Guidelines for World EvangelismGeorge Gurganus, editor
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There are grounds for optimism and grounds for pessimism in missions today. What causes some to be optimistic and others pessimistic is not simply "subjective mood." Objective reality in mission experience varies so widely that either optimism or pessimism proves to be required by the facts.

Reuel Lemmons, in his lecture, "Ghosts of Past Failures,"1 has given chilling examples of tragedy, recounting the examples of missionaries who have labored in foreign fields. The tragedy is that paragraph after paragraph concludes with the phrase " . . . but nothing remains of his work . . . " Some local churches have pulled back or cancelled their missionary support because of disappointing or tragic experiences in mission work done in the past. Some returned missionaries are cynical, disillusioned, or bitter because of their field experiences. Visitors to certain mission fields, for example, are surprised that after two decades of well-publicized missionary work, there is only one church in a capital city, with eight members present on Sunday, seven women and one man, all over sixty years of age.

But missions have another side. The same two decades in another field have produced over five hundred churches, more than 70,000 baptized believers worshipping regularly, with a vitality that has continued to multiply churches, with or without American missionaries present. Protestant, Catholic and independent agencies report that 55,000 people per day are now entering Christianity, and at the present time 1,400 new churches are being planted every week. Stated another way, if we began with a group of 100 Christians and 100 non-Christians in Africa in 1900, the rates of growth would show that the 100 Christians had now grown to 2,900, while the non-Christians would number only 250. Speaking interdenominationally, missions are growing much faster than is the unbelieving world. There is much statistical cause for optimism in world evangelism.2

What causes the difference between these statistical evidences for optimism and pessimism? Are some missionaries bad men and others good? Do some try harder and succeed, while the others are lazy and fail?


While the urgency of the Cross demands the best efforts in the work of the kingdom, simply trying harder is not the guaranteed solution. The solution from God may lie in trying differently. Farmers of the 1800's worked desperately hard to scratch out a living, while farmers of today with less effort can produce enough to feed hundreds. The difference is not in the effort, but in the way they farm: better machinery, genetically controlled seeds, fertilizers, weed-killers. We farm differently now, not just harder. So it is in missions.

There are two kinds of missions:
Preaching is done out of experience and background in American church life. Strategy is planned and revised on the basis of experience and consultation with the field culture.
A blanket strategy is laid on the supposition that all should hear equally over the years. Strategy is planned on the evidence of the receptivity of the peoples.
The mission base is established in a permanent "mission station." Workers are mobility oriented and prepared to leave their foxholes as the battle moves on.
A sense of fatherly superiority demands paternal guidance for the converts and churches. A realistic sense of cultural difference demands a brotherly relationship with cultural freedom for converts.
Churches are envisioned as a few believers holding on amidst a vast majority of unbelievers. Churches are intended to liberate the entire society for Christ and move on to the next society.
Decisions depend on subjective needs of the missionary or the home church. Decisions are geared to objective attainment: to plant churches that will plant churches that will
Churches started have terminal life, (like mules or hybrid corn or seedless grapes). Churches planted have germinal life, (like live rabbits and bermuda grass).
One strategy is set, which continues as official policy, whatever changes occur in the field. Strategy is reviewed by evaluating growth and receptivity, relative to known opportunities.
The world is viewed as being one place filled with one people—the unconverted. The world is viewed as a mosaic of varying and distinctive homogeneous units of mankind with different degrees of receptivity.
The missions task is measured by the sum total of human forces working within the field: how many men, finances, and resources are available. The missionary considers sociological forces involved, but seeks for evidences of God's movements or purposes among the nations (famine, revolution, affluence, migrations, people movements, etc.).
Cultural tradition is respected so much that the mission is bound by it (especially the home-land traditions). Field ministry is consciously free from home cultural ties so that the Spirit can create his people in each cultural unit.

Missionaries and the churches they plant may be in either of the categories above, and still be doctrinally conservative (believe in the inspiration of the Scriptures, the deity of Christ, the person and work of the Holy Spirit, the centrality of the church, the reality of sin, heaven and hell, and the totality of the "faith once for all delivered . . . "). They may agree in the nature of the Christian life (the graces and fruit of the Spirit, the need for social service, love of neighbor, reading and prayer, a pious life). They may agree that 0 men are lost eternally because of sin, unless they hear the good news of Jesus, and that it is the task of the entire church to carry the good news. They may agree that the power of world evangelism is the power of the Holy Spirit, and that nothing can be accomplished without a certain ". . . power from on high . . ."3

While both types of missionaries may be agreed on such solid doctrinal realities, several distinctive points no doubt account for their variation.

