by Jim Montgomery
The answer is yes, but it will take big changes.
A good way to work towards saturating the world with evangelical congregations is to challenge, train, and mobilize the whole body of Christ of whole countries to work towards this goal within their countries. There are three practical reasons for dividing up this approach to world evangelization by countries.
First is the necessity of church and mission to work within the framework of geo-political realities. These realities provide one good way for the body of Christ to function as a body in saturating a country with churches. This does not call for organizational unity, or even necessarily for working together in cooperative evangelistic programs. The unity is expressed as each part of the body functions toward a common, measurable goal, according to its own sense of calling and in line with its own policies concerning organization, finance, evangelistic methods, and historical background.
Each part of the body helps and reinforces every other part in a common fellowship, as each plays its role in seeing congregations multiplied. Each part of the body rejoices with every other part at every advance in seeing every rural village, every town, and every city neighborhood provided with an organized cell of committed, witnessing believers.
Second is the people group approach to world evangelization. Our command is to make disciples of "nations," of people groups. One convenient way to divide up the thousands of people groups of the world is by countries. The church of a country can be motivated to reach the people groups of its country, and the church has the resources and opportunities to reach these people groups.
A third practical reason is similar to, and related to, the one above. This is the enormity and complexity of the task of discipling all the "nations" of the world. When the church of a country is working at the establishment of a cell of committed Christians in every community, every neighborhood, every class and condition of people, it is at the same time working at the task of discipling all the people groups of its country. While the church of a country should be taught to perceive the various homogeneous units of its country, and to work within the realities of them, it must also be challenged to multiply congregations everywhere, even where the lines between groups are blurred, or where there is overlapping of people groups.
Such an approach takes into account the reality of our world which is divided into 223 geo-political entities, each with a variety of factors that tend to unify them. David Barrett in his World Christian Encyclopedia lists 25 "shared characteristics held in common" by the people (and peoples) of a country: "citizenship, patriotism, geographical contiguity, the national name and flag, national territory, national language, national history, a rich heritage of memories, shared historical experience, a common struggle for self-determination (political independence), national consciousness, national traditions, national culture, a joint national inheritance, a national literature, common social institutions, national values, national standards, national political aspirations, national pride, national economic life, common economic interests, national government, perhaps also a national or state religion."
These are some of the things that drew mission societies to a country approach in the first place. As Wade Coggins has noted, "There are practical things about a country that are still viable. ‘Countryhood’ still has something to say to us with regard to the task. Our new perception of the world composed of thousands of people groups doesn’t mean that we should abandon other perceptions of the world. Wedding the two ideas is really the way to go." Responding to an early draft of this article, Ed Dayton concurred by saying, "There is little doubt that we are forced to look at the world in terms of political boundaries-nation states. Not to consider it this way would be not only poor strategy but poor missiology."
Most mission societies, of course, use whole countries for the designation of their "fields," and denominations usually operate on a country-wide basis. Evangelical fellowships, Bible societies, and other parachurch organizations find it convenient to organize by countries. Also, most countries have a good history of cooperative crusades, congresses on evangelism, pastors’ conferences, and other activities that are held nationally.
Furthermore, we should take advantage of the sense of patriotism and love of country felt by most Christians. I cannot forget, for example, the emotion generated by 350 pastors and workers from over 65 denominations and parachurch organizations singing "O Philippines, Our Native Land." This was a five-verse song of evangelistic concern adapted from the Berlin Congress theme song especially for the All Philippines Congress on Evangelism in 1970.
Similar national fervor was expressed by each delegation of Latins as they were given opportunity to share from the platform at the founding of CONELA in Panama. I’m sure that many of us have experienced something similar to that of Wade Coggins at the nation-wide missionary conference in Guatemala in 1981. "There was an enormous insistence," he reported, "that ‘We are Guatemalans and we ought to be doing something about reaching all the peoples in our country.’ There was a tremendous feeling of national pride and of putting themselves on the line in reaching their country."
