MentorNet # 20
Myths and Facts about Church
and Cell Reproduction
Copyright © 2004 by George Patterson
and Galen Currah
Our mentoring and training expose us to many ideas and practices
that have proved helpful to someone, somewhere at some point in history. Some
of these have become widely accepted with time. However, these may not be universally
applicable, and must be tested with Scripture and compared with observations
from diverse fields.
Myth #1: "To start a new church or cell the
church planters must leave an existing church body."
Fact: In most church planting projects around the
world, few workers permanently leave their ‘home’ church or cell.
- In the case of Peter and his church planting team in
Acts 10, and Paul and Barnabas in Acts chapters 13 and 14, the workers did
not change their membership to the new churches; they never broke their relationship
with the mother churches.
- George Patterson affirms, "I cannot recall any church
plant in Central America in which the responsible workers left their home
church. They evangelized the new community and trained the new leaders without
leaving their own church."
Myth #2: "To start a new church or cell you
have to ‘hive off’ a substantial number of members (‘critical mass’) from a
mother church to form the core of the new body."
Fact: In the church or cell reproduction that we
have observed, except in urban America, that is seldom the case.
- In urban United States many new churches are started
by "hiving" off numbers that are large enough to pay a pastor and
practice a worship style similar to the mother church. This method is a common
one for starting urban American churches. It has five weaknesses:
- It works only if a mother church is large enough to send
a large number of its members to the new church. It does not work for most
of the smaller, poorer and newer churches.
- It works only if the leadership is willing, which in
most churches is not the case.
- It works only if transportation is convenient for a large
number of people to travel to the location of the new church without changing
- It can take place with little or no evangelism. The new
churches sometimes fail to do it.
- It seldom sustains the reproduction for a wide-spread
movement for Christ, and, so, is seldom seen in pioneer church planting movements.
Myth #3: "The job of an evangelist is not done
until the new believer is established in an existing church or cell group."
Fact: The problem is with the word ‘existing.’ In
rapid, healthy church or cell reproduction, workers bring new families into
an existing group only as a last resort. Their first goal is normally to build
a new cell (or church in a pioneer field) around the newly-believing family.
- Each new believer, especially if head of a household,
opens a potential, new vein of gold.
- This vein is the existing social network of the new believer
- Most Western church planters’ first impulse is to extract
a new believer from his social network and help him make new friends in an
existing church body.
- In the church planting movements that we observe the
evangelists do their best to keep converts in a loving relationship with the
people in their current networks, and let the gospel flow along the lines
of their natural relationships.
- The gospel normally flows readily along the same route
as gossip, from friend to friend and relative to relative.
Myth #4: Where churches and cells multiply rapidly,
it is always necessary for new believers to find and make new friends
soon within the congregation.
Fact: The problem is with the word ‘new.’ In the
church and cell reproduction that we have observed, new believers have old friends
who come into the new church or cell with them.
- People certainly need to have close friends in a congregation
or most will leave after attending a few times. These friends, however, do
not need to be new.
- If the other facts listed above are acted upon, we can
build new congregations around new believers from the same vein of gold. Most
of their friends in a new church or cell will be old friends.
Myth #5: "It takes lots of money to start Christian
Fact: Although it may take money to send and support
non-tent-making missionaries, churches that require no building or paid clergy
will be self-supporting from the start.
- What costs a lot of money are non-biblical, Western traditions
and practices. Where workers and churches can avoid or shake themselves loose
from those traditions, they normally need no more resources than what are
- Western churches and missions too quickly adopt methods
and requirements on mission fields that create financial dependency. This
often attracts unscrupulous, power-hungry schemers who ascend to the head
of new churches and organizations.
Myth #6: "You need a free, democratic society
with freedom of religion, to start Christian churches.
Fact: Throughout history and round the world today,
except in traditionally-Christian areas, most churches start under hostile conditions.
- Jesus and his apostles set the example by their radical
faith and willingness to suffer persecution to advance the gospel and start
churches in new culture groups.
- People around the globe suffer all kinds of abuse at
the hands of their governments and of local rebel movements. To suffer for
righteousness brings more of the same abuse, but also an eternal reward.
