Church Planting Movements for Real. For us?

Church Planting Movements (CPM), ever hear of them? I just got through reading a recent article of Missions Frontiers magazine on the topic and was amazed at how God is working rapidly multiplying churches throughout the world (actually non-Western countries). It got me to thinking, is there something we can glean from the excitement going on everywhere else, could that sort of thing happen here?

First off what is a CPM? According to David Garrison (p. 9), an early tracker of CPM’s, a CPM is “a rapid multiplication of indigenous churches planting churches that sweeps through a people group or population segment”. These typically are home-church based movements with each church averaging from a dozen to several dozen members. At least 200 of these movments have been identified (p. 13), the fastest of which is in Asia: 1.7 million baptisms and 150,000 new church plants in the past decade. This work was spawned by Chinese-American Ying Kai who also created the “Training for Trainers” (T4T) approach (p. 10). There has been considerable scrutiny as to the validity of these movements; however, recent efforts have shown many if not most of these movements to be authentic and some to be exaggerated. 

Some of the things that struck me were how broad-based the CPM  movements were. They are found among educated and illiterate populations; Hindu, Buddhist, Animistic, and Atheistic populations; and rural and city; modern and postmodern populations. I was most surprised that there are even CPM’s among India’s upper caste which I had always heard was nearly impossible to reach.

I was also surprised at some of the descriptions of these groups in foreign contexts which were fairly similar to what we experience:

  • The emphasis on reproducing bridges (i.e., relationships with non-Christians), reproducing evangelism (gospel presentation), reproducing discipleship, reproducing churches and reproducing leaders (p. 7).
  • The difficulty with working with some of the local established churches who would often rather build bigger churches and new buildings which stifles rapidly growing home churches and to some extent corrupts new believers (p. 21, 23)
  • All night prayer meetings are common  (p. 21)
  • Church leadership arising from within the church rather than from without (p. 12)
  • Bible studies being held wherever, for example in Cuba (p. 26) where it is estimated that nearly 10% of the population has become Evangelical in the last decade, they meet in public garages, lean-to’s, living rooms, etc…, i.e., church without walls
  • In all of the descriptions and emphases there was no mention of a worship service (not that they don’t worship, I’m sure they do, but the “worship service” is not central to the church mission and purpose)
  • People who are “no good” are often the instruments of God to start a movement

In thinking about some of our desires to plant university-based CPM’s in other cities I found two examples I think very enlightening and encouraging. First, I was struck by the “Person of Peace” (see Luke 10) brought up in Kevin Greeson’s article about Muslim CPM’s (pp. 22-24). Often what is found in a new region is that God has placed a Person of Peace who is as much looking for the missionary as is the missionary for him/her. It’s through this person or group that the CPM is begun. In fact when Greeson realized how God works in this way (much like Lydia in Acts 16), his mentality switched from “What’s it going to take to stay in this country?” (i.e., not get kicked out) to “What’s it going to take to find Persons of Peace who can start movements?”.  Second, from B.D.B. Moses’ article on Hindu CPM’s (p. 21), they find that the role of the missionary or church planter is to Model, Assist, Watch, and Leave. This seems very similar to Paul’s missionary journey’s and correspondence with churches he visited and some he didn’t even personally visit. They do not stay for too long a time because ultimately it’s up to the Spirit’s movement among the indigenous peoples to grow and plant churches. Both of these examples, perhaps we could even call them principles, are very appropriate as we explore new ventures. Is God raising Persons of Peace or as we like to affectionately call them “Pagan Christians” in places we feel led to plant? Can we approach church planting as more of an itinerant endeavor?

There was one article on CPM principles applied in the US. Jeff Sundell (pp. 27-28) wrote about his attempt in North Carolina. It was a little depressing to read how no one really was willing to “share their story” (witness) to their lost friends, in fact nobody had any lost friends. They ended up having to change the terminology from “lost” to “far from God”. However, they have seen 40  discipleship groups in the last year and some “far from God” draw nearer to Him. I’m not sure exactly what that means though?

I will close with the article by Steve Smith, one of the guys who heads up the T4T approach. He wrote an article on “The Power of Precedent and Promise” (pp. 16-18) which is an abridged version of a chapter from his book “T4T: A Discipleship Re-Revolution”. His point was there is precedent for CPM’s now where a few decades ago there were none. Once you have precedent, the motivation to try and succeed is huge (as an example he used the example of how David’s mighty men slew a bunch of giants, relatives of Goliath, in 2 Sam 22 because of the precedent set by David with Goliath in 1 Sam 17). But even if there is no precedent in a given local, there is the promise God gives (Matt 28, Acts 1:8, Acts 19:10) that this happens and His Spirit moves in such a way … and promise is good enough. Someone has to be the first to try.

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