1. The Lordship of Christ and the stewardship of man demands that churches grow. Non-growing churches can never disciple the whole world. American slow-growth or non-growth has blinded us to the paradox of fishing without catching, empty banquet tables, sowing without reaping, fig trees without fruit, sheep not in the fold, lost and unfound coins, and ripe harvests not reaped. It is not the will of God that churches remain static or gently decline.

2. The church has one irreplaceable task, amidst many good works: to convert and incorporate new believers into churches. Whatever other good things missionaries are doing, if they are not gathering countable new disciples into countable churches, their chief task is not yet done.

3. The task of missions must be biblically identified and repeatedly stated in measurable objectives. This task must be incessantly before the vision of the church There is no need for Christians to work under a shadow of doubt as to whether they can really know what God's objective is. Resort to the 'mysterious working of God's Spirit' is often a thinly disguised rationalization of evangelistic failure, couched in pious terms."4

4. Strategy is the device of mature and competent servants of God who are seeking the hundred-fold fruit rather than the sixty or thirty-fold. To make plans for the wise utilization of resources to accomplish the greatest possible return to the Lord of talents is both biblical and expedient.

5. The resources of human wisdom should be used to further the purposes of the God of all wisdom. The fields of anthropology, sociology, psychology, and other related social and behavioral sciences can be tested by the word of God and made to contribute to the ultimate desire of God for " . . . all things are yours . . . "5 In mission strategy, we " . . . prove all things . . . hold fast to that which is good . . . "6 Such valuable principles as people movements,7 the power encounter,8 indigeneity,9 innovation acceptance,10 and ethnotheology11 have all been articulated by these behavioral disciplines, and have helped us understand some of the remarkable growth of the church in the New Testament.

6. Research into the facts concerning the mission fields will make possible wise and productive decisions. Promotional, fund-raising, and hopeful success stories can disguise the real facts of which the harvester needs to be aware if the church is to cover the earth. Despite the fund-raising assurances that the fields are ripe unto harvest, if we could see the actual statistics showing that a certain mission field is growing at 583% per decade, while another one is growing at only 87% per decade, we would know where the priority in missionary strength should be used.

These six distinctive viewpoints in missions thinking and activity are crucial for the final results in a field. Highly productive fields and slightly productive fields do not depend entirely on the nature of the soil12 but partly on the judgments and methods of the human stewards.13


In the same way the Apostle puts the Christian life into focus by saying that to speak in tongues, have all knowledge, and give one's body to be burned is all nothing without love,14 so missions have to be put into focus by a clearly stated objective. What is that one thing without which all our admirable projects, commendable social services, and extensive labors will be really nothing?

1. God wills that we plant churches. New Testament directives are numerous in assigning individual tasks to believers. "Preach the Word."15 "Preach the Gospel to every creature . . . "16 "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them . . . teaching them to observe all things . . . "17 In modern missions we have utilized social and technological devices, preached sermons, built baptistries, printed tracts, written and distributed correspondence courses, sent out radio sermons, ministered to physical needs, conducted campaigns, and used many other good methods. The pull of all these good ministries has been felt by all of us. Which one good thing should I give myself to? The one ultimate purpose of God, however, is to unite all these good ministries toward one objective: the presence of the living body of Christ among every tribe, tongue and people. Mere fragments of ministry here and there will not suffice. It is inadequate that hundreds have been taught. It is not enough that dozens have been baptized. It falls short if we have only ministered to physical needs. The aim and end of all these is to bring believers into Christ unto eternal life. This necessitates not only conversion, baptism, ministries, but the incorporation of the believers into the living body of Christ. Until they have been made parts of the living organism, with shepherds to watch for their souls, deacons to minister to their needs, teachers to insure their growth in the word, and opportunity for their faith to bear fruit by others being added to the body-until that life cycle is completed in GROWING CHURCHES, God's will is not satisfied. The planting of churches that plant other churches is the ultimate aim of missions, into which every good ministry fits as contributing parts of the whole.

