by Yuttasak Sirikul and Randy Wollf
God is using six internal factors within the Church to push Thailand toward a spiritual tipping point: prayer, unity, research, evangelism, strategic focus, and supportive accountability.
Christians have come together in a concerted, prayerful, and strategic way to reach Thailand for Christ.
With a population of over eighty-six million people, Thailand is approximately 85% Buddhist, 8% Muslim, and less than 1% Christian (Mandryk 2010, 812). Yet, even though a small minority, many of the Christians have a fiery passion to make disciples of Jesus. In 2009, the increase in the number of Christians in Thailand (a 4.54% increase over the previous year) outstripped the population growth rate (0.63%) by seven times (Martin 2010). Yet, as one Christian leader said at the 7th Congress on Evangelism in May 2009, “At that rate, it will still take us two hundred years to totally reach our nation. We want to do it in this generation.”
A coalition of three major Protestant groups in Thailand, representing almost eighty percent of the over 4,100 Protestant churches and other Christian ministries, has formulated a national plan to reach their country for Christ. The first phase of the plan, Vision 2010, focused on planting a church in each of Thailand’s 926 districts, starting a Christian group (e.g., house church) in all of the 7,415 sub-districts, and presenting the gospel in each of Thailand’s 80,000 villages. In his research on the Church in Thailand, Marten Visser discovered that when a church exists in a village, the people in that area are one hundred times more likely to hear the gospel (Visser 2008).
Even though churches and other ministries made great progress in achieving these goals, they fell short of fully realizing them. At the end of 2009, 210 districts still did not have a church (down from 215 the year before), while 3,508 sub-districts did not have a Christian group (down from 3,830 the year before).
Vision 2015 is to see one million Christians in Thailand by 2015 (at the current rate of growth, there would be approximately 500,000 Christians by 2015). Vision 2020 is to see three million Christians in Thailand by the year 2020.
The national plan seeks to inspire, mobilize, and train people to “Love Thailand” by fostering a disciple-making and church-planting movement that will engulf the country with the love of Christ. According to YWAM missionary Iven Hauptman, “The Thai national plan helps provide a context for the entire Body of Christ to come together, pray, and share information so that we can all go together to the places that have not yet been reached by the gospel” (Hauptman 2010).
Why do many believe that Thailand is ripe for a mighty harvest of souls? Gregg Nicholson, a veteran missionary to Thailand, describes four internal factors within the Church that God is using to push Thailand toward a spiritual tipping point: prayer, unity, research, and evangelism. We have added two others: strategic focus and supportive accountability.
According to Nicholson, the current prayer movement in Thailand started after Yonggi Cho and Peter Wagner encouraged pastors to commit themselves to pray for Thailand. In response, the Bless Thailand Prayer Network started in Bangkok in 1996. By 2009, four prayer networks existed in the city. From 2007 to 2009, the number of prayer networks in the entire country went from fifty to seventy. Some Christians in these networks participate in an annual forty days of prayer and fasting for Thailand that culminates in a national day of prayer. God is truly moving in response to the fervent prayers of his people.
How do you get almost 80% of the Protestant churches and other ministries to agree on a national plan to reach their country? It is definitely a work of God.
Building unity has not been an easy process in Thailand. Even with the widespread endorsement of the plan, unity is still delicate. The Thai government helped to bring Christian leaders together by requiring representatives from the Church of Christ Thailand (which is made up of American Presbyterians, American Baptists, Disciples of Christ, and others, and has 26 schools and eight hospitals), the Evangelical Fellowship of Thailand (which has 122 mission organizations, 43 church associations, and nine institutions), and the Thailand Baptist Convention to meet as the Thailand Protestant Churches Coordinating Committee (TPCCC).
The TPCCC went from meeting together out of a sense of obligation to coming together because they liked each other and wanted to find better ways to collectively reach their nation. Several key conferences served to bring together these and other Christian leaders in Thailand: Amsterdam (2000); the Southeast Asia Congress on Evangelism (2002), where four hundred Thai leaders met in a room to discuss what must happen to reach Thailand; and Lausanne (2004), which was held in Thailand.
However, the 2004 tsunami brought the Thai Church together in an unprecedented way. “We Love Thailand” became a rallying cry as believers from different denominations joined hands to help tsunami victims. This unity continues today and is a powerful testimony of Christ’s love.
