What we are learning about effective National Church Planting Processes

Not all national saturation church planting  processes produce equal fruit. What makes the difference? If we have limited resources, which emphases are most fruitful?

For the last nine months I have been studying questions like these by surveying over 100 high level church leaders from every continent.  Several of our presuppositions were confirmed, but there were also significant surprises! This first-of-its-kind report is available here.

If you have been significantly involved in a national church planting process would like to share your insights, you can participate in the 2018 survey through this link.”

Earlier I provided an overview of the research project here.

Exciting Study on National Church Planting Processes Forthcoming

61NCPPcountriesIn 2017, a key ministry partner requested my help to evaluate the effectiveness of National Church Planting Processes on a global scale.  With the help of my co-workers on the Global Research Team, I created an online survey, and over 110 workers with significant experience participated.  In February I will travel to Berlin to interact with a group of global church planting catalysis to share the major findings of this study and new insights pertinent to advancing national church planting processes around the world.  In addition, I’ve planning a series of additional reports focused on related topics. Reports and updates will be posted at www.OCresearch.info.

I consider this the most significant research project I’ve been involved with to date. It has been a super opportunity to collaborate with experts in the field of mission research as well as those with significant experience in advancing national church planting processes. If each person who completed the survey has just of ten years experience (highly likely), this totals over a millennium of experience!

A National Church Planting Process is based on the DAWN vision, which became a major strategy for world evangelization in the 1990s. DAWN, an acronym that stands for “Disciple A Whole Nation,” has biblical roots in Matthew 28:19-20.  The DAWN vision, akin to “Saturation Church Planting”, grew out of Jim Montgomery’s experience in the Philippines as an OC missionary.  In the 1970s Montgomery, along with Donald McGavran, played a key role in motivating and mobilizing Philippine church leaders to set a goal of establishing an evangelizing congregation in every small community of the country by the year 2000.  Projections estimated that this would require 50,000 churches, quite an audacious goal when there were roughly 5,000 evangelical churches in the country! But by 2000, the Philippines had more than 50,000 evangelical churches – though not every small community had an evangelizing church.

DAWN became a highly significant world evangelism strategy during the final decade of the 20st century. In 1985 Montgomery founded Dawn Ministries to promote national church planting processes in other nations. Montgomery’s book, DAWN 2000: 7 Million Churches to Go, published in 1989, was key in spreading the vision globally. In the 1990s the DAWN strategy was championed by the Lausanne Movement, the World Evangelical Alliance as well as the AD 2000 and Beyond Movement.  DAWN Report #21, a special AD 2000/GCOWE edition, lists 68 countries with active projects and mentions 68 additional nations seriously considering a DAWN-type project. A 1998 report disseminated by the World Evangelical Alliance for the Ibero American DAWN Congress ’98 provided information about DAWN projects for more than 60 countries.  In 2002, Dr. Steve Steele, then Dawn Ministry’s CEO, presented a paper at The Billy Graham Center Evangelism Roundtable. Steele mentions “150 or so DAWN national Projects.” Roughly a million new churches were planted in the 1990s as a result of these projects. Thus DAWN had a significant impact on world evangelization in the 1990s, which continues into the third millennium, even though Dawn Ministries has essentially ceased to function.

Although numerous studies of particular DAWN country projects have been undertaken, we were not familiar with meta-evaluation of DAWN initiatives. Thus we undertook the challenge of a multi-national evaluation of DAWN initiatives.

In 2018 we continue to gather insights from those involved in national church planting processes.  If you have been or are currently involved in advancing a national church planting process, you are invited to participate in this online survey.  We value your input. The survey should take 10 to 20 minutes to complete and your responses are confidential. Click here to participate in the 2018 National Church Planting Process survey.

A Tribute to one of My Heroes: Chuck Holsinger

Chuck HolsingerOn September 13th, Cathy and I attended the memorial service for Chuck Holsinger, one of the early workers with our mission, OC International.  I don’t believe I’ve been at a memorial service where there has been more laughter as numerous people shared humorous anecdotes about Chuck. He had a great sense of humor; he also had great love for God and his country.