2. God wills that we plant churches that plant churches that plant churches that plant ... Ten missionaries can each plant one church each year. If the churches they plant have terminal life, after ten years their field will have 100 churches. If the missionaries die or return home, the number of churches remains static, for they do not plant other churches.

The same ten missionaries, by planting churches that have germinal life, will in ten years have 5,110 churches in their field. If the missionaries die or return home, the churches will continue to multiply, because they have germinal life.

Terminal life means a unit of life without reproductive power. Mules are hybrid animals incapable of reproduction. Hybrid com is good to eat, but will not produce a new crop. Seedless grapes are delightful to taste, but like all forms of terminal life, when reproduction is desired, the original source of life must be sought out.

Germinal life means each life unit bears the power of reproduction. Starfish can be cut up, and each piece produces another starfish. Every runner of bermuda grass puts down new root systems and sends out its own runners. A few rabbits imported into Australia for meat production have now over-run the land and the farmers are trying to annihilate them.

These two kinds of churches are described biblically. Paul wrote to Timothy ". . . . what you have heard from me (germination 1) ... entrust to faithful men (germination 2) . . . who will be able to teach others also" (germination 3) 18 This is germinal life. Paul does not have to teach every man. He teaches Timothy, Timothy teaches others. Timothy teaches others to teach others. Like bermuda grass, star fish, and healthy rabbits, each believer becomes a life-generating source.

Terminal churches are also pictured in Scripture: "For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of God's word . . . "19 Here are believers who have not the ability to impart life. If new believers arise, it will not be from these, but because the original teachers came back again to impart spiritual life. Like mules and seedless grapes, a continuing supply must come from the original source.

For world evangelism, it is obvious that terminal missions can never keep up with population growth, much less spread from continent to continent and pole to pole. Germinal missions can. In Acts, it was germinal missions that multiplied so rapidly, for when the believers dispersed at the death of Stephen20, "those who were scattered went about preaching the word."

Unfortunately, since most American churches are basically terminal, most American missionaries are trained to plant only terminal churches. A vigorous re-training will probably have to take place if American missionaries are ever to be able to plant germinal churches in world evangelism.

3. God wills that we plant "culture-free" churches. The American Restoration movement has thrived on the popular slogan that we should be "Christians only." In the American cultural scene, where sectarian division is a major problem, this slogan is valid and biblical. However, as one moves into cross-cultural communication of the Gospel, the slogan loses its relevance and becomes an impossibility. Culturally speaking, no one can be a "Christian only." Everyone must be a Christian in some kind of cultural setting. When Jesus came in the flesh, he could not be just "a man." He had to be a Roman or a Greek or a Scythian or a Persian or a Jew—some specific kind of man. To be a Christian requires certain cultural necessities: choice of speech, clothing, gestures, and other incidentals of culture, which are indeed demanded by generic directives of God.

Naturally, the planters of new churches like to see their own familiar cultural incidentals rise up. But the attachment of the culture of the missionary to his message imposes a barrier to those of other cultures who may want admission to the kingdom of the supracultural God. Our comfortable mother tongue may constitute a dreadfully difficult obstacle to Ibibio men, who just can't seem to master it. They have a right to hear God speak in their own tongue, to be Christians in their own cultural setting. They do not need or want "little American churches." Croatian Yugoslavs want Croatian churches. Batak Indonesians want Batak churches. Ibo Nigerians want Ibo churches.

And more important, God. wants them to have churches that are culturally comfortable to them. This was the message of Acts 10, 11 and 15. "Peter opened his mouth and said: 'Truly I perceive that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.'"21 Despite the efforts of the Jews to demand cultural conformity ("It is necessary to circumcise them, and to charge them to keep the law of Moses"22) the final decision was " . . . it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things . . . "23 Gentiles did not have to become Jews to be Christians. Bataks do not have to become Americans to become Christians. God wants Batak churches among Bataks and Ibibio churches among Ibibios. We must plant churches that are culture free.

