As we seek to share the Gospel of God’s Kingdom among the unreached people groups (UPGs) in Asia, let us take a good look at the mission strategies of our co-workers in the harvest-field. Can the Christian minorities of our region (both nationals and expatriates) really reach out to our Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Communist, animist and secular humanist neighbors effectively, so that the Great Commission can be fulfilled among them, even in our generation? If we are faithful in effectively doing our evangelization of Asia, we would help the global church in finishing the Great Commission among about 70% of the unreached living in our region today. This paper seeks to show how the various churches in Asia are trying to do missions to reap the harvest in partnership with the global church in our respective neighborhoods and countries.
Why is the world, esp. Asia, not fully evangelized yet? The problem is not with God (who desires that all will be saved) nor with the lost (the Holy Spirit is convicting them of sin, righteousness and judgment, Jn.16:8-11), but appears to be with the church: it is not doing enough to send enough workers into the harvest, which seems to be ripe for reaping most, if not all of the time (Mt.9:36-38; Jn.4:34-38). We thank God that many major missional initiatives have emerged from among us especially since the 1960s mainly through the maturation of student movements in India, the Philippines, Singapore, Hongkong and South Korea. Since then various indigenous mission movements and global mission agencies have continued to recruit and send out hundreds of Asian missionaries to Asia and the world.
However, in spite the zeal, sincerity, dedication, prayers and even sacrifices in our missions, there seems to be hardly any significant outcomes and impact among the UPGs in Asia: are our churches taking the whole gospel effectively to our region and the whole world? As Einstein said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” May I suggest that besides spiritual factors, finding and implementing the “right mission strategy” will be most significant in determining our success or failure to bring closure to the Great Commission in Asia and the world? Sending more missionaries is good, but not good enough. We must make sure that we are strategically sending the right quality of missionaries who will do effective mission work. Hence as I present the dozens of mission movements in Asia today, I classify them according to their mission strategies and their intended and actual outcomes.There are five (5) main mission strategies which have developed globally and have been used by various mission movements in Asia, in the recent four decades since the first Lausanne Congress (1974). These are: (1) Church Growth through outreach programs; (2) Church Growth through cell multiplication; (3) Church Growth through intentional church planting; (4) Church Multiplication through church planting movements; and (5) Kingdom Expansion through disciple making movements.
Strategy #1: Church Growth Through Outreach Programs
Most Asian churches and denominations as well as global mission organizations that are concerned for evangelism, church-planting and missions follow the Church Growth strategies and practices which have evolved through the past two centuries since William Carey (1792). This traditional and mainstream mission strategy seeks to build congregations that will find ways to reach out to the community so as to attract the unchurched to become members of the congregation.
For local evangelism, several approaches are used. Among the main ones are: (1) house-to-house visitation, with the hope that an evangelistic Bible study may be started; (2) street (or commando) evangelism; (3) church fellowships, like Men’s, Women’s, Youth, Singles, Couples, Young Adults, etc.; (4) interest clubs, such as sports (basketball, football, bowling, golf, etc.), creative arts (painting, photography, etc.), camping, etc.; (5) use of mass media, like radio, television, tracts, films (esp. the “Jesus” film), and recently, websites and chat-rooms, often combined with correspondence courses.
The use of the above methods usually becomes more intense during special occasions, like: (1) special Sundays, esp. worship services, of religious festivals, like Easter, Christmas and Pentecost, “All Saints,” Thanksgiving, etc.; and public holidays like Mothers’, Fathers’, Independence, New Year, etc. (2) special seminars, like on parenting, marriage enrichment, etc.; (3) special meals, with some special features, like invited speakers or featured films; and (4) community events, like concerts and healing services.
Those who are more community-oriented would add “good works” or holistic ministries, like (1) social services, such as feeding programs, tutorials, medical clinics, often for free; and (2) counseling services, through coffeehouses, ministry centers, even half-way houses. Those who have more resources have sought to build Christian (read: church-owned) orphanages, schools and hospitals. Most of these need external funding support, often from Christian development and mission organizations from the West and Asia’s developed countries. In the past ten years, special focus has been on “child-focused development” to reach the 4/14 Window, promoted by the Mission as Transformation and Transform World Connections.
Special mention must be given to the Diaspora ministries, esp. to international workers and students in their midst. Some churches and para-churches in major cities in Asia (esp. in Singapore, South Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Philippines) sponsor ministries to expatriates by forming fellowships among them. Very few have incorporated these fellowships into the mainstream of the congregation to constitute a multi-ethnic church. Rather the majority has kept them as fellowships or has “hived them off” to form autonomous ethnic churches to reach their own compatriots. Most significant may be a mission agency in Malaysia that ministered among Vietnamese workers there, and have their converts return to their homeland to start churches among UPGs there. Many ministries to international students have also seen great results as their converts returned to their homelands after graduation to start ministries there.