Dwight Martin, who grew up in Thailand, maintains a database (www.e-stars.ws) on the number of believers and churches in the villages, sub-districts, districts, provinces, and country as a whole. This research has inspired many church and other ministry leaders to direct their efforts in strategic ways toward areas of greatest spiritual need—a key goal of the national plan.
For example, after discovering that the northeastern part of Thailand was the least-reached area of Thailand (only 0.16% of those living there are Christians according to Martin), churches and other Christian ministries focused their evangelistic and church-planting efforts on this region. A month-long initiative in October/November 2010 saw over five hundred Thai Christians from across Thailand engage in numerous evangelistic outreaches in the northeast. It is estimated that over 6,500 people heard the gospel through this outreach with at least 1,400 of those praying to receive Christ.
The outreach leaders, in partnership with existing local churches, formed seventy-seven new cell groups, fifty worship groups, and thirty home churches with these new believers (Chamgsagol 2011). A realization of the tremendous spiritual need in northeast Thailand helped give rise to this focused outreach. Accurate research is playing a strategic role in showing the Thai Church how it can best mobilize its resources to reach unreached people.
In 2004, the DeMoss Foundation conducted a media-based evangelistic campaign in Thailand called “Power for Living.” They gave away two to three million Christian booklets by the same title. This was the first time the gospel went out to the whole nation. According to Nicholson, Christians began to think that perhaps Thais are not as opposed to the gospel as they thought. The campaign communicated that Christianity is not a foreign religion.
Nicholson believes that several factors may have contributed to a growing openness to the gospel:
• Thailand’s history of political unrest
• Uncertainty about the monarchy
• Economic struggles
• AIDS (there may be as many as one million Thais who are HIV positive)
• Prostitution (there may be more prostitutes in Thailand than there are Christians)
• A growing disillusionment with Buddhism
In addition, the 2004 tsunami provided many opportunities for the Thai Church to show Jesus’ love in practical ways. It taught the Church about social transformation.
In the aftermath of the tsunami, Christian leaders put aside the national plan for a time. However, in 2006, TPCCC leaders once again took up the vision. Three hundred Christian leaders met in Pattaya to discuss research on unreached areas in Thailand. In 2007, provincial strategic coordinators were chosen to implement the national plan in Thailand’s seventy-six provinces.
In May 2009, over four hundred Christian leaders came together at the 7th National Congress on Evangelism in Bangkok. This was the largest gathering of Thai Christian leaders in the 182-year history of the Thai Protestant Church.
What would motivate this many Christians to come together for a five-day congress? It was their love for God, each other, and the unreached in Thailand. The congress was “an amazing picture of the growing unity and evangelistic initiative of the Thai Christian Church” (Sirikul 2009). Rev. Virat Koydul, moderator of the Church of Christ Thailand at the time, said in one of the sessions, “This is our time. We are making history here at this congress.”
One of the initiatives discussed was to start one hundred Christian community radio stations. Today, the Thai government is open to granting community radio licenses to Christians wanting to broadcast the gospel. This is a tremendous window of opportunity. One Christian station in northern Thailand has played a part in the growth of eight local churches and has helped to start a church in Laos. Christian radio stations can be an excellent way of reaching the lost, helping believers grow in their faith, and connecting people in the community with local churches.
Another initiative that came out of the congress was the December 2009 My Hope campaign, a media outreach of the Thai Church and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
In a strategy meeting with provincial leaders on February 4, 2010, we learned that more than forty thousand Christians received training in basic evangelism. Over 1,700 churches held My Hope events where at least 181,000 Thai people heard a clear presentation of the gospel. Approximately twelve thousand people prayed to receive Christ. One church started thirty home groups because of My Hope. Another planned to start a new church to minister to the one hundred people who received Christ through the campaign. Another showed the DVD version of My Hope to one thousand inmates in two prisons. All who attended indicated that they wanted to receive Christ and many were baptized.
The TPCCC has four strategic initiatives that serve as foundational elements of the national plan: prayer, evangelism/church planting, leadership development, and compassion ministries (social transformation). Each initiative has a coordinator. See above for how God is working through the prayer and evangelism/church-planting efforts of his people in Thailand.
Another key component of the plan is leadership development. The leadership capacity of current and emerging leaders must increase to facilitate the ongoing expansion and deepening of the emerging spiritual movement. In addition, the TPCCC wants members to exercise compassion leading to social transformation in order to change the very fabric of Thai life.