4. God wills that we plant growing churches. Most American Christians have learned to be content with non-growth or slight-growth patterns of American church life. In the U. S. A., 5 % to 10% growth per year is viewed as being an acceptable, and even enviable, growth rate. (Take an hour or so to calculate what the ten-year growth rate of your home congregation may be.) But in world evangelism, there are fields where 50% growth per year is normal. God wants churches to grow, because God wants every possible human being redeemed from sin and prepared for the Wedding Supper of the Lamb. The more souls that are there, the happier God will be. And the process God uses to prepare those souls is life in the body of Christ. God is not content for the church to have twenty or thirty members and remain so for decades, when the possibility exists for there to be two hundred or two thousand.

Does this mean that God wants us to be primarily number-conscious? Are we trying to convert head-hunters into head-counters? Not at all, because growth has more than head-counting dimensions. There are three different aspects of the growing churches God wants:

(1) Quantitative Growth. God wants not only the 144,000, but also the innumerable multitudes in heaven.24 The ninety and nine were not enough when the shepherd knew there was one more that ought to be in the fold. The Holy Spirit in the book of Acts counted three thousand, then five thousand, and then the disciples were added to and multiplied. The ministry of shepherding (the eldership) demands that those charged with the care of souls know how many souls there are, where they came from and where they went.

(2) Qualitative Growth. Besides the numbers, God wants the church strong in heart and spirit. The disciples are to grow in the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, etc.)25 They are to add faith, virtue, knowledge, etc.26 They are to increase in the grace and knowledge of our Lord.27 These qualities adorn the church with the beauty that draws men to Christ,28 and wins the respect of the outsiders.29 This happens when men pray better, know the word better, meditate and commune with God regularly, abound in good works, and reflect the nature and perfect image of Christ.30

(3) Organic Growth. God wants the church to have specialized ministries. When cells multiply without specialization, such growth is called a tumor or cancer. But when cells develop into special organs and function in different helpful ways, such organic growth produces a body. It must have eyes, legs, hands, heart, kidneys, etc. The church is the body of Christ.31 As members of the body grow in their ability to serve in special ways, the church grows organically, and becomes more perfect. Some of these organs of ministry are elders, deacons, teachers, evangelists, servants, those who give, those who visit, those who rule, those who give mercy, those who show hospitality, those who sew, and others as listed in I Peter 4:10, Romans 12:4-8, and 2 Peter 3:15.32

When we speak of planting growing churches, we thus speak of growth in all three dimensions: quantitative, qualitative, and organic. If any one of these three kinds of growth is lacking, the other kinds will be hindered. God wants all three.

5. God wills that we should plant indigenous churches. Banana trees are indigenous to West Africa. They grow and multiply profusely because the climate suits them. Banana trees are not indigenous to West Texas. They will die within the year, unless they are protected by hot-houses, watered and cared for tenderly. Banana trees will never spread like bluebonnets in Texas, for they are not indigenous to the environment.

Churches with brick buildings, English Bibles, college-trained preachers and leaders, bus ministries, parking lots, orphan homes, national radio ministries, and cushioned pews are not indigenous to Third World underdeveloped countries. Churches like these may thrive well enough in "the Bible Belt" of the USA, but only by artificial hothouse care could they survive in Quiche or Quechua villages.

The rule of thumb by which indigenous churches can be most quickly recognized is to ask the three questions:

Are the churches self-supporting?
Are they self-governing?
Are they self-propagating?
If these questions can be answered yes, then the churches will probably spread like bluebonnets in Texas or banana trees in Nigeria. But if the churches have been trained to ways of evangelism that they cannot possibly support financially, or taught to meet in buildings that they could not possibly afford to build, then money must be imported to keep them growing, and they will not multiply quickly or widely.

If churches have been planted in such a way that they are not aware of and confident of the indwelling Holy Spirit33 and His word guiding them and living in them to enable them to make good leadership decisions, to discipline their members, to send out evangelists, and to prepare teachers, then they will not be able to govern themselves. This inability will require importation of "foreign missionary supervisors", and the churches will be able to grow only to the extent that imported, non-indigenous leadership is available.

If churches grow and multiply only when missionary personnel are available to lead or perform the evangelistic duties, then the churches will not be self-propagating. They will be terminal churches. If evangelism, baptisms, new churches, and outreach stop happening while the missionary is on furlough, the church is probably not an indigenous church. It will not spread like dandelions, or like the church in the book of Acts.

