Wednesday, October 12, 2011
23 Reasons for Rapid Church Growth in China
The Church Planting Alliance of South Africa published a handbook in 2000 intended to encourage, equip, and guide church planters, pastors, intercessors, and denominational leaders toward the strategic challenge of saturation church planting in South Africa and beyond. The handbook included statistics, strategies, and stories of church planting activities. One of the articles that captured my attention focused on Rapid Church Growth in China.
From April 1993 to April 1996, growth among house churches [in one part of China] increased from three churches with less than 100 members to over one hundred churches with over 16,000 members (by the end of 1998 they had grown to over 55,000)...Primarily second, third, and fourth generation churches [were] planted entirely by local believers intentionally targeting the least evangelized areas and groups...All growth was from adult conversion growth rather than transfer or biological growth. Average reproduction time was six months.
As you read through these reasons for growth, consider what ramifications they present for your ministry in your context.
Reasons for Growth
1. Society in XYZ was undergoing rapid change during the period under examination. The late 1980s were pivotal in XYZ's history. After thousands of years as a cultural and economic backwater, it was coming into its own within the national political make-up. The rapid societal change created a hunger for spiritual change as well. Traditional religious and spiritual movements as well as Christianity experienced surges in growth following these changes.
2. Government opposition and persecution resulted in a church that is relatively free of casual believers. Since a Christian commitment potentially has negative repercussions, people who do make such a commitment tend to be more serious about their faith.
3. The churches displayed a remarkable degree of boldness despite the threat of persecution. This was displayed in their bold witness as well as in their loud and fervent singing in their worship services. They also demonstrated great trust in one another and in new believers. Such trust is in stark contrast to the extreme distrust that was engendered by the Cultural Revolution when the people learned to distrust everyone. This trust is attractive and surprising to unbelievers.
4. The believers demonstrated great love toward one another even when they are not relatives. This extended to the point of helping one another with financial needs. Such love is in sharp relief to the selfish and materialistic bent of the culture. This contrast served to draw attention to the Christian community.
5. New believers were baptized soon after their conversion, even in totally pioneer areas. This served to cement their new commitment and communicated their full responsibility and participation in the church from the very beginning.
6. When works were started in a new area, local believers were placed in leadership positions from the start. This helped to ensure that the new church was locally relevant and served to minimize dependence on outsiders. It also meant there were no problems with leader distribution since local leaders were always raised up from within local churches. There was never a question of leaders not wanting to return home after leaving for advanced training since training was done on the job.
7. Whenever a new church was started, multiple leaders were always established. This prepared new leaders to lead church plants. This helped protect the church against a leadership vacuum if a leader was imprisoned. It also trained members for outreach.
8. Unpaid lay leadership was used in the churches. This helped prevent any artificial bifurcation between "clergy" and "laity." This supported the practice of every adult member being part of the evangelistic outreach of the church and undergoing continuing training for ministry and being accountable for practicing what he or she had learned. Another advantage of this type of leadership is that since leaders do not require advanced theological degrees, the preparation of leaders does not form a bottleneck in the church planting process. They also require minimal financial support if any, enabling new churches to be started with little or no money.
9. Growth and fruitfulness was expected from new believers. This growth was in terms of knowing the Lord's commands and obeying them. Such growth results in fruitful Christian lives.
10. Spiritual reproduction was expected. This reproduction was in terms of leading others to Christ, teaching others what one had learned, and planting new churches. Since this was seen as the normal outgrowth of Christian experience, then any exception was quickly noticed and steps were taken to make the situation right. The gospel carries a responsibility to share words of life with those who have not heard. This responsibility is most clearly seen in areas where the gospel has not penetrated.
11. Security concerns resulted in the inability of individual churches to grow beyond a certain point (which varies by location), necessitating church multiplication, rather than merely increasing the size of a single congregation. This in turn resulted in a larger, more diverse, and more geographically available interface with the non-Christian community. It also helped to preserve the higher level of intimacy and accountability that typify smaller groups.