Strategy #2: Church Growth Through Cell Multiplication
A new phenomenon since the 1980s is the rise of “cell churches,” esp. mega-churches in the cities of Asia and the world. They started as “churches with cells,” mainly with the strategy of Yoido Full Gospel Church founded in 1958 by David Yonggi Cho in Seoul, Korea.
Then in the 1990s, “seeker-friendly churches” (popularized by Bill Hybels’ Willow Creek Church and Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church in U.S.A.) combined with the “cell-church” (two-winged: celebration on Sundays and small groups on weekdays only) aimed to grow “churches of cells,” popularized by Lawrence Khong in Singapore then. A more recent strategy has focused on multiplying leaders for these cells, called “Groups of 12” (G-12) developed by Cesar Castellanos in Bogota, Colombia (now adopted by some churches and denominations in Asia), “Discipleship-group of 12” (D-12) by Christ’s Commission Fellowship (Manila), “Wiki-church” by Victory Christian Fellowship (Manila), and most recently “Disciplemaking church” of Edmund Chan’s Covenant Evangelical Free Church (Singapore).
The benchmark of this growth strategy is “cell multiplication.” Through a carefully planned lay leadership training program, the church is able to mobilize a good number of their church members to lead cell groups (called care groups, discipleship groups, prayer groups, etc.) in their places of residence, work, study and even recreation. Since most of these churches are theologically Pentecostal-charismatic, they also emphasize “power evangelism” or “signs and wonders” as they pray for miraculous healing and other spiritual manifestations, like tongues, “resting in (or slain by) the Spirit,” etc.). In association with other independent (and mostly also with the same theological bent) ministers and churches, they wage “spiritual warfare” as they jointly seek to evangelize and make disciples in their locality.
All of these “churches with cells” and attempted “churches of cells” therefore differ much in their strategy from Strategy #1. They are simpler by emphasizing only two major activities: cell multiplication and “seeker-friendly celebration” for local evangelism, and “modeling” and “church-planting” for foreign mission. As seen above, such simplicity is often just an ideal at the start, but often quickly gets complicated (and expensive!) to maintain, since the varied demands of the increasing number of members require really gifted leadership and management skills that require huge budgets.
Perhaps the best model of this type that approximates a movement may be that of Victory Christian Fellowship (Philippines) that has aimed to plant a “wiki-church” in every major city among the 55 countries in Asia. Through its Every Nation Leadership Institute, it has trained church-planters who can start and nurture their cell-church approach, as short-termers, tentmakers or career missionaries. They have already formed branches in about 40 nations, including Muslim- and Communist-dominated ones.
Strategy #3: Church Growth Through Intentional Church-Planting
The third mission strategy is that of intentional (or saturation) church-planting, which has been nurtured by the national movements in the Global Church Planting Network. A local church (or denomination) can envision and plan to start new churches in other areas through sending individual church-planters or church-planting teams, some even as big as an entire section of a congregation. The goal is to expand the presence, influence and ministry of the church to other communities, regions and nations. Oftentimes, the resultant church-plants become satellite churches or daughter churches which will eventually become sister-churches of the mother (or sending) churches.
The usual practice of church-planters is to do house-to-house visits, usually after some evangelistic event (like an evangelistic rally, healing crusade, etc.) to gain some contacts. The objective is to work towards the conversion and baptism of about twenty-five adults through evangelistic Bible studies and discipleship classes. A new church is considered “planted” or established when a consistent number of baptized believers can choose their own leaders (self-governing) to raise their own budget (self-supporting) to fund their expenses for a pastor, property/facilities and activities to keep Sunday worship services and evangelistic programs going (self-propagating).
With the rise and spread of “saturation evangelism” strategy of Discipling A Whole Nation (DAWN) movement developed by Jim Montgomery in the Philippines in the mid-1970s, the saturation church-planting (SCP) strategy has been introduced in many countries. “Church multiplication” or “church planting movements” (CPM) are being encouraged, to purposively escalate the number of churches being established within a period of time. Many evangelical denominations and national council of churches have adopted this vision and strategy. The outstanding ones in Asia (e.g., Philippines, Myanmar, Indonesia, Cambodia, and most recently Thailand) have aimed to organize churches which can reproduce or “give birth” to another church within 3-5 years. The goal is to work with other churches to saturate a region with churches in each municipality. From my research, the Assemblies of God has been the main denomination that has most successfully used this strategy in the last two decades.
A recent trend is the use of a more holistic approach to church-planting, esp. among the urban poor. The initiative usually comes from Christian development organizations (CDOs) or mission agencies with holistic orientation. They work towards planting churches among the poor through incarnational workers (usually lay, with some community development training) who will eventually pass on the leadership of the new church to a local church or a pastor.