Protestant missionary leaders have been conscious of the need of this quality of indigeneity for several generations now, Out of his thirty-two years of experience in China, John Nevius made certain observations about what would keep churches spreading best.34 Presbyterians began evangelism in Korea on the basis of his guidelines, which included:

(a) Encouraging new converts to continue to earn their living and maintain their own position in life, so that Christianity is seen as a new way of life for ordinary men.

(b) Trusting unpaid leaders to shepherd, teach and watch over the little church groups.

(c) Letting the church meet in homes of members or in meeting places they could afford to rent or build.

(d) Training new converts to evangelize and edify the churches.

(e) Expecting existing churches to plant new churches.34

Following these policies, the Presbyterian churches in Korea experienced the most outstanding growth of their mission work anywhere in the world. Nevius visited Korea and discussed his missionary methods in 1890. The Presbyterian church grew from 530 members in 1897, to 53,008 in 1912.35 In 1971, there were 5750 Presbyterian churches with 1,722,500 members. The Methodists were second largest with 300,000 members.36

By its nature, the kingdom of God is suited to every kind of human being on our planet. Because the same Creator designed both humankind and the kingdom, it is ideally fitted to meet the needs of all mankind. To keep the church indigenous to man's needs requires only that we keep American culture from becoming a barrier to those who are eager to claim the heritage of God in his kingdom.

6. God wills that the church should grow infinitely. The Spirit, speaking through Habakkuk said that the " . . . earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea."37 If the Gospel is to be preached in ". . . all nations . . . "38 and to ". . . every creature . . ."39, then the growth pattern of the preaching agency must be capable of infinite reproduction., If we gear the spread of the church to some kind of financial subsidy (e.g. raising foreign money to build church buildings on the mission field, or to support preachers for each new church with funds from abroad) then we put a choker on the growth of the church. If we plan our evangelism so that a missionary ratio of one American to every 10,000 people is necessary, then it will require 300,000 missionaries to reach the unevangelized 3,000,000,000 of the world. If we make literacy a handmaiden of evangelism, then we shall be able to evangelize only in the amount we are able to build schools and teach literacy to every tribe and tongue.

We must also be aware of the thought pattern that says "In the beginning of our work we must use some of these expediencies to get started, but then we shall cast them aside and grow infinitely." The reality is that once such a marriage of method and gospel has occurred, the minds of the converts and their unbelieving neighbors cannot separate the two, and whether we like it or not, the growth pattern has been established, along with its built-in limitations.

To summarize:

  1. God wills that we plant churches.
  2. God wills that we plant churches that plant churches that plant ....
  3. God wills that we plant culturally free churches.
  4. God wills that we plant indigenous churches.
  5. God wills that we plant growing churches.
  6. God wills that we plant churches that grow infinitely.


If the planting of such churches were just normally and naturally the way missionary work proceeds, we would see many more productive mission fields and ten thousand times ten thousand more children of God among the nations. Such church growth is not the result of instinctive missionary reflexes, any more than good child care is instinctive with mothers universally. When a nation's infant mortality rate improves by 300%, it is because mothers have been learning better hygiene and infant care. If church growth rates increase from 12% per year to 97% per year, it will be because missionaries have learned more about how to plant the kind of churches that God wants.

Some of the qualities in missionaries that will produce this kind of God-honoring growth are these:

1. Such church planters must have a strategy. Spiritually minded people may hasten to protest: "The Spirit of God moves where he will, and we cannot tell God what to do with our strategies." Agreeing completely with this objection, we must insist that such strategy as we speak of is completely within the will of God. In fact, it is our objective to find the strategy of God and see where we can fit into it. Where is God's Spirit moving? What can we do to work behind His leadership? How can we harvest where He has ripened? We agree that for us to make plans and expect God to confine himself to the role we assign Him is foolish or even blasphemous. Pity the missionary who reports hysterically that since the Communists have driven all the missionaries out of China, God has no voice nor hand in all of China. While human beings are the messengers of God's grace in Jesus Christ, the hysterical report ignores two realities: (a) not all God's messengers are westerners subject to Communist deportation. There are Chinese believers who remain in service, despite prison, tribulation, and legal prohibition. And (b) God still works in His providence through war, famine, affluence, revolution, conquest and unbelieving kings, just as he did through Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar, and Cyrus. God is not awaiting our plan's completion to see where we want Him to be. Our strategy, instead must be to stay spiritually alert to what God is doing where, and then to seek from Him wisdom to know where we can walk behind Him in His footsteps. Good church planters will have a plan, a strategy under God.