We first met Chuck in 1991 in California when we were checking out OC. I remember what he shared in the seminar about support raising “I don’t raise support. God lowers it.” This piece of wisdom has stuck with me ever since and on several occasions I have passed it on to others.

Chuck was the Europe Area Director who opened Romania as an OC field. The first time he visited Romania Chuck remarked, “Romania reminds me of Taiwan in the 1950s. We should have purchased an office then when property was inexpensive. But we didn’t. Then the economy took off, and we were never able to purchase an office. We aren’t going to make that same mistake again.”

Chuck shared this need with two of his friends in business and received gifts to purchase an apartment for our team to use as an office, which was a tremendous blessing not only to our team but to the many other Christian groups, including a church plant, which used the office for meetings and office space. And Chuck was right! The economy did take off in Romania, and if we had not purchased an office when we did, we would not have been able to so so latter on.  It was an especially lovely moment for us when we hosted a group from Taiwan at our office during a vision trip to Romania.  It was like the Taiwan-Romania connection had come full circle.

Chuck and his wife Betty visited Romania about a week after we first arrived in country. He had connections with a Pastor in a city on the Black Sea. So we all went to visit this Pastor in Braila. This was our first ministry trip, which involved a three hour train trip – cultural experience in itself. I was Chuck’s roommate. As we were getting to know each other, I mentioned that I began my education at Penn State. Chuck mentioned that he had a friend who was on the Board of Trustees at PSU back in the 1970s, who was praying for revival on the campus. Upon hearing this, I became excited to share with Chuck how God had answered his friend’s prayers.

During the 1970s and early 1980s, one of the largest Campus Crusade chapters was at Penn State with about a thousand students involved. Other Christian groups such as InterVarsity and Navigators were also strong on campus. Little known to me when I arrived on campus in the fall of 1979, there was a “revival” going on among the students with strong foreign missions spirit.  In the spring of 1980 Ralph Winter came to Penn State and held one of the early Perspectives Courses. The vision he cast took root among the students. I too caught the mission vision and left Penn State the following year to prepare for missionary service. Those who have closely followed the movement at PSU say that well over 100 students served overseas. One group of students went on to start Caleb Project, which mobilized a generation for missions. I am in touch with several who are still serving today, and I know many more that have a great heart for missions and are serving as senders. So it was a pleasure for me to share “the other half of the story” with Chuck.

In retirement Chuck and his wife Betty settled in Upland, Indiana. That town might sound familiar, because this is where our family also landed five years ago.  Chuck had quite a ministry in our little town. He regularly went to the Circle K gas station in the mornings to get a coffee and a donut – but his real motive was share a word of encouragement and the love of Christ with the people who came into the store. Chuck had a knack of turning fact conversations into faith conversations.

Chuck was also a decorated WWII veteran who served in the Philippines. He wrote a book about his experiences, Above the Cry of Battle. The book is really his testimony of how God protected him in battle and enabled him to forgive the Japanese for the atrocities which he witnessed. When he was at the Circle K, Chuck was known to go to his car, pull out his book from the box he kept in the trunk and give it to a veteran or any other person who needed encouragement.  I’ve heard many other stories of how Chuck was a light in our community.

The Pastor officiating Chuck’s memorial service shared Hebrews 13:7 “Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith.” This is so true in Chuck’s case. He left us a wonderful Christ-like example of generosity, faith and service that we would do well to emulate.

Os Guinness presents stirring address at Taylor University

GuinnessDr. Os Guinness received an honorary doctorate at Taylor University today. His speech was one of the most engaging that I’ve ever heard.  So I’m sharing the link for his address at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MUBWwVURjY4

Dr. Guinness began by focusing out attention on some of the great questions of our age:

  1. Will Islam modernize peacefully?
  2. What faith (world view) will replace Marxism in China?
  3. Will the West sever or recover its roots?