Political boundaries, current organizational structures of church and mission, and Christian love for country thus provide an excellent opportunity for local churches, fellowships of churches, whole denominations, broadcasters, literature workers, youth specialists, translators, researchers, coordinating agencies and others-in short, the whole body of Christ of a country-to be joined and knit together for the task of reaching whole countries. If all organizations would see themselves in terms of the part they play in the body in reaching a whole country, the synergistic effect could be formidable. If this were happening in all countries of the world where the church exists, we would be making a strong effort at completing the Great Commission in our time.
Another of the challenges is to awaken the church of a whole country to the vast cultural and sociological mosaic within its borders. National Christians who have a love for country must be taught to see the great diversity within their land and to love each segment of their population, even those segments that are quite different. This is not always easy. Some national Christians, for example, find it more glamorous to think of going as missionaries to other countries than to work with the "inferior" tribal people of their own land.
In my recent research in Guatemala I was appalled to read that "In the 90 years of Protestant work among the Maya, we know of only two Ladinos (Hispanicized Guatemalans) who have learned a Mayan language in order to facilitate effective communication of the Gospel." This despite the fact that Guatemala has an evangelical community exceeding 20 percent of the population and that no less than half the population is composed of Mayan Indians.
Truly we must teach the church of all lands to see and to reach out to all the peoples within their borders. For the vast majority of the church of most lands of the world, the only direct involvement it can have in making disciples of all peoples is to reach out to those peoples within their country and beyond their immediate culture and homogeneous unit. Beyond this, of course, the church of whole countries must be taught to send out their elite corps of cross-cultural missionaries to people groups in other lands including, where possible, the vast blocks of hidden peoples in China, India, and the Islamic nations of the world.
To determine if the church of a country is working most directly at making disciples of all its peoples, we need a basic, measurable goal. It should be a goal that, when reached, would lead most directly to the discipling of the nations. The measurable goal the church of a country can work toward, that will lead most directly to the discipling of all the people groups of that country, can be expressed by what we might call saturation church planting. This would be the multiplication of churches in a country until the point is reached when there is at least one congregation within easy access, both physically and culturally, of every person in a country. For a given country, a specific number could be set for a given point in time. (An example of this is the goal of 50,000 churches- one for every barrio-in the Philippines by the year 2000.)
This goal is achievable when we work at establishing at least one cell or congregation of committed Christians in every rural village, in every town and city neighborhood, and among every tribe, class, condition of people. When this is accomplished in a country there will be an evangelical congregation within easy access of every single person in that country. Every person will then be able to hear and see demonstrated the gospel from someone of his own kind and language who lives close by. Every person in a country will thereby have a reasonable opportunity of becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ.
A practical way of working towards the discipling of all people groups-and those people hard to classify in a people group-is to use whatever resources and techniques we have developed to get the leaders at every level of church and mission in a country to own a goal related to saturation church planting. When the evangelicals of a country are committed to this task, they are committed also to the task of reaching all their people groups. Challenging the church to saturation church planting is another way of attempting to work systemically toward the completion of the command to "make disciples of all nations."
Perhaps I am belaboring the obvious. As one mission leader said to me, "Hasn’t this (saturating a country with churches) always been the approach since the time of William Carey?" I concede that quite possibly much of the modern missionary movement had as its intent the reaching of whole countries by saturating them with evangelical congregations. But the weight of evidence of the past quarter century is that time and time again this good intent quickly got bogged down in the doing of many good things that had little relation to the multiplication of churches. Donald McGavran points out in his writings how missions have entered new territory, gained a Christian community of one, five, or ten percent of the population, and then turned their attention almost exclusively, many times, to the problems arising within the church itself.
I found this to be the case in my first research experience in the Philippines in the mid-sixties. While I discovered a few recently-arrived denominations working energetically at the multiplication of congregations, I found most denominations content to grow no faster than that of the population rate-no less. In our most recent research effort we found that even in Guatemala, where many denominations are growing at such fantastic average annual rates as 15 to 20 percent, some evangelical groups were growing at only three percent. Preliminary research in other countries indicates that the church in those places has stopped dead in its tracks. Whatever the original intent was, we find time after time that the church of a country has neither the vision nor the program to work effectively at saturating its country with churches.
