by Scott Breslin
I’d like to introduce a tool that we have found helpful in enabling church planting teams (and their supervisors) to get a snapshot of the team’s progress in the church planting process.
I’d like to introduce a tool that we have found helpful in enabling church planting teams (and their supervisors) to get a snapshot of the team’s progress in the church planting process. This tool consists of a simple one-page visual summary. It was designed with bivocational expatriate church planters in mind, especially those focused on establishing networks of house churches in restricted access countries. Although this tool is not perfect, many of my colleagues have found it to be helpful.
I first used this tool with the church planting team I was leading. Later, when I began to oversee other church planting teams, I used it to help me understand their ministry, track their progress, discern bottlenecks and pray intelligently. The “columns” or “phases” used in the chart help identify different benchmarks in the church planting process. In spite of the fact that a given church planting situation may not follow a clear linear sequence, this tool can help a supervisor get enough understanding to ask the right questions. Church planting teams almost always find the task of completing the tracking chart a very useful and stimulating exercise. Most are encouraged and edified when they step back and see a snapshot of the progress they have made and/or begin to identify bottlenecks in the process.
Normally, I collect the data during a one to three-hour session (depending on the size of the team) with all members of the church planting team participating. Using a white board or flipchart, I draw the chart (see Figure 1) and fill out the columns from left to right by asking the team questions. We later transfer the data to a Word or Excel document. The teams usually update their chart every six months and send me a copy. This helps me track their progress from a distance. I do not use the tracking chart with teams that are primarily in language learning or in the midst of conflict resolution. The tool helps me understand what is happening on the ground so I can appropriately coach and encourage church planting teams in their work. I do not write down the real names of people but instead use initials or pseudonyms. I also try to be sensitive to those team members who are negatively predisposed to this type of analysis which can seem in their eyes as cold, impersonal and arbitrary.
The chart consists of six columns, each column representing a different phase of the church planting process. I have given the columns multiple names to demonstrate their similarity to the different phases of evangelism written about by Laurence Singlehurst (1995) and church growth by Rick Warren (1995). It is my hope that most church planters and overseers/supervisors will find the process used here generic and self-evident.
1. Positioning column. In this column, I write the names of platforms or contexts in which team members meet and bless the lost. These are ministries that help position team members to develop relationships and be a blessing to those they are trying to reach. For example, it may be a business platform, community service, special event, humanitarian project or daily activity like shopping, traveling or visiting neighbors (see column 1 in Figure 2). Some activities in this column will be proactive and deliberate and some will be spontaneous and unplanned. For example, Jesus’ visit to Jacob’s Well near the Samarian town of Sychar (John 4:1-6) is an example of a column 1 activity as it provided the context in which Jesus met the Samaritan woman. Samuel’s peace offering (a heifer) in 1 Samuel 16 allowed him access to the sons of Jesse in Bethlehem so he could anoint David.
The primary goal in the “positioning” column is to list the activities that position the messenger to make contact with the lost. This will be different in different contexts; however, by “contact” I do not mean just physical or geographic proximity (although that is part of it). It also has to do with winning the right to be heard and trusted. It has to do with being close enough to introduce different aspects of the Kingdom of God to the lost. For the expatriate living in restricted access countries, this can be quite difficult and requires planning, patience and God’s provision.1
2. Sowing column. In the second column, I write the names (and draw stick figures) of people who in the past month (or six weeks) have been exposed to some witness of the Kingdom of God (see column 2 in Figure 3). This may be a verbal or nonverbal witness. It would include the names of people who watched the Jesus film or heard part of the gospel or a personal testimony. In addition, it would include the names of people whom team members have prayed with and the names of people who witnessed a healing or deliverance or had a dream from God or other miraculous testimony of the Kingdom of God. Some aspect or witness of the Kingdom of God has been “sown” into the person’s life. Jesus’ discussion with the woman at the well (John 4:7-26) is an example of a column 2 activity. You do not need a personal relationship with a person to sow into their lives. Without broad sowing, it is pretentious to expect a season of broad reaping. Sowing takes place from the initiation of members of the church planting team.
Sowing activities help identify people who need immediate follow-up. It helps identify whom to invite to “watering activities” (column 3). Often, a person does not get enough content in a sowing activity to come to faith, but sowing activities help identify potential seekers in the crowd. Sowing activities serve as spiritual filters or sieves. They help you identify who is ready for more. They help create curiosity, thirst and goodwill toward the Kingdom of God. An arrow pointing to the right next to the person’s name indicates if he or she is a likely candidate to be invited to watering activities (column 3). Of course, a person can move from column 2 (sowing) to column 5 (keeping) in one day; however, this is not yet the norm among most unreached peoples. It may be better to expect a longer process …and be pleasantly surprised when God moves a person along faster. When many people are moving rapidly (say in days or weeks) through this process, it may be a sign that a church planting movement is close behind…and this chart will quickly become obsolete.
3. Watering column. In column 3, I write the names of people who are being regularly exposed to God’s word, often via a seeker’s Bible study and Bible storying (see Figure 4). The watering column attempts to identify “seekers.” We consider people “seekers” when they take initiative to hear more or experience more of the Kingdom of God. While in column 2 (sowing), it is the church planter (or God himself, in the case of dreams) who takes the initiative; in column 3 (watering), I list the names of people who are taking initiative to hear more. These are people who not only say yes to an invitation to participate in a seeker’s Bible study but who show up. Since “faith comes from hearing” (Rom. 10:17), no one comes to faith without taking some initiative to listen and be exposed to God’s word. Jesus’ two days of teaching at the Samaritan town of Sychar was a watering activity (John 4:39-42) because the townspeople were coming back for more content. An arrow pointing to the right or the left next to the person’s name indicates if he or she appears to be moving toward faith or losing interest. Church planting teams must develop watering-type activities (like chronological Bible storying) to invite seeking friends. Whenever possible, we do seeker studies in small groups rather than one-on-one. A small group of seekers studying the Bible can develop into a house church.