Strategy #4: Church Multiplication Through Church Planting Movements
Yet these three Church Growth strategies (including the mega-church kind) has not made any significant impact on the Muslim Ummah (community), Hindu castes, Communist lands, and Buddhist areas yet. As our Lord’s Great Commission includes discipling these major blocs of people groups, which strategy will be effective in reaching these UPGs today that will bear fruit and even much fruit among them?
Thankfully there are Asian movements that are using two other mission strategies that have developed in recent years. Though the concept of “total church mobilization” predates Lausanne 1974, it is only in the last two decades that this has become a concrete reality seen in various “church planting movements” (CPM) in Asia and the world. They view that the above three strategies, though used of God in the past and will continue to be used in the future, will not be able to reach the world for Christ, since they fail to use the full potential of the whole church to evangelize and multiply churches among the nations, esp. the UPGs.
This fourth strategy called “Church Multiplication through CPMs” aims to have every Christian equipped to be a disciple-maker (in any place) and tentmaker (in cross-cultural contexts). Theologically, this is based on the biblical doctrine of the priesthood of all believers. Practically, besides the few who are called to be church-supported leaders, every believer can be a local “lay pastor” and/or a cross-cultural “lay missionary.” They can lead churches not just in their places of residence, but also in their places of work or study.
For this to be doable and duplicable, the key is to intentionally limit the size of churches, about 20 adults as maximum number per church; hence they have often been called “house churches” (in fact, this is the only type of church in the New Testament!) or any designation according to the venue of their meetings, such as “office churches,” “campus churches,” etc. The small size makes it simple for ordinary people to participate and lead, as well as makes it flexible and humanly manageable. In many situations, this makes the church persecution-proof and poverty-proof. After all, the full presence of Christ is among them, even if only two or three are gathered in his name (Mt. 18:20)!
Yet most importantly, the small size allows a simple body-life that develops transparency and mutual ministry in informal face-to-face relationships (cf. 1 Cor. 14:26). Believers are automatically trained “on the job” to become leaders as they learn to discover and use their spiritual gifts, participate in discussions and ministries, as well as take turns in leading group activities. Only discipled believers can reproduce and multiply (evangelize and disciple others); and disciples are made only in small groups with “high touch” relationships!
Thus, evangelism happens naturally through friendships that are formed. The fastest CPM today is “Training for Trainers” (T4T), where a tentmaker equipped his disciples to share their testimonies with their friends and kin, and once any of their contacts becomes a convert, they are incorporated into a “house church” and trained to also share their testimonies with their friends and kin… and so forth! Those who have learned to do such “friendship evangelism” and lead “house churches” become export-quality servant-leaders: they can be sent by God to any place in the world (with some cross-cultural training by their disciplers) and make disciple-makers there also.
Cross-cultural mission happens naturally also as believers relocate for work as business people, managers, teachers, medical personnel, care-givers, seamen, even domestic helpers. Gladly, many of the global and Asian Christian development organizations and their partner networks are working with this mission approach already. Most have developed into “house-church networks” (HCN) that empower the so-called laity to become “lay pastors” (disciple-makers) locally and “lay missionaries” (tentmakers) cross-culturally. Many missionaries from the West (esp. North America), the Philippines and Indonesia have begun to shift to using this strategy in many regions today, too.
Strategy #5: Kingdom Expansion Through Disciple Multiplication Movements
Yet many CPMs (Strategy #4) are struggling to multiply as much as they should. There has been another mission strategy called the “disciple multiplication movement” (DMM), which aims to produce “people movements,” especially using the best practices of community organizing and high contextualization strategies, which is also labeled “insider movements” (IM) nowadays. (For those familiar with the C1-C6 spectrum discussion in Western missiology, CPMs are generally C4, while DMMs and IMs are C5 and C6).
In my estimation, this fifth strategy is advocated and practiced by 80% of the house church movements (HCM) in Asia. The leaders in the HCMs in Asia have been organized and meeting informally since 2006, and found like-minded partners in the various lay-focused movements, like campus ministries (esp. Navigators), marketplace or workplace ministry, business-as-mission and tentmaker movements globally, as well as mission agencies (mainly Western, mostly in the International Orality Network) that do CPMs that avoid “church planting.” The leaders of all these movements have started to meet annually in conferences held by Asian Frontier Missions Initiative since 2007. Perhaps the most intentional movement of this type is the Philippine Missions Mobilization Movement that seeks to bless the nations by training and commissioning a million diaspora Filipinos to be tentmaker (and about 5,000 career) missionaries to catalyze DMMs where they live and work.
Believing that God desires His people to effectively bring all peoples to inherit eternal life and enjoy abundant life (= shalom/peace in Old Testament, and Kingdom of God in New Testament) as they obey Him as their Creator and Master through their faith in His Son Jesus Christ, it seems most reasonable to believe that He thus made a simple plan for world redemption by which all peoples and nations will be made into followers of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit – without extracting them from their community.