Only when evangelical groups intentionally commit themselves to church multiplication (usually by setting goals quite beyond their current growth rate) and change many basic policies relating to finance, evangelistic methods, training of ministers, use of lay people, and so on, will church planting take place at a rate anywhere near what is possible.
The new Evangelical Theological Seminary of Indonesia is an example of one ministry that has intentionally committed itself to church multiplication. It could have become like the majority of Bible and theological schools throughout the world-turning out students who know sound doctrine and how to study and teach the Word- but doing little to challenge, let alone train, them for church planting. But its Indonesian founder, Chris Marintika, was determined to make it more than that. His goal was to produce men and women who not only knew the Word but who were also equipped to work most directly at the discipling of Indonesia.
Evangelism and church planting in the villages of central and eastern Java, therefore, became part of the curriculum. The tiny school with a big vision opened in the fall of 1979. By the end of the 1982 school year, the student body, which had grown from about 15 to 78 working with eight church planters, had evangelized around 70,000 Javanese, had seen 4,377 make salvation decisions, had seen 2,173 baptized, and had started 150 chapels and preaching points, of which 27 had become officially recognized local congregations affiliated with parent denominations. This in only three years by an institution not usually associated with evangelism and church planting.
Based on their experience so far, Marintika and his staff now predict that 90 percent of all their students will plant a church during their time in school. As they enlarge facilities and make room for more students, they are confident they can see 500 churches planted by 1985. Beyond that, their vision gets even more lofty. Calling their program "One, One, One," they are aiming at "one" church for each "one" village in this "one" generation for all of Indonesia. This calls for tens of thousands of new churches. These will be planted not only by their students and graduates, but also by other thousands of pastors and workers who will be influenced and trained by them. Cautious mission leaders close to them are not discounting the likelihood of this coming to pass.
Not all Bible schools are blessed with the vision and energy of a Chris Marintika, nor are they all located in areas as responsive to the gospel. But certainly most Bible schools of the world could be reoriented towards producing workers with a vision for and ability to multiply churches.
This is just one ministry that could be refocused on church planting. Everything else, from door-to-door literature distribution, to radio broadcasting, to film showing, to translation, to city-wide crusades, to a host of other activities could be redesigned to make church planting at least one major direct outcome of the ministry.
Denominations in particular have the ability to integrate all their ministries towards the multiplication of churches until they saturate an area. It has been exciting to follow events in the Philippines in this respect. One denomination after another has developed five- and ten-year programs of church planting, to the point that now congregations are multiplying at a rate fast enough so that there could be one new church in every single barangay (rural village or town and city neighborhood) well before their target date of the year 2000. They face the real prospect of growing from about 3,000 to 50,000 evangelical congregations in less than 30 years. What would have taken hundreds of years at the rate they were expanding is now being reduced to two-and-a-half or three decades. (The story of how this has come about is told in The Discipling of a Nation.)
This kind of activity is a direct approach to obeying the command to make disciples of all nations. Church and mission leaders at every level in a country need to make this goal their own and work most directly towards it. Every local congregation must be challenged to find those neighborhoods, villages, classes, and conditions of men within their reach that have yet to have a congregation established in their midst, and then to do something about it.
Research on a larger basis must be continuously carried out by denominations and service agencies on regional and country-wide bases, to discover larger groupings of unreached peoples and communities. Denominations must set challenging church planting goals, not only in terms of their size, but also in terms of the task that remains in saturating their area or country with churches. Then they must devise plans and allocate resources in sufficient strength to reach their goals.
Old methods of church planting that greatly inhibit church multiplication must be abandoned and methods that are indefinitely reproducible on a local level must be discovered-or rediscovered-and used. Theological training institutions must be refocused on turning out church planters. Plans for mobilizing and training lay people for church planting and pastoring must be implemented.
