My team and I were recently discussing one of the units of our current Porterbrook Training course which was looking at the whole idea of reproducing churches, ministries and missionaries. I was personally struck by the catchphrase of the Chinese church: “Everyone is a church planter”.
According to our reading one of the key factors in reproducing growing churches is the, “rapid incorporation of new converts into the life and ministry of the church”. More than this, one of the keys to multiplication is not to absorb new converts into existing church structures but to allow them to form new communities themselves. According to research this, “helps the process of indigenisation and contextualisation”. In other words, instead of new converts adopting and adapting to the expression of Christianity as they find it in our current congregation (a mix of middle class, working class and unemployed), we should allow them the space and freedom to work out a church identity within their own local context.
Now, there are all sorts of pitfalls with this approach to planting, but I have to say I find the thought to be stimulating and exciting. We have recently seen several conversions from the scheme next to ours and have been wondering about whether to start a work there. At the moment we have just begun a Bible study with 3-5 new believers and I wonder what would happen if we let this group naturally form a ‘core’ that grew and developed a Christian community in a way they felt best expressed their own culture and identity. What would a local church look like for them, their family and their friends and neighbours?
What if, instead of just feeding and discipling them (which we are very good at), we freed and equipped more quickly to pass the message on? At them moment we have been really investing into their lives over weeks, months and years (depending on how long they have been saved) and whilst we have seen steady conversions, it has been relatively slow. Is that all down to the hard nature of this work (an excuse we often use)? Maybe. But what if it is down to the fact that we are molly coddling our new believers too much? What if we’re over discipling them and under equipping them? What if we’re growing a new generation of believers pumped full of great biblical knowledge but clueless about their personal responsibility for evangelism and mission? What if we’re so busy protecting them from the snares of the world around them (which are enormous) that we are neglecting to help them to live in the world?
We’re going to try an experiment with this small band of new believers we’ve gathered in the scheme next to ours in the coming months. We’re going to accelerate the discipleship process (in terms of teaching) and we’re going to actively encourage them to invite friends and family to join us. We’re going to challenge this little group to take the lead in developing a church they would be proud and unafraid to ask people along to. Obviously, in our context we’re going to manage it or it will quickly turn into a club for dealers and the abuse of vulnerable people. When do they want to meet? How do they want to meet? How do we best express our love and worship for God in their particular context? If they want to meet with the main church body on Sundays then we’ll do that – if not then we’ll do something else. It may work, it may fail. God is sovereign. I am sure it will be interesting if nothing else. I will keep you posted.
Please pray for this work in Greendykes.