CHURCH PLANTING LESSONS: CAN A CHURCH PLANTING MOVEMENT HAPPEN IN AMERICA?

This is the most common question I have been asked in the last few years. I believe the answer is YES. Jesus says the harvest is plentiful, so I do not think he meant that only in certain countries. I have heard countless people say it cannot happen and when leaders share that belief, that message spreads fast and causes scores of people to believe that it will not happen. This needs to change! We need a radical rethinking, a radical new belief, and some radicals who will start and keep the mission of starting Church Planting Movements in America alive and I certainly appreciate the men and women who are going after this despite the unbelief and complication of it happening in America. When we believe it cannot happen, we are forced to keep using traditional methodologies that have gotten us where we are today and this is certainly not enough to reach America.  We have to be willing risk, try new things, and stick with it for it to happen.

I am not going to get into all of the most common answers people give about why CPM’s are not happening among Americans, such as busyness, secularization, materialism, etc..Here are two mistakes that I think we (organizations and churches trying this in America) have made, including me. One, most trainings consist of people who want to reach cross-culturally and we simply have not seen much fruit from this. We need to train people to reach their own people groups and people who they are already in relationship with. Two, we need to simplify training and church planting. Often we train people who have full time jobs to start movements and it quickly becomes overwhelming to think that they have the capacity to start a movement in their own city and people give up. What we are trying to do is not so much focus on a church planting movement initially, but to focus on group starting. Most people are not coming to church in America (80%-90%), so we must find ways to take church to people. We also must get away from only doing individual evangelism and bringing people to church when they do not know anyone and we are basically asking that person to leave their culture and community behind. Instead, we should focus on simply starting a Discovery Group where they can become a church themselves in their own communities among the people who they are connected to. But here is the catch and a simple approach. Rather than focusing on starting a movement and rather than teaching people how to evangelize the masses (which is common practice in America), lets focus on teaching a person or group of people to start ONE group among their non-believing friends, neighbors, or workplaces. Of course keep all of the multiplying DNA but just focus on one. I think most people would be excited if they started a Bible Study group among nonbelievers. To most, it would be a major accomplishment and the reality is, for most people, it would be the most impactful and most fruitful ministry activity they have been a part of, as far as reaching people and making disciples. It sounds almost too easy, that is because it is, people just need the coaching and know-how to do it. At first some might think this is more complicated than evangelism, but I would argue that it is easier and less scary. Usually churches or ministries teach people to go out and “gosplelize” people they haven’t even met. Rather, wouldn’t it be easier to just look around you and find a few friends who you already have relationship with and ask them if they would be interested in learning about God through the Bible and let the Bible and the Holy Spirit do the transformation of the people in the group? And as far as time is concerned (because I know that is an issue with Americans), it is only going to take once a week or twice a month Bible Study to accomplish. With that said, discipleship is not just about a Bible study, it comes with serving, caring, and love and that takes time, but it can be done effectively if we narrow our time and focus to one group. Focusing and giving your life to one group is going to be much more effective than randomly sharing the gospel with people and inviting them to church.

Now imagine you have a church of 200 and you get 20 people to commit to starting one group each. Let’s say those groups equal out to 10 people each. Even though they are probably not coming to church, you just doubled the size of your church by gaining 200 potential new believers. The reality is, most churches are made up of people who are already Christian, so to add 200 new believers to a new church body would be a monumental experience. It would be an accomplishment almost unheard of, but that is what can happen when we plant churches in communities. Trying to get people to start one group doesn’t seem like a lot, but if 1,000 of us in the U.S. just start one group, then that equals 1,000 new potential churches (10,000 potential new believers) with the potential to multiply to even more. Have you ever heard of 1,000 churches started in one year in America? Do you think we can find 1,000 believers who will start one group? How about 10,000? Doesn’t sound complicated to me. Maybe we have just made ministry and Church Planting Movements way too complicated.

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