Thursday, February 10, 2011

Rapid Church Growth: 23 Reasons - part 1

The Church Planting Alliance of South Africa published a handbook in 2000 intended to encourage, equip and guide church planters, pastors, intercessors and denominational leaders toward the strategic challenge of saturation church planting in South Africa and beyond. The handbook included statistics, strategies, and stories of church planting activities. One of the articles that captured my attention focused on Rapid Church Growth in China.
From April 1993 to April 1996, growth among house churches [in one part of China] increased from three churches with less than 100 members to over one hundred churches with over 16,000 members (by the end of 1998 they had grown to over 55,000)....Primarily second, third and fourth generation churches [were] planted entirely by local believers intentionally targeting the least evangelized areas and groups....All growth was from adult conversion growth rather than transfer or biological growth. Average reproduction time was six months.
The article went on to identify both the reasons for the growth as well as principles derived from what God was doing. Today's post will include the first twelve reasons that were identified - tomorrow will include the rest of the list.

As you read through these reasons for growth, consider what ramifications they present for your ministry in your context.

Reasons for Growth

1. Society in XYZ was undergoing rapid change during the period under examination. The late 1980s were pivotal in XYZ's history After thousands of years as a cultural and economic backwater, it was coming into its own within the national political make-up. The rapid societal change created a hunger for spiritual change as well. Traditional religious and spiritual movements as well as Christianity experienced surges in growth following these changes. 

2. Government opposition and persecution resulted in a church which is relatively free of casual believers. Since a  Christian commitment potentially has negative repercussions, people who do make such a commitment tend to be more serious about their faith. 

3. The churches displayed a remarkable degree of boldness despite the threat of persecution. This was displayed in their bold witness as well as in their loud and fervent singing in their worship services. They also demonstrated great trust in one another and in new believers. Such trust is in stark contrast to the extreme distrust, which was engendered by the  Cultural Revolution when the people learned to distrust everyone. This trust is attractive and surprising to unbelievers.

4. The believers demonstrated great love toward one another even when they are not relatives. This extended to the point of helping one another with financial needs. Such love is in sharp relief to the selfish and materialistic bent of the culture. This contrast served to draw attention to the Christian community.

5. New believers were baptized soon after their conversion, even in totally pioneer areas. This served to cement their new commitment and communicated their full responsibility and participation in the church from the very beginning.

6. When works was started in a new area, local believers were placed in leadership positions from the start. This helped to ensure that the new church was locally relevant and served to minimize dependence on outsiders. It also meant there were no problems with leader distribution since local leaders were always raised up from within local churches. There was never a question of leaders not wanting to return home after leaving for advanced training since training was done on the job.

7. Whenever a new church was started, multiple leaders were always established. This prepared new leaders to lead church plants. This helped protect the church against a leadership vacuum if a leader was imprisoned. It also trained members for outreach.

8. Unpaid lay leadership was used in the churches. This helped prevent any artificial bifurcation between "clergy" and "laity."  This supported the practice of every adult member being part of the evangelistic outreach of the church and undergoing continuing training for ministry and being accountable for practicing what he or she had learned. Another advantage of this type of leadership is that since leaders do not require advanced theological degrees, the preparation of leaders does not form a bottleneck in the church planting process. They also require minimal financial support if any, enabling new churches to be started with little of no money.

9. Growth and fruitfulness was expected from new believers. This growth was in terms of knowing the Lord's commands and obeying them. Such growth results in fruitful Christian lives.

10. Spiritual reproduction was expected. This reproduction was in terms of leading others to Christ, teaching others what one had learned, and planting new churches. Since this was seen as the normal outgrowth of Christian experience, then any exception was quickly noticed and steps are taken to make the situation right. The gospel carries a responsibility to share words of life with those who have not heard. This responsibility is most clearly seen in areas where the gospel has not penetrated.

11. Security concerns resulted in the inability of individual churches to grow beyond a certain point (which varies by location), necessitating church multiplication rather than merely increasing the size of a single congregation. This in turn resulted in a larger, more diverse, and more geographically available interface with the non-Christian community. It also helped to preserve the higher level of intimacy and accountability, which typify smaller groups.

12. Another factor, which was enforced by the hostile environment, is the fact that the vast majority of churches did not have the option of using a dedicated church building. They instead used homes or shops in most cases. This means there was no facility expense to tie up the resources of the congregation and consume their energy and attention. It also assisted believers in maintaining an outward focus in ministry rather than an inward focus.


What ideas, thoughts, or insights for your ministry context do you have as a result of reading this list?


Related Posts:
Creating versus Igniting Movements
Movements of a Different Kind
Discipling a Whole Nation
Missional Multiplication Movements: Not in America

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