All parachurch organizations must diligently reexamine their ministries and then restructure them, so that rather than competing with denominations and local churches they instead provide resources and assistance for the church planting efforts of these groups. Mission societies likewise must restructure themselves in many cases so that their role again becomes that of doing those things that will most directly result in the planting of churches in the thousands of villages and neighborhoods in the countries where they work.
While I have stressed the idea of the whole body of Christ of whole countries working in unity towards goals of saturation church planting, there is nothing that prevents local churches everywhere, or denominations, or parachurch organizations and missions, from rethinking and redesigning their programs to fit this goal. There is no need for supra-organizations to be developed, or for vast sums of money to be raised. Each organization can begin developing its goals and programs in terms of its part and potential in saturating whole countries with congregations. As more and more catch this vision, the unity and strength of national churches will grow, and our ability to reinforce each other in making disciples of all nations will increase.
Response by Frank W. Allen
Franklin Allen is minister of missions for Send International, Farmington, Mich. He served 30 years as a missionary to the Philippines. During his leadership there the Association of Bible Churches of the Philippines was organized, which now has 130 churches. A graduate of Bob Jones University, he holds master’s degrees from the Chicago Graduate School of Theology and the University of Michigan. He is studying for his doctorate in missiology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
Had this been the historical goal of missions, perhaps the task by now would have been completed. Womack encouraged this kind of thinking 10 years ago and yet missions are still sending one here and one there, without any hope of saturating a whole country with congregations. Had this been a serious intention, some missions would long ago have been crying "come over and help us" rather than informing us that "this whole area is ours," whether or not they had the resources to accomplish the task. Early in my own career I saw a map of a denominational mission that claimed whole provinces as "their territory," even though in some of these provinces they could place only one couple. Montgomery is to be commended for calling us back to the possibility of completing the goal in our generation.
One of the problems I have with the article is definitions. His explanation of "nations" as people groups as well as political entities is helpful and will enable us to more accurately define our goals and objectives, and either enlarge or limit our own scope to that which we can do well when it comes to saturation evangelism and church planting. It seems to me, however, that the author’s concept hinges more on the phrase "make disciples" than it does on the term "nations." For it is only as people become disciples that they themselves will in turn make disciples of others. Jesus defines disciples in Luke 14 as those who do three things: (1) Make Christ pre-eminent in their lives, vs. 26; (2) Take up the cross (obedience and self-denial), vs. 27; and (3) Place all of one’s possessions at Christ’s disposal, vs. 33. Chrysostom said that "this word (disciple) is used almost exclusively to denote members of the new religious community, so that it almost equals the word ‘Christian.’ "
This, then, to me is the crux of the matter. We can be so busy establishing congregations in every "nation" that we forget that they are to be congregations of disciples. These and these only are going to respond to Paul’s admonition to Timothy, "And the things that you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others" (II Tim. 2.2.) We have to admit-and this is the main weakness of his proposal-that the average church member has not himself been discipled in the Lukan sense of the term and yet we expect him to go out and "disciple the nations." And if local churches are not trained and active in the ministry of disciple-making, the task as suggested is impossible. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why we have not "discipled the nations," rather than the reason suggested by the author. The concept that so many have of discipling is nothing more than "decision gathering." Not only is their approach simplistic, but it also produces people who are followers in name only and will never have the depth of commitment to accomplish that which the article is proposing.
One neglected problem in this article is that of nomadic or scattered people. If it is as true in other countries as it is in the Philippines, there must be millions in the world who lead a nomadic existence. This means that disciples are needed who will follow the order of Luke 14 and make their home among these people, for such will never be reached by the average local church employing present methods. This is true also of those who live scattered abroad in rural areas miles from one another and in isolated tribal villages far from the nearest town or barrio where a church may exist. Here again is a need to redefine and refine our methods of evangelism and church planting if we are to disciple the nations.
The article seems to assume that redefining our goal and deciding to establish a church within every community is the great need. But even where we have established churches comprised of "committed" Christians, evangelism of the nearby unreached has not always been the result. Among Muslims it has often meant extraction. Among Hindus and Buddhists it has often resulted in the descent of those congregations into a "ghetto" mentality.
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