Then he challenged us to play our part in addressing the challenges of the 21st century. He spoke briefly about three:

  1. Preparing the Global South where the Church is growing at an unprecedented pace.
  2. Wining back the western world.
  3. Contribute to the future of humanity at this transitional time of major shifts.
    • The shift from pyro (fire based) technology to biotechnology
    • The shift from the industrial era to the information era
    • The shift from a supernatural to a secular perception of reality

He also encouraged us to wrestle with some of the grand distortions of faith such as:

  • The shift from authority to preference (and the resulting lack of commitment)
  • The shift from integration to fragmentation.

Guinness pointed out that progress in these areas will depend upon our

  • Practice Supernatural warfare
  • Having a deep grasp of the history of ideas
  • Engaging in cultural analysis

Can the church be revived again? Guinness firmly believes that the future of humanity depends on the answer.

I was struck by how many of the questions Dr. Guinness raised and the trends that he identified relate to the discipling of nations.  His address brings to mind the Old Testament words about the Sons of Issachar, “who understood the times and knew what Israel should do.”  Unless we understand the times in which we live, we will be ill prepared to deal with the challenges before us.  May Dr. Guinness’ address also  inspire you to critically contemplate what is happening in our world today and your response.

Improve the Life of People in Your Community

The first week of November I enjoyed representing One Challenge at Taylor University’s World Opportunities Week. This was a lovely opportunity to interact with students who are seeking to discover God’s plan for their lives.  As I was sharing with a student about how OC uses research to identify needs of communities and countries where we work, she shared something she learned in her public health class, where her professor repeatedly emphasized:

“You can’t solve problems for people living in a place you know nothing about.”

How true. To improve the life of a people, one must first understand the context.

Ed Stetzer points this out in the forward he wrote for Patrick Johnstone’s newest book, Serving God in Today’s Cities. “If you don’t properly understand the context in which you want to minister until after you start ministering there, your ministry will likely be more frustrating than fruitful.”

This week I participated in a webinar with Luis Bush from Transform World 2020, where he shared:

If the Church wants to be relevant and effective in the community, it needs good information that describes the community’s people and need, the condition of the church; and the spiritual forces which influence current reality. The Church must see the city as it truly is; not just what it seems to be. These data will show leaders God’s top priorities and highest leverage (greatest results per effort) ministries that will bring about the most impact and lasting results.

Thinking back to when I assisted a group of church leaders seeking to promote community development in Romania, it was their consensus that community development had to begin with a community needs survey. Only by knowing the people in an area and their needs, can relevant action be taken to improve the lives of those who live there. Or we might say that if we are going to love our neighbors, we must first know our neighbors.

Paul wrote to Titus “Our people must also learn to engage in good deeds to meet pressing deeds, so that they will not be unfruitful” (3:14). So ask yourself:

  • What pressing needs in your community need addressed?
  • What actions would address these needs?
  • What resources can the Body of Christ muster to improve the life of people in your community?
  • What information is already available about your community? Where can I find it?
  • What other information would be helpful? How can I find this out?
  • Is there anyone who is already studying my community? How could I help? If no one is gathering information, could I start the process? Who could help?
  • How can I share what I’m learning about my community with other like-minded people?

I’ve always found that it insightful to go out and walk the streets of a community, praying about what I see.  Seeing the people and their needs and bringing them before the Father’s throne never fails to stir up love for them.

Perhaps the first step to improve life in your community is to step outside and take a look around.

Does God Need our Worship?

nations worship

“What sort of creator needs his creations to worship him?” Sick. Very sick.”

Recently I received the previous thought provoking comment from a reader. I commend this person who is looking for a creator-god that exhibits moral excellence. However, it seems that in this person’s opinion, the God revealed in the Bible falls short.