12. Another factor that was enforced by the hostile environment is the fact that the vast majority of churches did not have the option of using a dedicated church building. They instead used homes or shops in most cases. This means there was no facility expense to tie up the resources of the congregation and consume their energy and attention. It also assisted believers in maintaining an outward focus in ministry rather than an inward focus.
13. Quite often, the new churches wrote their own original hymnody, which expressed their personal faith and Christian experience. This music became a strong encouragement and influence toward solidarity and a rallying point in difficult circumstances.
14. In teaching and training as well as in evangelistic methods, reproducibility was emphasized. The teaching was kept simple in both format and content. Application with accountability was a constant emphasis. This helped increase the likelihood of continuous reproduction.
15. Believers at every level were held responsible to apply or put into practice what they had learned. They were also expected to teach others who were newer in the faith what they had learned. This resulted in mature and stable believers even when they had not been in the faith for a long period of time.
16. Vision and responsibility for the completion of the Great Commission was taught at every level in the churches. It was also "caught" since every trainer and leader was consumed with that task, and mentoring and on-the-job training are the heart of the training methodology. This vision ensured the common direction and purpose of every new congregation.
17. Accountability was practiced at every level. Even the "senior" leaders of each congregation were accountable to the leaders of other congregations. This created a sense of solidarity and camaraderie, which is essential in an environment that is hostile, and in which Christians are such a tiny minority.
18. There was a conscious awareness among church planters and trainers that their identity, methods, patterns, and attitudes would be emulated by the new believers and congregations. They were the models or patterns on which new work would be based. This resulted in great intentionality in these key areas.
19. When work had to be done in Mandarin, every possible effort was made to ensure that it would be passed on in XYZese at the first generation. The XYZese churches then imitated this pattern in planting cross-cultural congregations.
20. Ethnic Chinese people exclusively were used as trainers and church planters, helping to avoid impressions of Christianity as a Western religion. This resulted in churches which were very "at home" in the culture.
21. Low education levels were catered to in terms of indirect and informal teaching styles and forms. Scriptures, hymns, training materials, evangelistic materials, and Bible teaching were all distributed on cassette. Video materials were used where appropriate. Training was based on personal interaction (modeling, mentoring, and on-the-job training) rather than written materials.
22. There was a tremendous amount of specific prayer focused on the XYZese people and their evangelization. This was done by groups of people on several continents who were committed to pray regularly for the XYZese using specific and timely prayer requests provided by newsletters, phone, and e-mail. God moved because His people asked.
23. It was God's time for the XYZese. He had clearly been preparing them and preparing His people for the task. He was working for His glory in such a way that no one else could possibly take credit for it. It was clearly a sovereign work of grace.
In reflecting on these 23 Reasons for Rapid Church Growth, my colleague Bob Rasmussen makes the following observations:
The factors seem to fall into two general categories: those that we can affect and those we cannot.
In the first category are things like every believer expected to share the gospel, early baptism, leadership from the beginning, etc.
In the second category are factors that are beyond our ability to affect but are left to God and society at large. In this category would be persecution, lack of wherewithal to have church buildings, etc.
It is interesting to me that the obstacles for replicating factors within our control are of our own making. Our traditions. This would suggest that in seeking rapid church multiplication, one key area leaders should re-examine is traditions that inhibit.
New wine demands new wineskins.
What insights does reading these 23 Reasons spark in you?
What traditions do you need to re-examine?
How can you remove inhibitors to rapid multiplication?
Dave is a MISSIONALIST! He is focused on equipping and empowering pastors and church planters to embrace missional practices, and partnering together with leaders to strategically multiply churches to reach our nation and the nations among us. His wife, Deanne, and he were led by God to plant Lake Hills Church in Castaic, CA in 1990 and he pastored there for 16 years before joining OC International's U.S. Team.
More from Dave DeVries or visit Dave at www.missionalchallenge.com/