This strategy works for “kingdom expansion” or “societal transformation,” by which the individuals, families, communities and institutions in our nations will be discipled to repent of their sins and build Christ-following communities that are growing in righteousness and justice marked by self-giving love (Greek: agape). These Christ-centered individuals and families will be “incarnated” in the structures of their communities, naturally rising to servant leadership roles as they love and serve their neighbors in practical ways. As they facilitate the holistic development of their neighborhood, they transform their proximate communities “from the inside out” as they share their blessings as servant-partners with other communities in establishing shalom where they live and work.
To achieve this objective, DMMs seek to simply follow the missionary method of Christ and the apostles called “disciple-making,” as they model servant leadership, which persuades and equips people to live according to God’s will voluntarily, whether the church constitutes the majority or the “overwhelming minority” (Mk.10:42-45; 1 Pet.5:1-3). Every Christ-follower is discipled to make their own disciples, through holistic and transformational ministries, which include both friendship evangelism and socio-political action, with signs and wonders (Mt.28:18-20; Lk.4:18f; Rom.15:18f; 1 Pet.2:9f) that will result in family and community conversions to Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.
DMMs and HCMs aim to catalyze “people movements” that equip disciples to multiply simple “biblical Christianity” — contextualized, holistic and transformational “indigenous churches” that are truly replicable: self-governing, self-supporting, self-propagating and self-theologizing. They will be planting “churches” that will be copied by future generations of Christians, so they should avoid transplanting denominational churches (= complex Christianity = Christendom) which are often non-contextual (= foreign-looking), hence have almost always produced marginalized Christians who are separated from their communities — despised and rejected by their family and friends, not only because of the Gospel but also because of their extra-biblical forms/traditions, often unknowingly, resulting from “extraction evangelism.” This is to follow Apostle Paul’s instructions to expatriate missionaries to consider their hosts as masters, and to “become all things to all people” (1 Cor.9:19-23), and to local Christ-followers to retain and then develop holistically from their professional and socio-religious identities (1 Cor.7:17-24). Many Christian development agencies have been doing this community-based non-extractive approach for some time already – often unintentionally due to the requirements of government and other secular fund sources.
This raises the challenge for us: Are we ready to recognize Christ-worshippers who trust and obey Him as Lord within their socio-religious (read: non-Christendom) contexts? Can we welcome Christ-followers whose socio-religious identities remain Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu or Communist? I really hope so, even if many of us will be very hesitant. Let us be reminded that most of our Christendom forms and practices have developed from those of European tribes which were converted to Christ through “people movements” without being extracted from their socio-religious identities, as these also happened in the evangelization of the Christianized populations in South India, the Philippines, Northeast India, Myanmar, Indonesia and most Pacific islands.
As shown above, most churches and missions have been using mission strategies that have systematically hindered our obedience to reach the nations for Jesus. The past four decades since Lausanne 1974 have seen improvements in the outreach programs of many local churches (Strategy #1) and the development of new strategies, like cell multiplication (Strategy #2) and intentional church-planting (Strategy #3). Yet we have also seen the (re)discovery of two strategies that have the potential of truly mobilizing the whole church for global missions – through house church multiplication by mobilizing all believers to be disciple-makers or tentmakers for CPMs (Strategy #4), and most effectively through contextualized community-based CPMs, called DMMs (Strategy #5). Let’s turn Christian-led houses and offices into “church buildings,” and church buildings into community ministry centers, managed by the local network of house churches, each with their own unique ministry contributions in their contexts.
Even if most of our churches would hesitate to make this paradigm shift themselves, they should at least start to encourage and support Strategy #4 and Strategy #5 ministries which aim at replicating “people movements” to Christ. As far as simple mathematics go, it is the only hope we have to finish the Great Commission as soon as possible. Let’s aim not only for more missional programs and activities, but also for quality missional results and effectiveness. Just compare the potential for evangelistic and transformational impact in a nation or a people group and their missionary outreach to the unchurched locally and the UPGs cross-culturally: one church of 200,000 members (Strategy #2), or 100 churches of 2,000 members each (Strategy #1), or 1,000 churches of 200 members each (Strategy #3), or 10,000 churches of 20 members each (Strategy #4), or 40,000 churches of 5 members each (Strategy #5). In my estimation, the average annual growth rate for each strategy differs: 10% for Strategy #1, 20% for Strategy #2, 30% for Strategy#3, 60% for Strategy #4, and 100% or more for Strategy #5.
May we develop mission movements that focus on church multiplication through CPMs (Strategy #4) and most especially on kingdom expansion through DMMs (Strategy #5) to effectively reach Asia and the world in our generation. May the Asian church be mobilized to share the gospel effectively and strategically with our neighbors and the world “…and then the end will come” (Mt.24:14). Maranatha!