The Great Commission tells us to preach the gospel in the whole world. Isn't the globe now being blanketed by gospel radio and television programs, especially now that satellites are used to beam stuff everywhere?"
Class, I didn't make up that question. I have met people who felt we probably had already accomplished the Great Commission because of all the gospel programs on radio and television. I remember one person who reminded me of all the gospel television programs being bounced off satellites. He knew these satellites were beaming those transmissions back down to earth. So, in his mind, the gospel was being preached everywhere.
The statement, of course, ignores two simple facts:
Thus, even if satellite antennas to receive Christian broadcasts could somehow be made available to every person on earth, millions of people would be left listening to something they could not understand. I'm not sure if broadcasting American Christian programs via satellites will fulfill all that Christ had in mind in His Great Commission.
Question:"Okay, so if flooding global airwaves with American tele-evangelists' programs does not by itself constitute completing the Great Commission, what does? How will we know that we are accomplishing what God calls us to do?"
Some years ago, Peter Wagner has said that the most effective evangelistic strategy on earth is saturation church planting. It's the primary point he made in a book he titled Church Planting for a Greater Harvest.
Wagner and other missiologists talk about putting a church within easy access of every person on earth (for most of the world that would mean "within walking distance"). That is one way that Wagner and others are saying we need to measure the fulfillment of the Great Commission. How close are we to doing that? Well, one missiologist, Jim Montgomery, estimated that we need about 7 million more churches to have one within walking distance of everyone on earth. Last year about 50,000 new churches were planted around the world. That's 1,000 new churches opening their doors every Sunday. That's impressive, but we need to step up the pace even more.
A few years ago I wrote a book manuscript on Nazarene church growth in Haiti. I was hoping that we Americans could learn some things from the explosive church growth we've seen in Haiti. Unfortunately, I couldn't interest a publisher in the manuscript. So, the manuscript lays gathering dust in my closet. As we approached this week, I took it out, blew the dust off it and began re-reading to see if I had written anything that might be useful in helping us accomplish the goals of this course.
In that manuscript, I expounded on eight major factors in Nazarene church growth in Haiti. They were:
Let me comment on a couple of these these and then end with some questions for reflection.
The Haitian Nazarene strategy for evangelizing Haiti is saturation church planting. Some of the items listed above come into play at the strategy level; others would be more tactical kinds of things.
Our pastors and people in Haiti have a "next village" mentality. By that I mean that they think often about how to get an outreach group going in a nearby neighborhood or village. They focus more on getting gathering groups of new converts than they do on single converts.
They start lots of new groups knowing that only a few will develop into churches. They start these new groups with little or no financial investment. Money is only invested when a group shows promise of becoming a church.
Question:"Haiti is a whole other world. There's no way you can compare that to the U.S., can you? After all, they're poor and illiterate."
Should we try to duplicate the Haitian church in middle-class America? Obviously, it cannot serve as a pattern to be slavishly followed in every little detail. Sociological dynamics vary greatly from culture to culture. Those dynamics greatly affect how churches do outreach and discipleship. Having said that, could Haiti could serve as a profitable case study for us? Can we learn some things from our Haitian brothers and sisters? I think so.
One thing that has been tossed around at general and district leadership levels, for instance, is our current system of districts in the U.S. Right now we take 80 of best pastors and take them out of the local church. Their support (salary, expense allowances, support staff, etc.) soaks up a great deal of resources.
As we've tried to evaluate if this was the most effective method to govern our church and foster continued fruitful evangelism, our General Superintendents have looked at places like Haiti where the district superintendency is not a full-time position (even though we average 10% growth per year decade after decade).
So, in the U.S. are we doing the right thing by having as many districts as we do when statistically most of them are in a maintenance mode? Would we do better in the U.S. by consolidating districts and empowering zone leaders to do some of the things now centralized in the district superintendent?
As we work with strategy we have to ask these questions, not to be critical of leadership past or present, but to do better, to be more effective.
Think about your own district. If you were an outside consultant, where would you say its leaders are directing resources: Bolstering existing work? Maintenance? New outreach?
What is seen as the key to effective evangelism by the average lay person on your district? Is it the enlarging of existing churches?
What are the five newest churches on your district? If your district continues at its present pace of church planting, how many new churches will it plant in the next 20 years?
Reaction:"Yeah, but we already have a whole bunch of tiny, weak churches on our district. We cannot even keep them alive. Are you suggesting we ought to be starting more of them?"
Not long ago a district advisory board member in Oklahoma said exactly that to me. How should I have responded to him? What do you think I should have said in response?
Well, that's it for this week's lecture.
-- Howard Culbertson,