World Evangelism Strategy, part 2

Lecture for the fifth week of Global Evangelism / Communicating the Gospel in a Pluralistic World

The Great Commission tells us to preach the gospel everywhere in the 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:

  1. One needs a specialized receiver to get programs off a satellite (such technology is not accessible to many people on Earth).
  2. Most of the Christian broadcasting being beamed from satellites is in English.

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. It doesn't seem to me that 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 televangelists' 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 said that saturation church planting is the most effective evangelistic strategy on Earth. He made this a primary thought of a book 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 increase the pace.

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. As we approached this week, I opened that file on my computer 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:

  1. A confident zeal and a contagious fervor
  2. A receptive population
  3. Saturation church planting: a church in every village and neighborhood
  4. Homegrown pastors, pastors who came to faith in the congregation they are now pastoring
  5. Lively and fervent participatory-style services
  6. District superintendents who prioritize church health and church planting
  7. A pattern of starting new churches requiring little or even no initial outside financial investment
  8. Compassionate ministries as an integral component, not a tacked-on extra

Let me comment on a couple of 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 often think about how to start an outreach group in a nearby neighborhood or village. They focus more on getting groups of new converts than they do on single converts.

They start lots of new groups, knowing that not all 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 viable 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. That said, could Haiti be 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 discussed at global and district leadership levels, for instance, is our current system of districts in the U.S. Right now, we take 80 of the best pastors out of a local church amd put them in charge of district organiations. Supporting them as an administrator (salary, expense allowances, office space, support staff, and so on) 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 the church there grows by 10% annually 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 layperson on your district? Is it simply 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.

Reflection questions

  1. What might be the limitations of relying solely on social media or mass media broadcasts for world evangelism efforts? In what ways might social media and mass media broadcasts used by themselves fall short in fully communicating the Gospel?
  2. The strategy of saturation church planting advocated by Peter Wagner and others emphasizes having a church accessible to every person. How realistic is it to achieve this level of church accessibility globally?
  3. Church planting in Haiti is discussed as a successful case study. What factors should be considered in attempts to transfer principles and strategies across geographic, cultural, and economic boundaries?
  4. What factors, other than financial investment, contribute to the growth of churches and the expansion of the gospel message? What suggestions would you give to church leaders trying to strike a balance between quality and quantity in church planting efforts?
  5. How would you suggest that church leaders find the right balance between helping existing churches survive and investing in planting new ones?

    -- Howard Culbertson,

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