2. Such church planters must be sensitive to receptivity. The parable of the sower tells us that not all will hear the word the same. To use the Isaiah passage ". . . so shall my word be . . . It shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and prosper in the thing for which I sent it"40 to justify a careless selection of fields is to be guilty of twisting the word. God himself says to Isaiah "Say to this people, 'Hear and hear, but do not understand; see and see, but do not perceive.'"41 Jesus says in explaining the sower parable (or as some call it more aptly, the parable of the soils) that God's words to Isaiah are fulfilled in His parables, because some of the word produces nothing when it falls on the wayside heart. There is no biblical assurance that good work done by good men will invariably produce good fruit. Paul, on the contrary states clearly that if a man builds unwisely (even if on the true foundation) his work will be lost, and he shall have no reward.42

The obligation is clear, therefore, that church planters must seek the good soil-even the best soil for their labors. In education, the unteachable ones are kept out of schools, In business, sales efforts are not wasted where strong resistance has been clearly demonstrated. In medicine, hospitals for the incurables allow medical talent to be diverted to those for whom there is hope of recovery. Biblically, Paul shook off the dust of his feet when it became clear that they would not hear truth.43 Jesus clearly instructed his disciples that there were times when they should go to these, not to those.44

Since God has a priority for harvesting the ripe when they are ready and leaving the unripe until God has shone upon them and warmed them into readiness, the church planter must be sensitive to this ripeness. More and more data are now becoming available to assist in recognizing receptivity, without the costly "trial and error" measurement. The catalogs of MARC division of World Vision, Inc., may be consulted for this data.

3. Such church planters must be objective-oriented. Field labors should not be determined by "where the roads are good," "where I can fly my plane," "where I can find good stamps for my collection," or "where my family will be happy and comfortable." One's choice of ministry must be determined by what God wants. The Scripture is the beginning of this quest for the will of God. The system of priorities about what God wants most is clearly laid out in the word. In fact, the failure to recognize these priorities has caused enormous confusion and frustration in making both ethical and ministry decisions.

Once the purpose of God is determined through study and prayer, the servant will be able to clearly state that purpose as the foundation of his ministry. He will also be able to measure his ministry to determine when it is prospering, when it has been completed and the time has come to move on to the next ministry or field. For such objective-oriented men, there will be freedom from fuzzy rationalization and scriptural perversions that try to justify failure. The ministry that is not bearing fruit45 or producing its reward46 is a ministry that needs to be passed by in favor of one from which God will have more glory.

4. Such church planters must be culturally conscious. This cultural sensitivity can be seen in two ways:

(a) He will learn to see clearly the cultural mosaic present among the people. Nigerians are not one people, but fifty-five different tribes, with customs, languages, and patterns of life distinctly unique from each other. Indonesia has 137 such divisions. They are all Indonesians, but of different cultural systems. Even in our American cities of New York, Los Angeles, or Dallas, there are Chinatowns, little Italys, black ghettoes, and Chicano zones, where the ways of the people are unique. To try to build a middle class, Caucasian, white collar, college level church in a Chinese, semi-literate, agricultural, blue collar community would be to ask for defeat. Church planters who are insensitive to this dimension of human life will waste much valuable time and strength.

(b) The church planter must learn what in his religious knowledge is eternally unchangeable, and what is culturally negotiable. He must learn how to separate the eternal gospel from the local and incidentals. The Restoration movement in America proposed a solution to this problem as frontiersmen struggled with what parts of continental religion to leave behind them: "We ought to speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where the Bible is silent." Even here, the problem is not quite solved. Some way must be determined to know what in the Bible is eternally valid and what was temporal and local. Paul urged circumcision on Timothy because he was Jewish by parentage, but forbade circumcision to Titus because he was Gentile. In practice we actually do this by separating certain New Testament practices as not applicable to our time (foot washing, head coverings, the holy kiss., etc.) while insisting upon others as universal and eternal in nature.47 A new academic discipline, ethnotheology, is just now arising which concentrates on the problem of discerning to what extent our biblical understandings are shaded by our cultural surroundings.48 The church planter who is unaware of this problem is apt to find himself binding where God has not bound and loosing where God has not loosed,

5. Such church planters must be able to measure their work. In terms of the three dimensional growth mentioned above, church planters must be able to know something of how their work is growing quantitatively, qualitatively, and organically. Bankers can measure their business profits and losses very precisely. Farmers can measure their harvest and know how to plant next year. Teachers can measure their pupils' learning and promote them to their next learning stage. Soldiers can know when they have won a battle and can press on to the next victory. To fail to have a means of measurement is to be very soon driven from the enterprise, whatever it be.