I would agree with this person that if the creator needs his creations to worship him, this would raise questions about the moral excellence of the creator. It would be like a person basing his or her self-esteem on one’s popularity rating or a person’s emotional well-being based on how many “likes” s/he has on Facebook. This shows an unhealthy dependence upon the opinion of others.

From my point of view, however, I would consider the premise, that the creator needs his creatures to worship him, to be incorrect; thus the conclusion drawn from the premise is also incorrect, for nowhere does the Bible state that the Creator-God needs our worship.

The Bible, which I consider a reliable source of information about the nature of God, states that God does not need our worship – or anything else from us, for that matter. This passage would be the clearest example:

The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things. Acts 17:24-25 NASB

In addition there are a series of passages from the Old Testament, such as 1 Samuel 15:22; Psalm 40:6; Psalm 50:7-12; Psalm 51:16; Jeremiah 6:20; Hosea 6:6; 8:11-13 Malachi 1:10-14 that, when read in context, also affirm the proposition that the creator-god does not need his creatures to worship him.

Why, then, are there commands to worship God?

If God does not need our worship, why are there commands to worship?

While I’ve been pondering this matter, I have also been reading The Reason for God by Timothy Keller. I was surprised to find that he addresses this very point.

“But wait,” you say. “On nearly every page of the Bible God calls us to glorify, praise and serve him. How can you say he doesn’t seek his own glory?” (218)

Keller points out that God does this because “he wants our joy” (218). Keller discovered this point in the writings of Jonathan Edwards on the Trinity. Because the three persons in the Trinity share eternally share perfect love and fullness of joy, there is no internal “need” for creatures to love God in return. So why then did God create? Edwards thought that the ultimate reason God created is not to remediate some personal lack or need, but to share his infinite love and delight (218-219). Keller concludes:

God made us to ever increasingly share in his own joy and delight in the same way he has joy and delight within himself. We share his joy first as we give him glory (worshipping and serving him rather than ourselves)…. (224)

Commands to worship God, then, rather than a burdensome duty, are intended to guide humanity on the path toward their greatest good and delight.

God is worth of our worship

Whenever people observe something beautiful, good or excellent, their reaction is often to praise it. So it is with God. When people recognize who God truly is, his character, his deeds, it is quite natural for them to praise him. Rather than God needing people to worship him, people naturally worship God when they discover his true nature. Nothing forced. Nothing sick here.

The English word worship comes from the Old English word weoroscipe or worth+ship. The worshiper, then, recognizes the worth of the object of adoration and hence willingly offers praise. So when humans do understand God’s nature and his works, they freely choose to worship him, because he is worthy. This point comes out in two places in the book of Revelation:

Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.” (Rev. 4:11 NASB)

And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.” (Rev. 5:9 NASB)

These two examples highlight that God is considered worthy of worship because he is both the creator of all things and the redeemer of all humanity. The last of the Psalms also points out how God is worthy of our worship. “Praise Him for His mighty deeds; Praise Him according to His excellent greatness” (Psalm 150:2 NASB).

Worship and discipling all nations

So what does worship have to do with “discipling all nations”? Quite a bit. I’d like to draw four observations.

The Bible describes an ideal future when all nations will worship the true God. For example, we read in Malachi 1:11:

“For from the rising of the sun even to its setting, My name {will be} great among the nations, and in every place incense is going to be offered to My name, and a grain offering {that is} pure; for My name {will be} great among the nations,” says the LORD of hosts.

Second, this will come about when knowledge of God is universally communicated.

For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD,
As the waters cover the sea. (Habakkuk 2:14)

Third, the nations can worship only when they discover the true nature of God and his marvelous deeds. So it is necessary for those who know God must share this knowledge with the nations. This comes out in Psalm 96.

