What are Church Planting Movements?

Look to the nation, watch and be utterly amazed for I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe even if you were told. Habakkuk 1:5

The stories and definitions here rely heavily on a book called: Church Planting Movements by David Garrison


In the mid 1990’s a missions organisation was processing its usual paper work of annual reports from the field. These reports normally show a fairly modest growth in numbers relating to how many new believers there were, how many baptized, how many churches began etc. The organisation came across a report from a couple in northern india, known to many as the ‘missionary graveyard’ because of the difficulties it posed in bringing the gospel and the large fallout rate for missionaries who were sent there. David and Jan Watson in their report made an incredible claim, nearly a hundred cities, towns and villages, with new churches, thousands of new believers! Skepticism immediately rose, contacting the Watsons the organisation said “This can’t be, You’ve either mis-understood the question or you’re not telling us the truth” – The Watsons invited them to “come and see” and an investigative team was sent, and visited the towns and cities to their amazement what he had reported was true! The supervisors admitted their skepticism was wrong as they saw the God really had done an incredible work in one of the hardest places. In the following years, a report from south-east asia gave similar evidence of an eruption of new churches, then missioaries in latin america the same, then two reports from china of the same. These phenomenon began to be known as ‘church planting movements’.

Church planting movements are rapid multiplication of indigenous churches planting churches that sweeps through a people group or population segment. It seems to be something that far exceeds mans ability to create, but something that God is asking us to partner with. As we began to understand church planting movements this was at the fore, everyone we spoke to had said, it is a move of the Holy Spirit, it comes from a place of prayer, it is not human strategy. Yet, there are distinctives in all the movements that have happened, that we can trace back and learn something of God’s heart for reaching the lost, seeing lives, communities and nations changed through discipleship. Although they are “God Movements” God is giving vital roles to us, His people, that have seen Church Planting Movements slow, killed or encouraged. Once we understand some of the values within church planting movements we soon discover why our reliance must be entirely with God as we ask to join him in these moves, and ask how we can join .

Before we share about church planting movements, I know all of us approach the word ‘church’ and maybe even ‘church planting’ with many preconceptions, it’s helpful for now at least to put those aside, many people who may have had legitimate or illegitimate struggles in their past with ‘the church’ often find it easier to give new language to help them overcome barrier. Terms such as New testament communities, discipleship groups, community of Jesus followers. I can see lots of good reasons to stick with the historically defined term of church and will do throughout explaining it, but if you find it easier to replace the term so that you can understand or re-imagine the task of following Jesus with others, for others than I think you will find something helpful.

So Church planting movements are happening amongst the lost, they are not revivals or spiritual awakenings in the sense that, they don’t ‘revive’ luke warm christians, they reach and plant amonsgt those who are lost, completely apart from saving grace in Jesus. They can include mass evangelism but have a focus on seeing discipleship, spiritual growth and church planting take place after the decision event. Church Planting movements are not church growth movements, they are planting new churches, which plant new churches. Although they may gather in larger groups, and enjoy to do so, the life-blood of discipleship takes place primarily in smaller groups, where people are able to be ‘known’ and ‘know’ others, reading the word, praying for one another, holding each other to obey Jesus, and going to the lost together.

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