By David Garrison
David served as the Associate Vice President for Global Strategy of the Southern Baptist International Mission for five years. He now lives in South Asia and teaches on missions and global studies at schools globally.
From every corner of the globe the reports are coming in. Only a few at first, but now more and more frequently, reinforcing one another with startling accounts of hundreds, thousands, and even ten thousands coming to faith in Christ, forming into churches and spreading their new found faith.
In Southeast Asia over a four-year time span, among a population of 7 million people, the number of churches jumped from 3 to 550 and believers from 85 to 55,000.
In North Africa an Arab Muslim cleric complained in a weekly Friday sermon that more then 10,000 Muslims living in the surrounding mountains had apostatized from Islam and had become Christians.
A worker in Ethiopia commented, “It took us 30 years to plant four churches in this country. We’ve started 65 cell churches in the last nine months.”
So what is a Church Planting Movement (CPM)? Is this something new or have they always been with us? What causes them? Are they all random events or do they share some common traits? A simple, concise definition of a CPM is a rapid and exponential increase in indigenous churches planting churches within a given people group or population segment.
CPM’s are more then merely “evangelism that results in churches.” A CPM is more then a revival of pre-existing churches. The key with CPM’s is that their cornerstone is churches rapidly reproducing themselves.
They do not merely have incremental growth – adding a few churches every year or so. Instead they compound exponentially – two churches become four, four become sixteen, and on it goes. This kind of multiplication is only possible when new churches are being started by the churches themselves and not by professional church planters or workers.
So why is a CPM so important? Because they seem to hold the greatest potential for the largest number of lost individuals glorifying God by coming into new life in Christ and entering into communities of faith.
We also find their key importance in that the vision of planting churches spreads from the message bearer into the churches themselves, so that by their own nature they are winning the lost and reproducing themselves.
Message bearers are capable church planters, but will always be limited in number. Local church planters hold more promise because there is a larger pool of them available in a locale.
After surveying CPM’s around the world, we found at least 10 elements present in every one of them. Any message bearer intent on seeing a Church Planting Movement should consider these 10 elements.
Prayer provides the first pillar in a coordinator’s master plan for reaching his or her people group. By revealing from the beginning the source of his power in prayer, the message bearer effectively gives away the greatest resource he has at his disposal.
2. Abundant Gospel Sowing
The law of the harvest applies well: “If you sow abundantly you will also reap abundantly. “. The converse of the law of the harvest is also true. Wherever governments or societal forces have managed to intimidate and stifle Christian witness, CPM’s have been effectively eliminated.
3. Intentional Church Planting
In every CPM someone implemented a strategy of deliberate church planting before the movement got underway. Churches don’t just happen.
4. Scriptural Authority
Even among non-literate people groups, the Bible has been the guiding source for doctrine, church polity, and life itself. It is and must be the rudder for all of church life and teaching and its authority unquestioned.
5. Local Leadership
Message Bearers involved in CPM’s often speak of the self-discipline required to mentor church planters rather then do the job of church planting themselves. This is not to say that the Message Bearer has not role in church planting. On the contrary, local church planters receive their best training by watching how the message bearer models participative Bible Studies and other ministry tools and activities.
6. Lay Leadership
Lay leaders drive CPM’s. These are typically bi-vocational and come from the general profile of the people group being reached. As the movement unfolds, paid clergy often emerge. Dependence upon academically trained leaders means that the word will always face a leadership deficit.
7. Cell or house Churches
The vast majority of CPM’s are characterized by small, reproducible cell churches of 10-30 members meeting in homes or storefronts. Cell churches are linked to one another in some type of structured network. House churches are generally not organized under a single authority or hierarchy of authorities.
8. Church Planting Churches
The first churches are usually planted by a message bearer. At some point, however, as the movement enters an exponential phase of reproduction, the churches themselves begin planting churches. In order for this to occur church members have to believe that reproduction is natural and that no external aids are needed to start a new church.
9. Rapid Reproduction
Most church planters contend that rapid reproduction is vital to the movement itself. They report that when rapid reproduction slows down the CPM falters. Rapid reproduction communicates the urgency and importance of coming to faith in Christ.
10. Healthy Churches
Church growth experts have written extensively about the marks of a church. Most agree that healthy churches should carry out the following five purposes: 1) Worship 2) Evangelistic and missionary activity 3) Education and Discipleship 4) Ministry 5) Fellowship. A number of church planters have pointed out that when these five health indicators are strong, the church can’t help but grow.
* This article is used by permission from the booklet called “Church Planting Movements” by David Garrison and published by the IMB ( www.IMB.org)
Dr. David Garrison is a missionary and author of an exciting new book on Church Planting Movements entitled Church Planting Movements, how God is redeeming a lost world (Midlothian: WIGTake Resources, 2004), 364 pp. that can be purchased on-line at www.churchplantingmovements.com