By Steven Rau
Originally Published on William Carey International Development Journal
I recently returned from my first visit to India seeking to learn more about indigenous church planting (CP) agencies and the changing roles of American Christian workers there. As we all know, traditional CP models prescribe that one first seek out the Man of Peace (Luke 10:6), and what I’ve discovered is, surprise: in India, the man of peace wears a skirt!
Did you know that the church in India is predominantly female?
It’s my contention that this is the most under-appreciated and under researched aspects to one of this century’s most expansive CP movements. Equally noteworthy (and encouraging) is that this has occurred on a continent where the dominant cultural DNA is caste and patriarchy. One church planter shared with me that women in India live under a double castes system. So I wonder, how is this occurring, and, is this a movement of the Holy Spirit, or just a church planting oversight?
During my 7 week visit there I addressed hundreds, including pastors / church planters and field workers. I also visited numerous house churches from all over India. In almost every instance I discovered that church worshipers there are mostly women, with very few men. I was more than surprised because I’d never before read about or heard any discussions about the body of Christ in India being predominantly X chromosome. I continued to try and discount this fact as some kind of anomaly, but at every instance my observations and interviews only confirmed my initial findings.
As my journey continued my questions became more inquisitive.
- “What percent of your church are women”?
- “How is it that you as a male can evangelize all these women?
- “What are some of the difficulties you have when managing a church of mostly women”?
- “How do you as a man disciple women”?
- “Where are all the men”?
- “Do women love Jesus more than men do”? (this one was used as more of an ice breaker question, because it usually resulted in laughter)
I could tell that most of these church planters were not accustomed to fielding these kind of questions and that some were hearing these questions for the first time. Eventually my persistence was rewarded and it was disclosed to me what was happening here. A well known church leader explained that what I was discovering was what they call “Gossip Gospel”.
What was I learning and witnessing here? Is India’s much heralded Church Planting Movement a Woman to Women Church Planting movement? Because if it is, the women are managing themselves quite magnificently! Imagine, for them there is little to no funding, training, recognition or appreciation from agencies, churches or financial supporters for their church planting efforts. Could God be using women as some of His most effective Church Planters in India (John 4:28)?
I believe a heightened recognition and appreciation of Gossip Gospel should compel us to recalibrate CP efforts there, because the Church is growing, yes – but it’s growing with one hand tied behind its back by not recognizing this.
However this paradigm is not without its challenges. Traditional CP methods do not account for this kind of gender imbalance, so as a result, challenges do exist that must be addressed if the church is to remain healthy and flourish.
However, where some might see problems here, others see opportunities!
Further my hunch is that this is not a situation that’s unique to just India. And now that my antennae are hyper vigilant to this topic, I’ve since been hearing , reading and seeing more and more evidence that this might just be more of a global reality than any one of us has either realized or has been willing to accept or acknowledge.
Lastly I’d like to say that I find it more than coincidental that in the micro-enterprise world, case studies show us that women are the most successful micro-enterprise entrepreneurs. Women are the preferred customers much more than men because of their proven track record. Further, micro-enterprise mostly occurs in the same developing countries where CP also occurs.
Is this just coincidental or part of a larger body of evidence where we are not effectively “connecting the dots”?
Since we know one could build a good size library on the singular topic of Church Planting Methods, I’ve endeavored to create a simple graphic to illustrate how Gossip Gospel actually works. You will see two simple models that illustrate, 1.) a typical Church Planting Model and 2.) Gossip Gospel.
Now remember these are overly simplistic illustrations to make a point. It’s important to also point out, that, to the casual observer, this unique dynamic is occurring pretty much unseen and undetected. In other words, everyone is operating under the Traditional Model paradigm, while in fact it’s actually the Gossip Gospel model that’s powering the Traditional Model from within. So again, by all appearance the Traditional Model seems successful, pretty interesting isn’t it.
Parenthetically speaking, it’s also noteworthy to mention that the House Church in China is also mostly Women, and that the largest single Church Planting Movement ever was a mostly Women’s movement, The Word Of Life Movement in China. See the book titled: Inside Chinas House Church Network: The Word of Life Movement and Its Renewing Dynamic, written by my friend Dr. Yalin Xin.
Steven Rau, a Development Specialist at Christian Aid Mission, a Mission Nexus member, provided this article. Member organizations can provide content to the Missio Nexus website. See how by clicking here.