…unless you go first

“What is the one thing you would recommend to someone setting out to start a church?” My advice was, “Don’t do anything until you are sure Jesus is with you. Like Moses, tell the Lord, `I’m not going to take one step forward unless you go first.’ And let that be true for the rest of your ministry!

I made a commitment when I first set off in this church planting adventure that I would not go where He Himself was not going. In other words, I would not be willing to go if He did not go too, and the moment I sensed it was me planting the church rather than Him I would call it quits. This is my commitment to this very day.

from Organic Church

by Neil Cole

The multiplication stopped….

This is a bit of a long quote from Brian Hogan, but it illustrates the importance of small home based groups:

As Time went on, the elders-to-be came to Magnus and me and asked for more frequent big meetings.  They reasoned that everyone enjoyed getting together for corporate worship, dramas, and testimonies, and they found seeing the growing numbers of believers very encouraging.  They also pointed out that the people were giving generously, in accordance with the command of Jesus they’d been taught, and there was enough money coming in to rent a hall more often.  We gave our consent and the Celebration was increased to every other Sunday.  This worked very well and the excitement level rose proportionately.  Eventually, there were enough funds coming in to rent a place every Sunday, and we could tell everyone like the large gathering even though it too far more energy and resources to pull off than a house group.  The house churches continued in the weekdays, and the big meeting became our regular Sunday event.

After a couple of months, however, we noticed something was wrong.  We were meeting with the house group leaders in the regular training meeting and they were taking turns sharing statistics on their groups to give us all an idea how things were going.  A puzzling and disturbing trend began to emerge as we looked at the data.  The house churches had stopped growing, and worse still, had stopped multiplying.  They weren’t shrinking, but all had basically hit a plateau.  The big Celebration meeting continued to grow every Sunday, though.  The more we questioned the leaders, the more it became clear — believers older in faith continued in the small house groups, but the new people were choosing the Celebration as their connection with the church.  No matter how much we consistently stressed participation in the house groups as the only way to be a real part of the Body, we were giving out a stronger, contradictory non-verbal message every Sunday morning.  Since 90 percent of our time and energy and money went into just three or four hours on Sunday morning, the new believers assumed this was our main event, despite our protestations to the contrary.  It was certainly easier to come and be a part of an audience than to enter a home and be discipled by those who knew you well as you learned to be an active participant.

The Mongolian leaders and I were Horrified.  As we prayed about what to do, we kept circling around a solution none of us wanted but that eventually proved to be the only way to get our church back on God’s track.  We came to the painful decision to cancel the Sunday Celebrations.

The next Sunday morning, after the testimony, worship, dramas, and sharing of God’s Word, we had all the house church leaders stand around the outside of the movie theatre auditorium we were renting.  We announced this was our last big gathering for the foreseeable future, and anyone who considered themselves a part of the Body would need to be involved in a house church, as this was the only expression available from now on.  The leaders were arranged by district, and we pointed them out geographically.  We asked everyone to walk over to the leader whose group was closest to their home.  Almost everyone did.  then the leaders took down their names and told them where and when the next gathering was taking place.  And that was it.

The fruit of this drastic action was dramatic.  Within a couple of weeks all of the groups needed to multiply as they were all too big.  The new believers were being taught to obey Jesus at last, and new life flushed through the arteries of the Body.  After a couple of months we resumed Celebration meeting just once a month — and it was good.

I wish I could tell you we’d learned our lessons, and everything went well from this point onward.  But I can’t.  We eventually slid from monthly, to bi-monthly Celebrations.  These gatherings were so popular and fun we once again tried to have them every Sunday — and the same story played out again with similar results.  The house churches were just not sustainable at the center of the church’s life when the big meetings were weekly.

from There’s A Sheep In My Bathtub

by Brian Hogan

be prepared to be uncomfortable….

Brian Hogan’s insight on how developing a DMM requires being comfortable with being uncomfortable:

When I train new church planters headed for unreached people groups, I tell them that if they are successful, the churches that result will make the church planters uncomfortable. If a church takes on an indigenous character, then it will be outside the comfort zone of the apostolic messengers. It will seem weird to the missionaries. Jesus’ Assembly and our daughter churches certainly passed this test. In the midst of our discomfort, we were wild with joy that our “children” had an indigenous Mongolian character that was unique and different from anything any of us had known before. In fact, it was new to the world as well. Jesus had birthed a whole new expression of His eternally living Body.  

From There’s A Sheep In My Bathtub
by Brian Hogan

Things were kept ultra simple. All a leader needed…

Brian Hogan models how to structure a movement for multiplication:

Even though Magnus and Bayaraa led the first groups, they couldn’t keep up with the multiplication, so they began to train leaders for the house churches. The groups began meeting on Sunday, and the leaders met for training at the Alphonce’s apartment on Monday nights. Things were kept ultra simple. All a leader needed was a pencil and notebook to take down the week’s teaching.

