Infinitely reproducible patterns

Mission Briefing: Ideas shaping world mission outreach today

It's been 50 years since I sat in missions classes under Paul Orjala. Notwithstanding all the time that has passed, one Orjala phrase -- "infinitely reproducible" --still rings in my ears.

Orjala, pioneer Nazarene missionary to Haiti, urged future missionaries to use infinitely reproducible as one criterion for assessing patterns of evangelism, discipleship, and church planting. Orjala was not promoting a specific method, plan. or program. Rather, he was promoting the use of church-planting models and ministry structures that could be easily duplicated over and over. He wanted missionaries to think in terms of repeatable patterns of ministry so they were not always having to "reinvent the wheel."

Paul Orjala was passionate about fulfilling the Great Commission. He believed that infinitely reproducible patterns were vital to reaching that goal. [ more on Paul Orjala ]

What would infinitely reproducible evangelism and church planting look like? First of all, something infinitely reproducible would have to be built on local resources and leadership. It would not be complex, and its features would be flexible and scalable. It would thus be able to vary in size and scale.

Regarding global missionary strategy, infinitely reproducible meshes well with the "three selfs" -- self-supporting, self-governing, and self-propagating -- promulgated by 19th-century missionary Henry Venn. The infinitely reproducible stamp of approval could be given to the "each one win one / each one disciple one / each pastor train a pastor / each church plant a church" strategies popularized across Latin America (and elsewhere).

What Paul Orjala taught at Nazarene Theological Seminary was later echoed by church planter Ralph Moore: "If we really are intent on bringing the world to Jesus, whatever [church-planting] model we choose must be infinitely reproducible."

Some have mistakenly stated the infinitely reproducible concept as though it were a mathematical equation, i.e., "A reproducible process = An infinite number of disciples." Orjala would have frowned at that implied guarantee of results. He had been in ministry long enough to know that even when we do "x" in church planting, "y" will not always result. He was not advocating a one-size-fits-all approach. What Orjala longed for was the emergence of sustainable Christward movements in every culture of the world.

Urging church leaders to make outreach and church-planting patterns and models infinitely reproducible is not a call for a cookie-cutter methodology where everything comes off the same assembly line. Indeed, because infinitely reproducible patterns or models are scalable and depend heavily on local resources and leadership, the end results wind up being very contextualized.

"Uncomplicated" is also a characteristic of infinitely reproducible templates or models. The more complex something is, the more non-reproducible it will likely be. The idea of being scalable is part of the package as well. Church planting models which are infinitely reproducible do not presuppose that all churches will be the same size. Some may turn out to be quite large while others remain small.

Global missionaries would do well to ask: "Will my involvement in church planting and other ministry activities pass the infinitely reproducible test? Have I configured my ministry methods and plans in ways that are simple, flexible, and self-supporting to the point that they are both portable and scalable?"

Discussion questions

  1. In what ways can the concept of "infinitely reproducible patterns" be useful in world missions outreach and church planting?
  2. Does the concept of infinitely reproducible patterns align with the classic "three selfs" strategy and common church-planting strategies?
  3. What are some key characteristics of a ministry or church-planting model that is infinitely reproducible?
  4. Why is it important for missionary efforts to focus on establishing sustainable Christward movements in every culture of the world?
  5. How can the concept of infinitely reproducible patterns be applied in a way that is contextualized and flexible, rather than promoting a one-size-fits-all approach?

Afterword

The concept of "infinitely reproducible" patterns emphasizes local resources and leadership, flexibility, and simplicity. Using infinitely reproducible patterns can pave the way for scalable evangelism efforts and sustainable Christward movements. This is not a one-size-fits-all approach. The focus remains on contextualization, ensuring that ministries are adaptable and self-supporting. The ultimate goal is establishing enduring Christ-centered movements in every culture, transcending individual efforts that unmistakably show that the Kingdom of God is here.

    -- Howard Culbertson,

This mini-essay on a key issue in world missions outreach is one of 12 articles in the "Mission briefing" series published in Engage magazine. The series looked at issues including unreached people groups, contextualization, indigenous churches, dependency, sustainability, leadership development, go0ers/senders, culture shock, and globalization,

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