I visited a number of Asian countries in 2011 and was amazed at the dynamism and commitment of the young Jesus followers.
One network, in a country that I will not mention, stuck out to me as an outstanding example. They have started almost a thousand new communities, many of them multiplying into the second and third generation. And like many new movements in the non-Western world, a Sunday worship service as an evangelistic entry point for potential members, has not been part of their ministry portfolio. Which was the subject of my somewhat provocative post a few days ago, 9 Reasons NOT to plant a church in 2012.
So if they didn’t start worship services, how did they start a replicating movement of Christian communities and how do they maintain such a high level of spiritual growth?
Of course it’s hard and a little presumptuous to claim which elements of their ministry are the most important but . . . here are 11 practices that I think have contributed to their success:
1. Bible study.
The Bible studies were simple and regular. And there was a lengthy program of discoving Jesus in the gospels which took months to complete. Most who completed the study decided to follow Jesus by the end. Discipleship was based on an “obedience-based approach” to the Scriptures that happened around their 3 simple Bible study questions [see 4. Simple habits]. When the group meets again, everyone is held accountable to do what they said they were going to do and this way the Word becomes an integral part of life.
2. Open houses.
The people were hospitable to visitors who seemed to come at any time of the day or night. Their houses were full of young people living there while their lives were being transformed. I did not see any buildings used for worship or church functions. Bible studies and events took place in the houses, with young people sitting on carpets and mattresses, but I would not classify it as a house church movement, since there was no regular worship service to invite neighbours into.
3. Fringe focus.
The primary influx was young people from the margins, the underbelly of society and those discarded by it, drug addicts, and postmodern sub-cultures rather than mainstream folk. I have seen this trend all over Asia including Japan. Most of the leaders I met had come from these backgrounds also.
4. Simple habits.
Nothing took a lot of skill. Teaching Bible, sharing jesus, leading AA-type meetings, no need for a charismatic superstar to attract an audience and in fact, there wasn’t one. Anyone could lead after a short time of instruction. The Bible studies, for example, were based on the same pattern:
After reading a passage together, they all answered 3 questions:
1. What does it say?
2. What does it say to me?
3. What I’m going to do about it?
5. Good business products.
Financial sustainability came partly from their micro-businesses. The organic products from these businesses were among the best and healthiest in the country, even if they had not yet found a way to promote or distribute them widely. They had also innovated in the production process and believed God gave revelation that is helping them produce more and better goods and in a way that blesses the environment rather than taking from it.
6. System for rehabilitation.
They had a dedicated building for rehabilitation of drug addicts and also used it for multi-faith gatherings where people from every background could meet each other and build friendships. It was also a space for urban ministry folk to retreat to for refreshment.
7. Native flavor.
The ministries did not smell foreign. Certain areas of their ministry were more raw and vulnerable than others and they did not want foreigners, especially white Americans, turning up and stirring up unnecessary attention among the neighbours. Although they had not heard of it, the description “insider movement” would probably fit. I recognized one or two Western songs in the singing and the music they created was in part influenced by the global scene, but the ministries were quite Hillsong-free. Not all the Jesus followers used the “Christian” term. The size of the ministry was played down rather than promoted.
8. Daily rhythms.
Weekly services are sometimes not enough for those struggling to walk a new path, especially coming from addictions and deeply ingrained destructive lifestyles. Meeting daily, even if for a short time, was the norm. Some did this around meals, some around Bible studies.
9. Not outreach TO but outreach WITH others.
The Christians organized the outreach events to the urban poor and young people from many other religious backgrounds participated. I saw Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims and atheists all join in and work together. These same people would later return during the week to hang out and talk.
10. Something for the whole family.
Outreach to the discarded of society involved visiting the families of those youth and attempting some reconciliation or at best, informing the parents that their kids were OK. Baptisms were generally postponed until the whole family joined in.
I didn’t see legendary all night prayer meetings like the Koreans but prayer was a casual part of everything they did. There were many physical healings in answer to prayer and the supernatural was accepted as normal.
Yes, the ministries were characterized by GRACE. Some of the leaders had fallen back but had bounced out and launched forward again by the grace of God and were embraced back into the community. And they were wonderfully generous. Being poor, they made many rich. Including our family who were treated like royalty. We left with our backpacks filled with gifts and our hearts filled with a sense of overwhelming debt of gratitude.
Also, the intentionality of the movement was focused on impacting people’s lives with the gospel and NOT on creating community or starting churches which they saw as a natural outgrowth.
I am SURE there were other factors that contributed to the success of this particular movement but alas, I am too young and too dumb to know what they were. So I humbly leave these 11 practices with you to contemplate and discuss.
Do you think there is any hope for us to see this kind of thing happening in American Christianity?
wow. so encouraging. thank you andrew.
yes, yes, yes. Excellent distillation.
Also, I enjoyed being able to read this post in full in my Greader rather than having to click through. Thanks for switching back. 🙂
Slam dunk dear…………. over the top. This epiphany must’ive had some serious spiked punch in the mix, there’s been a few posts by others that are just as “dead on balls accurate”. (my cousin vinny quote there… 😉
hugs all around
Hey Mr Brewster. yep the full RSS feed is handier when I lose my posts and need to retrieve them from readers.