Progress on the leadership development and compassion initiatives appears to be lagging behind advancements in prayer and evangelism/church planting. If this gap is not addressed, the movement may stall because of leadership limitations or fall short of transforming Thai society because of an inadequate focus on social transformation.
At the national level, the TPCCC meets regularly to strategize about the national plan. At the provincial level, teams are made up of two strategic coordinators, a Church of Christ Thailand divisional leader and key organizational leaders. These provincial coordinating teams meet every three months. The meetings are intended to be:
• Inspiring (encouraging people and getting them excited about their ministries)
• Informative (sharing what is happening in the provinces)
• Improvement-oriented (finding out what people need to do in order to be more effective)
• Implementation-focused (helping participants decide what they should do next to best implement the plan in their provinces)
At the district level, provincial coordinators meet monthly with local pastors. The coordinators encourage local pastors to adopt the “Nehemiah strategy”—just as Nehemiah mobilized workers to rebuild parts of the Jerusalem wall that were close to their homes, provincial coordinators encourage local pastors to take responsibility for their own districts.
Admittedly, some districts are doing well in their implementation of the strategy, while others are struggling. To help implement the Nehemiah strategy, provincial coordinators assist local pastors and their churches by providing tools, teams, training, technology, talents, and treasure. This system of supportive accountability at the national, provincial, and district/sub-district levels appears to be another key factor in the growth of the movement.
Other historical and current factors have contributed to the six mentioned here. However, this description gives a snapshot of some of the internal factors within the Christian community that God is using to build his Church in Thailand.
To reiterate Rev. Koydul’s assertion at the congress, “This is Thailand’s time.” Because God has blessed the Thai Church’s prayerfulness, unity, evangelistic/church-planting fervor, strategic focus (based on accurate research), and supportive accountability, it is well positioned to project and present a Jesus who can meet the deep needs of the Thai people.
But will the Church experience a tipping point that will turn a “growth-by-addition” movement into a rapidly multiplying movement? Will Christians become even more prayerful in the days ahead? Will the Thai Church be able to develop new and existing leaders so that the movement can grow deeper and expand even more into unreached areas? Will foreign missionaries and their respective agencies increasingly partner with the Thai Church to help accomplish the national plan? Will the Thai Church emerge as a major force for social transformation in Thai society?
Although the Thai Church is moving forward in a remarkable way, it is looking for the help of willing and humble partners to assist it. Christians from around the world need to join hands with Christians in Thailand to help them achieve God’s plan for their country and beyond. Pray earnestly for Thailand and the Thai Church. Partner with Christians in Thailand financially and in other practical ways as they seek to accomplish a God-sized vision. With God’s help and the help of God’s people around the world, we are confident that Christians in Thailand will reach Thailand for Christ in this generation.
Chamgsagol, Boonjome. 2011. Report on Vision Camp 2010 Newsletter, January 7.
Hauptman, Iven. 2010. Success in Unity! YWAM Thailand Publication. Accessed February 22, 2012 from www.ywamthai.org.
Mandryk, Jason. 2010. Operation World: The Definitive Prayer Guide to Every Nation. Colorado Springs, Colo.: Biblica Publishing.
Martin, Dwight. 2010. Status of the Protestant Church in Thailand–2009. Presentation at the Evangelical Fellowship of Thailand Conference, March 23-26, Rayong, Thailand.
Sirikul, Yuttasak. 2009. Thailand Campus Crusade for Christ. December newsletter.
_____. 2010. Thailand Campus Crusade for Christ. January-February newsletter.
Visser, Martin. 2008. Conversion Growth of Protestant Churches in Thailand. Unpublished manuscript. Accessed February 22, 2012 from http://thaicrc.com/collect/MIS/index/assoc/D6864.dir/6864.pdf.
Rev. Yuttasak Sirikul is director of Campus Crusade for Christ in Thailand and serves as coordinator for the evangelism and church-planting initiative of the national plan. He is also pastor of Mahapawn Rangsit Church in Bangkok.
Dr. Randy Wollf is assistant professor of practical theology and leadership studies at ACTS Seminaries of Trinity Western University. Previously, he was a pastor and church planter with the Evangelical Free Church for twenty years. Randy had the privilege of conducting onsite research in Thailand in 2009-2010.
EMQ, Vol. 48, No. 3, pp. 322-328. Copyright © 2012 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.