to addition than multiplication.

All living things multiply and reproduce. All organic bodies reproduce after their own kind. Bears produce bears, cats produce cats, Christians should produce Christians, and churches should produce churches. That is the way that God designed the universe. Organic things grow, or go extinct.

The Church is the Body of Christ and churches should be reproducing and multiplying. This idea is not new; it goes way back to the first century, to the teaching of Christ and to the book of Acts.

When Paul arrived in Ephesus he found some disciples, some students of “the Way” already living in the city. (Acts 19) However, those students had not yet met their Master; nor had they yet received the Holy Spirit.

They were on the road, they had started their journey toward Christ and understood the need for repentance and a savior, but they had not yet met the Savior.

Verses 5 and 6 record that Paul baptized them in the name of the Lord Jesus, they received the Holy Spirit, and began to display the reality of their new life in Christ. Through Paul, a Christian, more Christians were produced. What Paul does next is intriguing.

He went into the Synagogue and began a preaching ministry that lasted 3 months. Apparently, he hoped that those who gathered together to worship the Most High God would accept His Son and turn to Him en masse as those first disciples had done.

But we learn, in verse 9, that they would not accept Christ and so Paul separated the new community of faith from the old. He started a new community in a new location and continued to teach and minister there for two years.

Then, in verse 10 we find the most extraordinary statement! It says that all who lived in Asia, both Jews and Greeks, heard the Word of the Lord.

How did that happen? Verse 10 clearly states that Paul stayed in Ephesus for only two years, but during that time the Gospel was preached throughout the whole province of Asia, what we now think of as Asia Minor, much of modern day Turkey.

We know from the letters of Peter and Paul (as well as from historical tradition) that there were local churches scattered in cities and geographic areas across Asia Minor in just a few years. So, what happened? Scripture does not report all the details and so we don’t know exactly how it happened.

In one sense that’s the beauty of it. It happened like leaven in dough (Matt. 13). What appears to have happened is that the new community, the church that Paul planted in Ephesus carried the message beyond Ephesus and in the process started new churches wherever they went.

The new churches were, by nature, reproductive. New individuals came to Christ, and new churches were started. Paul later writes to believers and churches that he had never even met but resulted from the Spirit’s work in and through him while he was in Ephesus.

This is exactly what Jesus had in mind. At the very end of His earthbound ministry Jesus commissioned the disciples – the original believing community, the original church – to make disciples.

He promised them that He would be with them and that the Spirit would come on them and empower them to be His witnesses and to carry His message even to the very ends of the earth (Matt. 28:18-19 and Acts 1:8).

This is God’s will and God’s work, but we get to be a part of it! He invites us to participate and partner with Him!

God wants us to do more than just draw people into recognition of their sinfulness and need for a savior; He wants us to introduce people to Christ through the power of the Spirit manifested through our very lives; He wants to produce in us and through us the life of Christ through the power of the Spirit for the glory of the Father.

But God wants to do more than just bring new life to individuals who are living in real relationship with Christ, He wants to create communities of disciples, people bound together as family under the Father of all.

These groups of people banding together for worship, instruction, and mutual encouragement are so vibrant and full of life that they cannot help but share the good news that they have heard with those around them.

As they journey through life, they carry with them the Hope of the ages and the seed of the Spirit that when planted will grow not just new disciples, but new churches. Jesus promised that He would build His Church and that even hell itself cannot prevent Him from doing so (Matt. 16:18).

Jesus is committed to the Church. The Church is His Body, His Bride, and He loves the Church, not just the individuals who are a part of it.

Jesus used illustrations from agriculture to explain the Kingdom. And it was not only because he lived in an agrarian society. Rather, there is some deep truth about the Kingdom embodied in His stories about growth and grafting, seeds and sowing.

Paul, too, uses an organic metaphor in 1 Cor. 3, when he says that he planted and Apollos watered, but that it was God who produced the growth. God gets all the glory because in Him lies the mystery of life, physical life and also spiritual life. When we garden, we can encourage or inhibit growth, there are principles that we have discovered that help us to be good gardeners.

The same is true in tending the vineyard of our Lord. Jesus will build His Church. Garrison and others are asking, “How is Christ building His Church? Are there ways that we can cooperate with Him in this process? Can we impede the process, and if so, how?”

In the next 3 articles we will look at some foundational concepts for CPM as well as some things that we can do to help promote or inhibit the growth of His Body, His Beloved, His Church.

[1], Retrieved on Oct. 8, 2007.
[2] David Garrison, Church Planting Movements: How God is Redeeming a Lost World, (Midlothian, VA, WIGTake Resources, 2004) 21.
[3], Retrieved Oct. 8, 2007 ents – Part 1: An Overview

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