Their approach to church planting was based around gathering the believers into small simple home fellowships, or house churches. The believers would gather in an apartment and “do church”; sharing the Lord’s Supper, fellowshipping, worshiping together (not necessarily in song), praying, giving, ministering to each other, and interacting with God’s Word. Magnus and Bayaraa prepared Bible teachings together. They focused on Old Testament stories and simple obedience to Jesus’ commands. On Monday nights the leaders dutifully wrote down every word of the new lesson. These emerging leaders would then use exactly the same lesson during the week in their house church. Empty grocery shelves in Erdenet meant that having the groups share a meal would have hindered reproduction, so they saved that for special occasions. It was this strategy that began bearing fruit.

from There’s A Sheep In My Bathtub

by Brian Hogan

The Model for Developing Leaders

From Brian Hogan’s account of a CPM in Mongolia:

Magnus, Maria and Bayaraa had carefully discipled the first believers and taught them to pass on to their own disciples how to obey Jesus’ commands. In fact, every facet of a walk with God was modeled for the Mongolians. First the missionary would do something while the believers observed. Then they would assist the church planter, doing the same thing together. Finally the missionary would watch while the believer took over the task on her own. Many of those first believers became house church leaders, and Bayaraa and Magnus modeled how to lead these discipling groups. They met as leaders to share how the churches were doing and to learn from the Word insights to pass on in their groups.

From There’s A Sheep in My Bathtub
by Brian Hogan


How to Grow Leaders….

From Brian Hogan’s account of the CPM in Mongolia:

Visitors from Ulaanbaatar also brought a challenge. One missionary was so shocked at the responsibility he saw being given to “unready” Mongolians that he took over the meeting he was visiting. He said that he couldn’t sit by and let Communion be served by new believers. Then he forbade their use of store-bought bread for Holy Communion. His visit and others by Mongolian believers from older churches in Ulaanbaatar brought confusion to the new believers in Erdenet. These visitors accused Magnus and Maria of putting into leadership young believers who would “make mistakes.” “Of course they will!” Magnus responded. “That’s how we learn.” The new leaders did make many mistakes, but they accepted correction, gaining confidence and skill. They benefited from Maria and Magnus’ trust and became competent leaders. As the girls took over the leadership of the house churches, Magnus shifted his focus to training them. Both Maria and Magnus invested much time with the first two “elders-to-be”: Bayaraa and Odgerel, the first male believer. In its first year, the Church in Erdenet had come a long way. Their approach to church planting was based around gathering the believers into small simple home fellowships, or house churches. The believers would gather in an apartment and “do church”; sharing the Lord’s Supper, fellowshipping, worshiping together (not necessarily in song), praying, giving, ministering to each other, and interacting with God’s Word. Magnus and Bayaraa prepared Bible teachings together. They focused on Old Testament stories and simple obedience to Jesus’ commands. On Monday nights the leaders dutifully wrote down every word of the new lesson. These emerging leaders would then use exactly the same lesson during the week in their house church. Empty grocery shelves in Erdenet meant that having the groups share a meal would have hindered reproduction, so they saved that for special occasions. It was this strategy that began bearing fruit. We didn’t visit the house groups. The presence of a Westerner caused new believers to clam up and stifled interaction and worship. Our teammates wisely banned any foreigners, except those who moved to Erdenet and got to know the believers. This was our goal, and we hoped to pull it off by September of 1993. Getting out of Ulaanbaatar was as vital to our success as making sure we didn’t end up living in the Sansar Missionary Ghetto. We had observed firsthand how working in an environment crowded with other missionaries prevents bonding with the locals while we were living in Hardrock, Arizona. We needed to do more than flee Sansar, we needed out of the capital city where the mission community was constantly enlarging.

From There’s A Sheep in My Bathtub
by Brian Hogan

Five Things that Destroy Multiplication

Jean Johnson’s excellent illustration of how well intentioned missionaries can do the very thing that hinders multiplication:

Picture this scenario: After six months of learning the language, Josiah, a missionary from North America, decides it is time to launch a church plant. Josiah takes a walk in the community to think through his strategy. He considers intently the question, “What do I have to offer these people so I can build relationships with them?” As Josiah looks up, he sees several colorful signs posted on a fence that read, “English classes.” His heart beats faster, and he says under his breath, “This is it! I will start an English training center and include teaching the Bible in English.” Within hours, Josiah enthusiastically connects with his supporting churches in North America to request that they send as many English books as possible. Josiah and his wife, Theresa, find the perfect location to rent a building for the English training center—right next to a popular restaurant for expats. “Perhaps the students can practice their English with expats at the restaurant,” says Theresa. Josiah’s wife, who is quite artistic, paints the walls with English idioms to create a fun atmosphere for learning. Josiah busies himself with attaching whiteboards and preparing shelves for the books to add to the learning environment. With each improvement, Josiah and Theresa are filled with anticipation. Upon the first day of English classes, twelve young people arrive, anxious to learn English from Americans free of charge. During the evening—as Josiah and Theresa unwind from a long day—Josiah says, “They even stayed to learn English from the Bible. I think our idea is working.”

