Church planters often rightly admire and celebrate the great work of God in church planting movements (CPM) in the Non-Western world. However, all to often they pay attention to CPM statistics (number of conversions, rate of reproducing churches, percentage of people group reached) not CPM missiology. As good Westerners, we gravitate to the quantities in CPMs, decrying the slow resurgence of the gospel in the U.S., instead of learning from the qualitative factors that constitute CPMs.
In short, I’m not sure the comparison between the Majority World and the West is entirely helpful. Although we have MUCH to learn from the Majority Church, the U.S. is not Africa or Asia. Therefore, I propose that a result-based comparison between the Majority Church and the Western Church isn’t helpful for several reasons:
1. Church Planting Movements are not Overnight Phenomenons: Contrary to popular impression, Non-western church planting movements often take decades of silent plowing before they reach a movemental tipping point. Therefore, describing them as “rapid” can be a deceptive and naive comparison.
2. The Western Context is Much Different from the Non-Western Context: The West is diverse in its receptivity to the gospel, ranging from receptive Christianized pockets to resistant post-Christian areas. Gospel receptivity in Africa is much higher; however, not all receptivity results in true conversions. The numbers are inflated. Discipleship is critical.
3. Definitions of Church Vary Considerably: The definitions of what constitutes a “church” in Africa & Asia varies significantly, in number and expression, from what constitutes a traditional church plant in the U.S. A church in the Global South may be 15-20 people, a range that barely constitutes a missional community by U.S. standards.
4. Church Planting Movements are Movements of the Spirit: The regenerating work of the Spirit is a mystery, moving like a wind throughout history, sometimes breezing through nations and other times rushing through people groups. CPMs are not the product of great strategies but of the sovereign work of the Spirit to build Christ’s Church.
5. Three Missing Non-strategic Ingredients for Movements: Ultimately, church planting movements are born out of great persecution, outpouring of the Spirit, and prayer. All three ingredients are largely absent from church planting in the U.S.
Therefore, I suggest we stop banging the drum of non-Western CPM results and, instead, focus on faithful, prayerful, gospel labors that don’t overestimate comparisons or underestimate the power of the Holy Spirit.