To be convinced of the validity of this point, read the book of Acts while watching for measurements of growth in quantity, quality, and organic development. Whole new concepts will open to the sensitive church planter in the word of the Spirit. The three thousand soon came to be five thousand. Paul rejoiced in the work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope among the Thessalonians.49 Paul marvelled that the Galatians were "so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ . . . ".50 Jesus said to the Thyatira believers, "I know your works, your love, and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed your first."51 But He also said to the Laodiceans, " . . . not knowing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked."52 Paul sent Titus to Crete " . . . that you might set in order what was lacking and appoint elders in every town as I directed you . . . "53 As doctors are sensitive to blood pressure, pulse, respiration and other measurable vital signs as indicators of life processes, so the church planter must cultivate the skills of measuring church vitality.

Church planters will be much more productive, workers if they know:

1) How many churches in this nation?

2) How many churches in a homogeneous unit or district? (e.g., in Nebraska, among the Quechuas, among blacks in Los Angeles, among Ibos in Lagos)

3) How large are these congregations? (precise numbers of members, or even whether there are 18 members or 240 members)

4) How many members have come from transferring membership?
              restoring of backsliders?
              baptisms (how many were baptized from the world, and how many were children of members?)

5) How many members have been lost by transferring out to another church?
              death and funeral?
              reversion to the world?
              withdrawn fellowship?

6) What is the net gain or loss each year?54

Capable bankers, farmers, teachers, and soldiers know these details about their enterprises. Can faithful stewards in God's kingdom know less about theirs?

6. Such church planters must review their strategy for ministry periodically. At pre-determined intervals, the measurements of growth should be studied for signs of receptivity or resistance. Personnel should be reassessed and work commitments adjusted accordingly. Search should be maintained constantly for the cultural bridges from the people where the present work is, over into the neighboring cultural unit.55

The missionary should periodically assess every agency, institution, ministry, expenditure, and program by the burning question, "Is this causing the church to grow?" A negative answer should bring corrective adjustments.

Strategy should be re-examined periodically with a sharp eye for revision. Don't be held in the "prison of previous patterns".56 The decisions by your colleagues before you may have been excellent decisions for their time and circumstances , but chances are good that if they were here to see your times and your circumstances they would change their own policies. You should be ready to do the same. The apostle Paul shifted his strategy. In his second journey into Asia Minor, he planned to go one way, then the other, and finally settled on a third.57 At one phase of his life his strategy was to travel and preach, but later his imprisonment demanded a change of strategy to writing and prayer. Dogged determination to continue in the old plans when the circumstances have changed can spell waste and fruitlessness. Periodic re-examination is essential to valid planning and strategy if the maximum numbers of churches are to be planted.


Strong desires are not always enough to insure success. Parents who deeply love their children may see them develop in wrong directions because the parental skills have not been learned. Doctors sometimes have to watch their patients die because the surgical skills required to save life have not been mastered. Christians have sometimes seen souls lost because the "workmanship in the word" (" . . . a workman who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth . . . "58 ) was not adequate to convince and persuade the lost friend.

Strong desires in world evangelism are no substitute for the insights and skills of cross-cultural evangelism. Trying harder will not take the place of trying differently. We must, like Paul, be " . . . skilled master builders . . ."

"Let each man take care how he builds ... Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble-each man's work will become manifest; ... If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire."59


1See bibliography.

2Wagner, Peter. Article in Today's Christian, Fuller Evangelistic Association. Feb.-Apr. 1976. (Box 123, Los Angeles, CA 90053).

3Luke 24:40.

4Wagner, Peter. Article in Christianity Today, December 7, 1973, pp. 12-14 (284).

