In spite of kingdom Christians spending millions of dollars on evangelistic efforts and starting hundreds of ministries and programs, there does not seem to be a corresponding influx of unsaved and unchurched people coming into our churches. I’m not aware of any kingdom Christian church in the USA or Canada that has been in existence for more than ten years, in which the majority of those who comprise the church were either unsaved or unchurched prior to becoming part of the church. There are some such churches on other continents, but even there, kingdom Christians have a hard time establishing churches that are not mostly comprised of seekers from other churches.
It is hard enough for kingdom Christians to become all things to all men as they attempt to plant indigenous churches in other parts of the world. Here in America, it seems even harder for many kingdom Christians to plant such churches. It is much easier to form churches that are comprised of Christians who are looking for a different church experience.
Have kingdom Christians lost the art of church planting? Have we concluded that the way churches were planted in the early days of the church and in the early days of the Anabaptists is out-of-date? It seems many kingdom Christians assume that inviting people to church, conducting children’s ministries, or starting Christian businesses in cities, will result in the unsaved and the unchurched becoming part of our churches for the long term. They assume that these converts will then want to invite their relatives and friends to our churches. When this doesn’t happen, many kingdom Christians generate reasons for why it didn’t happen, and rarely do they assume that their approach to church planting or church growth may be a significant part of the problem. Kingdom Christians, who do assume some responsibility for the problem, are often quick to identify our separated lifestyle as being a major part of the problem.
There are big lifestyle changes that the unsaved and the unchurched need to make to become part of a separated, disciplined church. However I am concluding that the one of the biggest problems we have as kingdom Christians is our attitude about ourselves, our attitudes toward others, and our inability to love and befriend those who are different from us. We find it difficult to make those from different religious and cultural backgrounds a part of our social circle. This seeming inherent problem for kingdom Christians works against many seekers staying with our churches long term, and it works against the establishment of “indigenous” or “autochthonous” churches.
A second big deterrent to church growth and church planting is that kingdom Christians spend too much time fighting each other instead of working together to fight the devil and advance the kingdom of God.
Matthew Milioni sums up these two problems this way, “There is a built-in propensity of conservative people to pick at each other to a detriment. I recognize this tendency to criticize in almost every church I have been in since I have started down the kingdom road. It is a subtle and dangerous tendency. We truth seekers devote our lives to being right. We develop devotion to the things we find along the way that make us assume if everyone would be faithful they would be right where we are, and see things the way we do. There is a difference between privilege and incarnational empathy. When “privilege” encounters someone with struggles or someone different it says, “if you were like me… then…”. Instead, empathy says, “What is it like to be you?” This is I believe deep at the heart of Jesus’ incarnation. If I were to assess what may be amiss in in many conservative Christian groups, I would say it is this heart of empathy.”
My wife and I have committed our remaining years on this earth, to aid in the establishment of “indigenous” or “autochthonous” churches here in North America as the Lord opens doors for us. We want to see converts then take the Gospel to other continents. As Finny Kuruvilla says, “Why would we export something to other continents that does not work here at home?”
We intend to work hard at helping fellowships comprised mostly of converts, to become self-governing, self-supporting, and self-propagating. We realize that a very high percentage of such attempts by kingdom Christians have failed over the last couple centuries. We can’t guarantee that our efforts will be successful, but we would at least like to die trying. With God, all things are possible. (Some Protestants have been quite successful at this in North America, which gives us hope that an attempt closer to the New Testament ideal could also succeed.)
In 2020 our church blessed, commissioned, and “sent” us to pursue this vision. This commission follows a similar pattern as what is used when kingdom Christians send church planters to other continents to establish churches. We view our relationship to our sending church as being similar to Paul & Barnabas’s relationship with the church at Antioch, or the Moravian missionaries’ relationship to their home community in Bethlehem, PA.
By living in the same general area as our sending church (rather than all alone in some distant state or foreign country) we should not need to take furlough’s from our work, our children can have local Christian friends, we can be inspired by other Christians, and we can be part of a church community, while we attempt something that has not yet been successful in the USA or Canada. To start nearby and work out from here seems to us to be the natural outflow of the Gospel being taken first to Judea, then to Samaria, and eventually to the uttermost parts of the world.
This vision is not from us. We learned this vision from Christians older than us and we believe that God confirmed this in their hearts and also in our hearts. If the vision we are pursuing is truly from the Lord and if He sees fit to bless and establish fellowships throughout our county, we would envision a network of fellowships all relating together and even considering themselves all part of the same church. Currently we are meeting with college students and locals for Bible study and we like to introduce them to our sending church once they become comfortable with us. We also host a Church Planter’s Forum each year to encourage this vision among kingdom Christians. Our website www.churchplantersforum.org provides resources for evangelists, disciple-makers and church planters.
For many kingdom Christians, the idea of planting churches in North America, (in a manner similar to the way we plant churches in a foreign country) is a rather novel idea. Most kingdom Christian church planting efforts in North America have been the “swarm model” or the “colonization model” in which 6-10 families establish a new church. The church is able to get established even if no one is converted and brought into the church. Such endeavors are a way of “spreading out the salt”, which is good, and they may attract some Christians who are looking for a different church experience. But rarely do these efforts result in the church being comprised of those who were unsaved or unchurched prior to becoming part of the church.
Those of us who coordinate the Church Planters Forum have come to view churches that are not able to integrate the unsaved and the unchurched from their local area into the church as being semi-dysfunctional. We draw this conclusion graciously as we ourselves are have only recently embarked on this journey. We believe that God wants to see hundreds and thousands of people being added to the church daily, all across our continent. We believe that in order for this to happen, we need to do something different than what we have been doing. Allen Roth (a brother who has given most of his life to church planting) has concluded that most kingdom Christian churches will need to go through a metamorphosis if they want to see many unsaved and unchurched people from their community becoming part of the church.
Sometimes researchers who are looking for the solution to a disease get in competition with each other, and they want to be THE ONE to find the cure. When this is a reality, it will likely take a long time to find a cure. But if various research teams only care about finding a cure and they don’t care who gets the credit, then they can team together at finding a cure in a shorter amount of time. Likewise if kingdom Christians want to find a way to make their churches a cross-section of the local population, they should work together on finding a solution. Most kingdom Christian churches are primarily comprised of people from a similar ethnic/religious heritage. A few churches are comprised of people who have “transplanted” themselves into a region to form a church around certain ideologies. I and the others who participate in the Church Planters Forum believe that God wants to establish kingdom Christian churches all across this continent that represent a cross section of the local population.
Please join us in praying that the Lord will send laborers into this harvest field. If you share this burden and want to compare notes or get involved, we would be glad to hear from you!
Ernest Eby | March 2021
Here are links to podcasts/videocasts by this author…
Studying the Bible with the Unchurched | Video | Audio
Indigenous Church Planting in North America | Video | Audio
Welcoming Seekers into our Churches – Part 1 | Video | Audio
Welcoming Seekers into our Churches – Part 2 | Video | Audio