There are five elements within the first scenario that makes reproducibility impossible, which I call “the Five Es”: Extraction, Expertise, Expensive, Extraneous (coming from outside the culture), and Exclusive (creating an “us and them” dichotomy). Josiah and Theresa created a ministry atmosphere that was comfortable for them and invited (extracted) people into their cultural frame of reference. This missionary couple relied on their expert skills in English to conduct their evangelism ministry. They spent a significant amount of money and solicited funds from abroad to implement their expensive practices. The setting and activities were centered on the English language and North American culture. (In fact, using English as a medium to introduce people to God may have compounded the local belief that Jesus is the god of the foreigners.) Lastly, their free English classes drew people from existing English classes through which locals were trying to earn a living, exacerbating the “us-and-them” dichotomy.

When the locals who have come to know Christ through the English training center are ready to launch a church plant, they will reflect on what was modeled to them. Questions will begin to bombard their minds: “How will we obtain funds to develop an English center? Who knows enough English to serve as teachers? Will people be drawn to us like they are to the missionaries?” After reflecting on such questions, the local church planters will most likely resolve, “We can’t do this! We will have to ask Josiah and Theresa to assist us.”

from We Are Not The Hero

by Jean Johnson

the Gospel spread like a grassfire…

From Brian Hogan’s story of a CPM in Mongolia:

We had been trained to expect that cross-cultural evangelism would be one of the first and most difficult hurdles our team would face. I know that many church planting teams working among unreached groups experience much of their struggle just getting the Good News across the cultural divide in a bold and effective manner. We were ready for this battle, but it never came. The one church planting task our team did not handle “in-house” was evangelism. We outsourced this job to overseas Asians. Mongolians have a natural gifting when it comes to sharing their faith. They just can’t keep good news to themselves. After short-term teams of Mongolian believers won a foothold for God in Erdenet, we had watched in amazement as those first converts, not hindered by cultural differences, quickly began to win their friends and neighbors to Christ. In the first year the teenaged girls who formed the early core won their peers, but through summer and fall of ’94, the Gospel spread like a grassfire through all age groups and both genders. Our New Believers classes were crowded, with many older people getting saved, and even some of our shyest and most unassuming members leading their neighbors to Christ. The believers poured out their hearts in prayer for family, neighbors, their countrymen and even other nations in our weekly prayer gatherings and in the house church meetings. And those prayers were answered. We church planters were so quickly thrust into discipling the growing band of converts that we never really had to do much evangelism ourselves—at least among Mongolians. But we did look for opportunities anyway, at work, on the long overnight train journeys between Ulaanbaatar and Erdenet, and as we lived out our lives in the community. Indeed, with so many Mongolian believers, it made little sense to cross barriers of language and culture to carry the Good News ourselves when we were far more effective training Mongolians to win their own people. We had learned during our training that when locals began sharing the Gospel with their neighbors, it was a signal to the church planting team to shift gears and concentrate their energies on discipleship and leadership training.

From There’s A Sheep in My Bathtub
by Brian Hogan

he has baptized 230 people and started 35 churches….

“Gohar is a farmer and day worker. He earns about $1.75 from the landowner for each day of hard work in the rice field. During good weather, he works 25 days out of an average month. Gohar also takes care of his own 1/3 acre and supplements his income by growing rice and fresh vegetables. One day his father learned about Isa (Jesus, in Arabic) and became a disciple of Christ. Through his father’s inspiration, Gohar became a believer in the Lord and became active in telling his family and friends. At the time of this writing, he has baptized 230 people and started 35 churches. Gohar has reproduced himself in many other leaders and now invests in ten Learning Communities, where the leaders of these churches gather for support and ongoing instruction.”


from Movements That Move

by Robert Reach

Are We Calling People To The Same Thing Jesus Called Them To?

“After all, Jesus did not call a bunch of fishermen by saying,

“Follow me and I’ll help you grow spiritually.”

He called them to something greater than personal growth. His bid was for them to grow spiritually to the extent that they became fishers of men. They were called into disciple making in order that they might do the works of God—that they would be strong enough to make disciples of their own, who would in turn make disciples of others.”