4. Reaping column. In a perfect world, this column would not exist. We purpose for people to move directly from column 3 (watering) to column 5 (keeping). In reality, it is often not the case. There are those who have confessed Jesus as Lord but are clearly not yet disciples of Christ. In this column, we write the names of people who have made a profession of faith but for one reason or other are not actively ministering to others and are not committed to the community of believers (i.e., local house church). This column would include believers who are in our team’s sphere of ministry (even if they are backslidden or under church discipline). An arrow pointing left next to the person’s name indicates if the person has been falling away. An arrow pointing right indicates the person is still growing in the faith.
5. Keeping column. This column (see Figure 5) includes all believers who are members of the local church (in our case, house church). It is subdivided into the “Committed” (or Covenanted) column and the “Core” (or Co-workers) column. In the church planting model I use, I often encourage the house churches to define their membership by covenanting together; however, many of the teams I supervise do it a different way. In any case, we write the names of believers who are both baptized and have made a membership commitment to the community of believers in the “Committed” column. An arrow right or left next to the person’s name indicates if the believer is growing toward becoming a co-worker or if they are backsliding. In the co-worker column, we write the names of believers who we consider co-workers. These are people who are involved in ministry. Our primary goal for all the people we work with is to become co-workers. Co-workers have the potential of transforming a single house church into a network of house churches and into a church planting movement. This whole chart is about the initial stages of finding and equipping co-workers.
ANALYSIS OF THE CHART
After the names2 and directional arrows are put on the chart, you have a snapshot (imperfect though it may be) of what is going on at the ground level. There are dozens of ways to analyze and use the information. Here are a few of the things I look for.
1. What kinds of “positioning” activities (column 1) are producing people for sowing activities (column two). I draw a line from the names in column two (sowing) to the activities in column one (positioning). This can show what activities are really bearing fruit and which are not.
2. I ask which team members are associated with which positioning activities (column 1). This must be done sensitively so as not to embarrass or dishonor anyone on the team.
3. I ask which team members are associated with which names in columns 2-5 (Figure 6).
a. Depending on the situation, it is a sign of good team dynamics/health when more than one team member is involved with each name. I also like to hear if national believers from columns 4 and 5 are involved in sowing and watering. This should be the norm. If not, it could be a sign of sterility that needs to be investigated.
b. I like to see if any team members are not involved in sowing (column 2) and watering (column 3) activities and find out why. These are activities we can equip team members to do. Teams need to be deliberate and proactive in implementing activities in columns 1-4.
c. I like to see which team members excel in sowing and watering. This sometimes helps identify the evangelists on the team.
d. I have noticed that the amount of sowing in a team exponentially increased when teams hold special “sowing” events like parties, drama, concerts and seminars where testimonies and/or Bible stories are shared. Some team members excel at organizing or hosting the event and others excel at inviting people.
4. I like to see how many people are in each of the columns (columns 2-5). In order to get six people in column 5 (the church), you normally need to have dozens (sometimes hundreds) of people in columns 2-4. If little sowing is going on, church planting will not happen.
5. I look at past charts and see what progress is being made.
6. I use the chart in my prayer for the team.
7. I may ask a team to set more aggressive goals for the number of people they are sowing into. I will work with them on strategies to increase their sowing. We believe it is good and reasonable to hold teams accountable for the amount of sowing they do as it is one of the few measurable outcomes within their direct control.
8. I teach the teams how to use this chart with their team. Many teams show local believers how to use the tool as part of their leadership development. It helps cast vision by explaining to the local believers a church planting process.
9. In many cases, there will be multiple church planting efforts going on simultaneously within one church planting team’s sphere of ministry. Often, the division of who belongs where will not be clear. Several people may be involved with several efforts. Figure 7 shows an example of where three separate house church efforts are in various stages…the Riverview Church being the furthest along. In our example, Ahmet is developing a third group through his own relational networks (which he is not enfolding into the Riverview Church). In this case, no one from our expatriate team would be directly involved with Ahmet’s group; however, someone would be coaching or shadow-pastoring Ahmet off-stage. In fact, this is the goal of our ministry. By God’s grace, men and women like Ahmet will help move networks of house churches into rapidly multiplying church planting movements.
This tool helps you take a snapshot of a team’s progress in the church planting process. In a one to three-hour meeting, the group facilitator can complete the chart with the team. This focused meeting is almost always an edifying and professionally stimulating experience for all participants. Many more stimulating hours can be spent analyzing the findings. As an overseer of expatriate church planning teams (working among unreached peoples), I have found this a very useful tool in my ministry toolbox. You can download a blank copy of the form at http://www.fcpt.org. Please feel free to adapt and improve it in any way you like.
1. For more discussion on the topic of positioning in restricted access countries see “The Heifer Principles (Thoughts from 1 Samuel 16)” at www.fcpt.org.
2. I usually draw stick figures with the names for a more “pictorial” view. This also helps me visualize the gender make-up of the people the team is working with as I may not be able to recognize the gender by the name.
Singlehurst, Laurence. 1995. Sowing, Reaping, Keeping. Colorado Springs, Colo.: YWAM Press.
Warren, Rick. 1995. The Purpose Driven Church. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan.
Scott Breslin is a leadership development consultant for a Fortune 500 company and international NGOs. He has lived in the Middle East for over twenty years, ministering among the unreached urban poor.
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