5I Corinthians 3:21.

6I Thessalonians 5:21.

7McGavran, Donald. Understanding Church Growth, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1970), 296-334.

8Tippett, A. R. Solomon Islands Christianity, (London: Lutterworth Press, 1967), pp. 100-111.

9McGavran. op. cit. pp. 335f.

10Barnett, Homer. Innovation: the Basis of Culture Change, (New York: McGraw Hill. 1953).

11Tippett, A. R. (Editor). God, Man, and Church Growth, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1973), pp. 109-126.

12Matthew 13.

13I Corinthians 3:10-15.

14I Corinthians 13.

152 Timothy 4:2.

16Mark 16:15.

17Matthew 28:19-20.

182 Timothy 2:2.

19Hebrews 5:12.

20Acts 7 and 8.

21Acts 10:34, 35.

22Acts 15:5.

23Acts 15:28.

24Rev. 7:4, 9.

25Gal. 5:22-26.

262 Peter 1:5-9.

272 Peter 3:18.

28Titus 2:10.

29I Thessalonians 4:12.

30Ephesians 4:13.

31Colossians 2:19, Romans 12, I Corinthians 13, I Corinthians 1:18.

32This is dealt with at length in an article, "Gifts and Ministries" in the Mission Strategy Bulletin, Vol. 2; No. 6, July-August, 1975.

33Romans 8:1-11.

34Nevius, John L. The Planting and Developing of Missionary Churches. (Philadelphia: Reformed and Presbyterian Publishing Co., 1958 reprint), pp. 58, 59.

35Clark, Charles Allen. The New Plan for Mission Work, Illustrated in Korea, (Seoul, Korea: Christian Literature Society, 1937), pp. 13, 15, 84, 189.

36Kane, S. Herbert, A Global View of Missions. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1971), p. 274.

37Habakkuk 2:14.

38Matthew 28:19.

39Mark 16:15.



42I Corinthians 3:11-15.

43Acts 13:46-49, 14:20, 17:1-10, 18:5-7.

44Matthew 10:5-15.

45John 15.

46I Corinthians 3.

47Unpublished exercise by Mont Smith.

48Tippett, God, Man, and Church Growth. pp. 109-126.

49I Thess. 1:3.


51Revelation 2:19.

52Revelation 3:17

53Titus 1:5.

54McGavran, Understanding Church Growth, pp. 83-99.

55McGavran's Bridges of God discusses these doors God opens from one cultural group into the next one.

56McGavran, Donald. How Churches Grow. (New York: Friendship Press, 1966), pp. 108-113.

57Acts 16:6-10.

582 Timothy 2:15.

59I Corinthians 3:10-15.


Barnett, Homer. Innovation: the Basis of Culture Change. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1953.

Clark, Charles Allen. The New Plan for Mission Work, Illustrated in Korea. Seoul, Korea: Christian Literature Society, 1937.

Kane, J. Herbert. A Global View of Missions. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1971.

Lemmons, Reuel. The Ghosts of Past Failures. (Tape recording of lecture, Abilene Christian University library PTC 266.6, L 54) 1972.

MARC Division of World Vision Inc., 919 West Huntington Drive, Monrovia, CA 91016 (ask for Directory of Unreached Peoples).

McGavran, Donald. Bridges of God. New York: Friendship Press, 1955; How Churches Grow. New York: Friendship Press, 1966; and Understanding Church Growth, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1970.

Mission Strategy Bulletin. Article on "Gifts and Ministries" Vol. 2: No. 6, July-August, 1975.

Nevius, John L. The Planting and Developing of Missionary Churches. Philadelphia: Reformed and Presbyterian Publishing Co., 1958 (originally published 1886).

Smith, Mont. "The Culture-Gospel Test," unpublished paper.

Tippett, A. R. Solomon Islands Christianity. London: Lutterworth Press, 1967; and (Editor) God, Man, and Church Growth. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1973.

Wagner, Peter. Article in Today's Christian: Fuller Evangelistic Association, Feb-Apr, 1976. (Box 123, Los Angeles, CA 90053), Article in Christianity Today, Dec. 7, 1973, pp. 12-14 (284).

Winter, Ralph. The Unbelievable Twenty-Five Years. Pasadena, CA: Wm. Carey Library, 1971.

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