Love this- thanks for sharing.
This is the way it is and groups like this can happen anywhere… all it takes is for you to start one… open your home, open your fridge, open your Bible and open your heart and watch what amazing rings can happen!
This stuff lights a fire in my bones!
My wife and I are going to Passionfest this year,hoping to connect with and learn from other missional Kiwis.
In the last town we lived in we had a taste of what church can be like when its not done in ‘church’.How it can transform a rough,racialy divided neighbourhood into a community.
We have since moved to the city to find work and are finding it hard to assimilate back into conventional church.
Awesome post – lots to think about and it re-inspires me too.
Thanks for it!
i’m so hungry to see something like this in the US. i see the leaning toward an americanized version of it, but we yanks like to complicate things (#4) and are too busy with busy to have enough space for daily rhythm (#8). Lord make it happen.
thanks for being faithful with your gifts and sharing them with others.
please redo the links to lausane on the following post
April 06, 2010
Emerging Muslim Followers of Jesus?
They don’t work.
Thanks so much for sharing this. What a contrast with our celebrity-driven approach to church in America. I’m going to share what you shared with other people.
Absolutely Beautiful Andrew…lets hope we’re open to learning the profound redemptive mystery of living like Jesus.
My heart absolutely jumps on this message! Wow! Thanks for sharing these encouraging words with us.
At least it affirms what we are doing out in Latvia. We are not at the stage of bible studies but at least it is worth persevering with the connections and friendships built and see what flourishes from there.
I think something like had happened already in the U.S., think back to Dwight Moody and his work with orphans. I’m sure home churches share some similar aspects, but it’s hard to imagine a similar freedom of mobility for youngsters and people in the U.S. where everyone has to own a car to get to places. Strata of different Christian groups seem inevitable in a society like this.
We’re part of a Vineyard church plant (about 5 years old I think) in Columbus, OH that feels similar to this in some ways. Our outreach focus on “with” has been so wonderful and exciting for me to experience as we serve dinners and stock food pantries with members of our community.
I see similar disenchantment w/ traditional church in America, and some believing young people meeting like this – so yes, it could happen here but maybe we have to “give them permission”. Or maybe not! hah! do the Chinese have permission? No, they are just consumed with love for Jesus.
I love this and the previous articles, esp. this: “focused on impacting people’s lives with the gospel and NOT on creating community or starting churches which they saw as a natural outgrowth.”
HI Ed. I visited the Vineyard ministry in Columbus some years ago at a conference. Very impressive!!! I think Neil Cole and Wolfgang Simson were there also.
This is great. These are all fantastic values to live out.
Thanks for clarifying what you meant when you says they were postponing worship indefinitely – that Sunday worship didn’t exist as the evangelistic point of entry. I would say that it isnt the point of entry in many more traditional churches today either, who often have lots of other things going on around the edges.
Of course, just because there is no Sunday worship (in the form we would recognise with music and sermon) going on doesn’t mean no worship is happening. It sounds like this church you described is full of authentic worship of God!
Wish more in the West practiced faith like that.
Interesting Insight. I’ve enjoyed reading your blog.
Hi Andrew, were these communities flourishing in relatively small, localised neighbourhoods? I wonder if a lot of our busyness in Western culture is down to our lives involving lots of travel. For work, for shopping, for friends, for church…we often have to get in the car.
I know since making my own life more local, and trying to do more of it within walking distance, I have so much more time for people close by and can imagine neighbourhood daily rhythms are SO much easier to create.
Yes, local neighbourhoods inside very large cities. locality is key. Commuter churches would not experience this. Good observation. Meeting daily in homes, like the early church, is dependent on proximity.
There is a small group of us among the urban poor in Los Angeles working these very Kingdom principles to establish communities of the Kingdom. Like the farmer we are scattering seeds of good news, watering and praying God to cause the growth for His glory.
I really enjoyed this post. Reminds us how ‘serving’ and ‘what are you going to do about it’ is paramount. Have you heard of Soles4Souls? We go into communities with our Travel4Souls division to wash feet and spend time with children, orphans, etc. Check us out at http://www.travel4souls.org and thanks for writing. Loved the post.
So very encouraged by this. Is there any way I could discuss this further?
spencer, give me a yell on email. tallskinnykiwi at gmail dot com or buy me a coffee when i next come through your town
This article is quite interesting in its challenge to missions ‘business as usual’. As one involved in a traditional church located in an urban area of North carolina, I wonder how this type of approach would translate.
Andrew, can you share the name of the bible study series that the churches used? Is it the “discovering God” series? Thanks for any info…
Hi Jason. It wasn’t a series at all. Just those 3 questions each time. I dont think they had a name for it.
Let me commend on this blog. I hope everybody, especially the teens, could pass by and spend some time to read this whole blog which gives a lot of wisdom to them on how to be able to become closer to Jesus.
thanks John. I think the West can learn a lot from non-western places where the gospel is taking root very quickly. it gives us hope.
This Christianity distillation which focuses on Jesus has become very prominent in some Asian countries. Great blog. Continue to flourish!