Tell of His glory among the nations, His wonderful deeds among all the peoples. (Psalm 96:3)

Finally, those who know God will be motivated to share the glad tidings of God’s wonderful deeds with all peoples only when they are convinced of God’s excellent greatness. This calls to mind John Piper’s observations in Let the Nations be Glad:

Worship is the fuel for missions. Passion for God in worship precedes the offer of God in preaching. You can’t commend what you don’t cherish. Missionaries will never call out, “Let the nations be glad!”, who cannot say from the heart, “I rejoice in Lord…. I will be glad and exult in thee… (Psalm 104:34). Missions begins and ends in worship. (11)

So worship is both the goal and the motive for mission. When the people s of the earth come to know God, they will freely and joyfully choose to worship the Lord and also commend him to others.

Where would you place yourself on the worship spectrum?

We’ve looked at a wide spectrum of where people fall on the question of worshiping God. Some think that worshiping God is sick, repulsive. Some consider it a burdensome duty; others sheer delight. A few of those who delight in God also consider it a privilege to share what they have discovered about God with all the nations, so that they too can share in God’s love and joy. Where would you place yourself on this worship spectrum? Where would you like to be?

Church Planting Movements: How Fast Do They Grow?

 “A Church Planting Movement is a rapid and multiplicative increase of indigenous churches planting churches within a given people group or population segment.” (Garrison, CPM, 8).

Church Planting Movements, by definition, evidence exponential growth or growth through multiplication, not addition.  Although I’ve read a number of CPM case studies, I do not remember seeing Average Annual Growth Rates (AAGRs) provided.  So to find out how fast these CPMs are growing, I have calculated the AAGRs for the following case studies which I’ve read over the last few months.


Here is a case study from Cuba that one of my blog readers, Dr. Kurt Urbanek,  pointed out to me. Dr. Urbanek, author of “Cuba’s Great Awakening: Church Planting Movement in Cuba” (available from www.amazon.com) provided me with surprising news about what is happening in Cuba. He begins chapter 1 of “Cuba’s Great Awakening”  by saying:

“In the face of staggeringly difficult political, social, and economic circumstances, Cuba is experiencing an unprecedented movement of God. This inspiring movement has seen hundreds of thousands come to faith in Jesus Christ and thousands of new church starts. Congregations among Baptists alone have multiplied from 238 to 7,039 churches, missions and house churches in just 20 years. Among the Assemblies of God, the increase has soared from 89 churches in 1990 to 2,779 in 2010 and this number of congregations is augmented by 7,997 house churches. Total Assembly of God membership (including adherents) has increased from 12,000 in 1990 to over 688,931 in 2010. This spiritual awakening continues and promises even greater blessings in the days to come.”

For this example the Baptists achieved a Church Planting AAGR of 17.4%. The Assemblies of God Church Planting AAGR is over 22% – not including the 8,000 house churches; the Christian AAGR is 18.8%.

David Garrison, who serves with the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, also provides several case studies of in his writings about Church Planting Movements.  It is possible to determine growth rates for several of these.


“When a strategy coordinator began his assignment in 1993, there were only three churches and 85 believers among a population of more than 7 million lost souls. Four years later there were more than 550 churches and nearly 55,000 believers” (Garrison, CPM, 15). Later Garrison gives 1991 as a starting point for this work. So I used that year to calculate the following AAGRs. Here the Church Planting AAGR is an astounding 110.5% and the Christian growth rate is even greater at 152% AAGR.

Latin America

“By 1989, the northern union had a membership of roughly 5,800. That same year, they began to experience an awakening as membership climbed 5.3 percent and then 6.9 percent the following year. By the end of the 1990s, the northern union’s membership had grown from 5,800 to more than 14,000. Over that same period, the number of churches increased from 100 to 1,340. At last report, there is little sign of this growth slowing down.”  (Garrison, CPM, 11).

For this example, the Christian AAGr is 9.2% (the lowest of any example noted here), and the church planting AAGR here is 30%.

