by Edward Rommen
A new pastor begins armed with a detailed plan and the support of colleagues.
The curriculum of the small seminary maintained by the Free Evangelical Church of West Germany at Ewersbach includes a church-planting seminar for graduating seniors. Church planting is, of course, a form of practical theology. The only way to teach it effectively is somehow to combine formal classroom training with on-the-job experience. As a result of efforts to avoid the sterility of the lecture hall, the course was restructured is now composed of four interrelated modules.
1. Formal Lectures. After considering the necessity of planning and the nature of strategy development, the seminarians are taken through a systematic analysis of eight stages of church development. These include: (a) Target area selection. Procedures for the collection of socio-religious and demographic data are presented and evaluated, (b) Initiating evangelistic contact. A survey instrument designed to assess audience attitudes is developed. The students then learn how to apply survey results to message formulation and the choice of appropriate evangelistic methods, (c) The communication of the gospel. Principles of communication theory are applied to the evangelistic task in an effort to surmount the unique set of obstacles posed by the nominal religious commitment which prevails in West Germany today. (The primary text is Planting Churches Cross-Culturally, by David J, Hesselgrave, published by Baker Book House.)
2. Field experience. The lectures are complemented by an actual attempt to initiate a new church-planting ministry. In other words, the course is designed to develop a church-planting strategy for a specific city in Germany. The first field step involves a survey of a number of church-planting opportunities. Information on this is provided by the Home Missions Department of the denomination. The church-planting potential of possible target areas is then assessed by considering such questions as whether or not the locations are strategic, the availability of financial resources, and the proximity of other churches and their willingness to support a new effort.
On the basis of the information gathered, a city is targeted for a church-planting effort. This is followed by several investigative excursions to that city, during which additional information is gathered, surveys are conducted, and local believers visited. Careful evaluation of the collected data provides valuable clues about the areas of the city on which further research efforts should be focused. For example, a high degree of listener responsiveness is often indicated by a high rate of population movement, political and economic change. These sections of the city are then targeted for further research and intensified evangelistic outreach.
A general survey of the religious situation leads to a consideration of appropriate message formulation and the most effective evangelistic methods. Our studies have revealed that a majority of those interviewed could be classified as nominal Christians, that is, as individuals who, although confessing Christianity, focus their commitment on the institutional church rather than the resurrected Christ, Thus, our message must be directed at the inadequacies of such a commitment and must emphasize the need for a personal decision and the Lordship of Christ.
On the basis of the lectures and field research, plans are developed for the implementation of each one of the church-planting steps. Several students are assigned the task of recording our discussions and providing the class with written summaries. In this way a project-specific strategy gradually takes shape during the course of the semester.
3. Church Planting Pastorate. In order to capitalize on the work done by the students and the church-planting opportunity that we have surveyed, the Home Missions Department has agreed to place one of the students in the city for which a strategy has been developed. (Students graduate within several months after completing the course.) Thus, the new pastor begins his ministry armed with a detailed plan and the support of a number of his colleagues who are moving out into other ministries.
4. Evangelistic Internship. Our seminary also requires a missions-evangelistic internship of all students just before they begin their seventh semester. This internship must be served in the city in which the church-planting effort growing out of the previous summer has been initiated. Thus, only a few months after arriving, the church-planting pastor receives valuable support for the church’s first major evangelistic thrust.
To date, the overall plan has been implemented in two locations. Although there are still a number of difficulties to overcome, the initial experience shows that teaching church planting can itself be a means of starting new congregations. Such efforts are sorely needed if viable, lasting Christian witness is to be established in the cities of Germany.
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