Making Disciples
By Ralph Moore
Loc 1272

Two Thirds Prayer

In relation to the last post on the importance of prayer for small group health, I came across this interesting end note in the same book:

“The reality of keeping the Bible study central without letting it overwhelm the other components of the meeting was brought home to me by an insight that my friends David & Lois Gardner shared with me. The Gardners were visiting the world’s largest church, Yoido Full Gospel Church, in the early 1990’ s. The church has over twenty thousand small groups, and the modern small group movement was launched in this church in 1964. Pastor Yonggi Cho’s personal secretary, American missionary Lydia Swain, shared with the Gardners and other foreign guests visiting the church that Sunday, that when small groups were first launched at YFGC, their format was two-thirds Bible study and one-third prayer. Using this format the groups did not go very well. The groups’ growth took off, however, when they shifted to one-third Bible study and two-thirds prayer.”


Small Groups, Big Impact

by Jim Egli and Dwight Marable

The Single most important thing….

“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”

John 6:63 (ESV)

I recently re-read Small Groups, Big Impact by Jim Egli and Dwight Marable.  This book is based on a research project that these men conducted to answer the question, what are the factors that impact conversion growth through small groups?  They surveyed over 3000 small group leaders in 21 countries using a survey instrument and interviews to discover the right things that groups should do to be effective fishers of men.  I thought that their findings had applications for DMM / CPM in several respects.  David Garrison found that the first characteristic of CPM’s is extraordinary prayer.  I’ll just lift some quotes from the book to give you a sneak peak into their findings:

The practice that impacts the health and growth of a small group the most is the prayer life of its leader.  If you walk away from this book with only one insight, perhaps it should be this: If you want a vibrant and growing small group, consistently take time to grow in your relationship with God!

The prayer life of the leader correlates positively with the other three dimensions of small group health—Reach, Care, and Empower. Leaders who pray more have groups that are more outward focused. Their groups also experience more community and are more engaged in mobilizing new leadership. But the prayer life of the leader has a particularly strong impact on the evangelistic effectiveness of a group.

the amount of difference that a leader’s prayer life makes on a group’s evangelistic impact is startling. Our research reveals that leaders with a strong prayer life have groups that are more than four times more fruitful evangelistically.

Our research, involving thousands of small groups, dramatically underlines the simple Biblical truth: When we pray, we see God do awesome things! If you want others drawn to Jesus and their lives changed, pray. If you want Jesus’ life flowing to you and through you, draw near to him. Life-giving ministry depends on God and his abilities, not on you and your abilities!

prayer-in-small-groupswe were surprised to discover that the amount of time spent preparing the Bible lesson shows no correlation whatsoever to small group growth. In other words, the leaders who spend five hours preparing the Bible lesson for their groups have groups that grow no faster than the leaders who spend five minutes preparing the lesson! Amazing but true. It does make a dramatic difference, however, how much time the leader spends praying for his small group meeting.

Interestingly, when we asked leaders how much time they spend preparing the lesson and how much time they spend praying for their small group meeting, most leaders told us that they spend far more time preparing their lesson than they do praying for their meeting! Few leaders realize that lesson preparation makes a negligible difference in group health and growth, but prayer makes a big difference. It is much more important to prepare your heart than it is to prepare your notes!

having a vibrant group depends more on God than on you. Your primary role is to tune into him.

we asked small group leaders how much time they spent watching television in the average day. The statistical analysis showed an extremely strong negative correlation between small group growth and the amount of time the leader spent watching television. Most likely this correlation simply means that when we do things that take large amounts of time away from relationship with God and relationship with others—it adversely affects those relationships.”

From Small Groups, Big Impact

by Jim Egli

Nonreproducible methods

“As a church planting coach in Cambodia, I once brought lanterns for use in a drama, a contextualized performance of the Bible story about Ruth and Naomi. I say contextualized in that the Cambodian church planters allowed the surrounding context to influence the style and nuances of the play. The Cambodian farmers were only able to meet at night after they came in from the fields, so I thought it would be beneficial to provide artificial lighting. I also brought a few other resources from the city to enhance the drama and create a pleasant atmosphere in this village setting. I viewed the lanterns as a simple act of kindness and a way to increase the effectiveness of this friendly community event.

A couple of weeks later, the church planters and I were preparing for another storytelling gathering. The church planters gave me a list of things I could bring to the gathering: a tarp, a car battery, and a portable stereo. As I held the list, I realized that I had made a momentous mistake. I was thinking of the success of the immediate event. “What will make this ministry event that I am a part of succeed in a timely manner?” This short-term thinking was a problem for several reasons. One, I communicated through my actions that the local resources of that village were somehow inferior. Two, I conditioned the church planters to feel a need to access resources not readily available to them in order to succeed in this ministry and future church plants. Third, if the church-in-process were to daughter a church in the future, they would want to use external resources to do it, as I had modeled to them.

This whole method can be summed up in one word: nonreproducible.”

We Are Not The Hero
Jean Johnson
Loc 1201