Garrison provides a summary of another Baptist union in Latin America:

 “Similar developments were also unfolding in the southern union. In 1989, they had 129 churches with a membership of just under  7,000. With 533 baptisms recorded that year, they were showing signs of vitality. By 1998, their membership had risen to nearly 16,000 with annual baptisms of almost 2,000. The number of churches increased during the same period from 129 to 1,918, a remarkable 1,387 percent growth rate for the decade.”  (Garrison, CPM, 11)

For this example the, church planting AAGR is 35%; the Christian AAGR is 9.6%.

The Bholdari of India

Garrison also includes a case study of the Bholdari of India (Garrison, CPM, 20-22). This is the work that David Watson started (http://www.davidlwatson.org ). It is reported that the work grew from 28 to 2000 churches from 1989 to 1998 (60.7% AAGR) with over 55,000 conversions. From what I understand, this work continues to grow with more than 11,000 new churches and nearly 1,000,000 new believers in less than ten years.  (WIGTake Resources 2010).


Garrison includes a case study form Cambodia (Garrison, CPM, 25). I include Cambodia here because it is on the “Top 20 Hot Spots” list. From 1992 to 1998 the churches studied multiplied from 6 to 94, the AAGR being 58%.


The final case study I will mention here comes from the book T4T: A Discipleship Revolution by Steve Smith with Ying Kai. This particular case study is considered to be the largest recorded CPM, according to David Garrison who wrote the forward to the book. In a ten year period, the number of churches grew from 3,535 to 53,430 (35% AAGR) and membership grew from 158,368 to 1,738,143 (30.5% AAGR) (Smith, 21).  Recent update indicates that they have now seen nearly two million baptisms and more than 80,000 new church starts in less than a decade.

CPMs are Happening Even among Muslims

David Garrison recently published a new book about Church Planting Movements among Muslims: A Wind in the House of Islam (WIGTake Resources).  This thumbnail sketch is astounding:

As Garrison reports, in the first 1,300 years since Muhammad, there was only one voluntary movement to Christ among Muslims of 1,000 or more believers. In the last 20 years of the 20th Century, there were eight. In just the first 12 years of the 21st Century there have been 64. That is not a misprint. As of 2012 there were at least 64 documented movements to Christ taking place among Muslims, each with over 1,000 baptized believers and 100 worshiping fellowships. And the number of these movements is growing. (http://www.missionfrontiers.org/blog/post/something-is-happening  Accessed 9/30/2013)

One example would be a movement among Muslims in North Africa which grew from 22,000 baptized believers in 2003 to more than 160,000 in 2009 (WIGTake Resources 2010). The Christian AAGR is 39%.

CPMs Document Exponential Church Growth

The CPM case studies mentioned here document exceptional and exponential growth. The church planting AAGRs for these CPM case studies range from 17% to 110% and the Christian AAGRs range from 9.2% to 152%. Keeping in mind that the global average for Christian growth is basically 0% (actually an indication of losing ground because global population growth is 1.47%) and the highest  50 year estimations for Christian Growth are in the neighborhood of 10% AAGR, it is no wonder that these church planting movements, which are now taking place among what have been historically resistant people groups, and the factors that are producing such results are being viewed with great interest.

If you wish to better understand the dynamics that produce CPMs, I would recommend David Garrison’s writings because they describe in detail the factors that help, as well as hinder, exponential church growth.

Selected Bibliography

Garrison, David. Church Planting Movements. The International Mission Board, 1999. (Garrison has also written a longer book by the same subject.  Church Planting Movements: How God is Redeeming a Lost World. WIGTake Resources: Monument, CO, 2003.)

Garrison, David. A Wind in the House of Islam. WIGTake Resources: Monument, CO, 2014.

Mitchell, Russ.  “The Top 20 Countries where Christianity is Growing the Fastest”, https://discipleallnations.wordpress.com/2013/08/25/the-top-20-countries-where-christianity-is-growing-the-fastest/

Smith, Steve with Ying Kai. T4T: A Discipleship Revolution. WIGTake Resources: Monument, CO, 2011.

Urbanek, Kurt, Cuba’s Great Awakening: Church Planting Movement in Cuba. 2012. www.Amazon.com