Myth #7: "You need highly educated and trained
church planters to start quality churches that will be doctrinally sound and
Fact: Experience and scientific studies alike have
shown that, for church planters who are educated far beyond the people they
work with, the higher educational level more often than not hinders church growth
- Even more important is that church planters be culturally
similar to new believers and enjoy freedom to start churches, unfettered by
church traditions that allow only the clergy to perform the activities that
Jesus commanded all his followers to do.
- What is consistently helpful is that existing church
planters and leaders empower and coach novice church planters and shepherds
who start and lead new churches, and who start training other even newer leaders,
Myth #8: "The impulse weakens as it passes from
a mother church to daughters, granddaughters, etc.…
Fact: Every strong, healthy church alive today is
a far descendent of the first church at Jerusalem.
- The presence of Christ and the gifts of the Holy Spirit
are communicated by God into every new church, giving it the vitality and
life it needs to remain vibrant.
- Some of the main things that weaken the impulse include
liberal theology, legalism, dependence on outside resources, and growing too
big before reproducing.
- We see reproduction in 2 Timothy 2:2. Paul from Antioch
told Timothy in Ephesus to train others, who included Epaphras in Colosse.
These trained still others in other places, including Hierapolis and Laodicea
(compare Col. 4:12-13). Paul assumed that mentoring would convey the Word
to all of these four links in the chain of reproduction. Churches reproduce
only as fast as we train new leaders. If mentoring is sustained this way in
a pioneer field, there will not be many new churches in which the impulse
Myth #9: "You need a strong doctrinal
base before a church can be strong enough to reproduce.
Fact: You need a church that lovingly obeys Jesus
by making new disciples, to reproduce.
- Reproduction that happens around newly-evangelized families
can see churches planted almost as rapidly as evangelism moves from one family,
clan, or friendship circle to another. Detailed doctrinal instruction normally
- Westerners often mean by a "strong doctrinal base"
a mental assent to their organization’s dogmas that neither inspire faith
nor require loving action. Such ‘doctrinally-strong’ churches seldom reproduce!
- New churches need to grow in their understanding
of biblical truth, especially the basic truths taught by Jesus. Let them focus
on His claims, promises and commandments, supplemented by Bible teaching that
emphasizes the main idea of a text along with its immediate application to
Myth #10: You need a strong ‘home base’ first, that
is, strong churches, before you can start new churches, extend into new social
groups or penetrate new geographical regions.
Fact: The longer a congregation waits, the harder
it will be to reproduce.
- When reproduction is part of a new churches’ DNA, then
its daughter and grand-daughter churches will also set reproduction without
delay as a priority.
Myth #11: You need a permanent church planting team
with good relationships among its members, in order to reproduce churches.
Fact: There are no permanent apostolic teams in the
Bible, and most new churches are started without formal teams.
- The best church planting ‘teams’ are workers from a nearby
church of the same culture.
- . Christ’s apostolic band lasted three years. Peter’s
team that started the Cesarean church included believers from Joppa who did
not continue to accompany him. Paul’s team continually changed.
- Good church planting teams focus on every church planting
project as the primary purpose, not on building up the teams.
Myth #12: There are already too many churches.
Fact: About a third of the world’s population has
no church for people of their language and culture, and there is no major society
that does not need more churches, or churches that are more relevant to today’s
- To discern if more churches are needed, don’t count the
existing churches. Count the souls who still need to have Jesus presented
to them in a meaningful way.
- Although there are churches within most cities where
this third of the world’s people live, most of these churches cater only to
the expatriate community, often in a foreign language, and cannot reproduce
indigenously among the common people.
- This huge segment of mankind has little hope of knowing
Christ until churches reproduce not only within their country but also within
their language and culture group.
Myth #13: Church multiplication is a fad and
a fetish of missionary agencies.
Fact: Continually starting new churches is the most
effective way to evangelize a society and to make disciples of its population.
- Wherever the apostles of Jesus went, churches multiplied.
The same has happened throughout history when workers have made disciples
the way Jesus says.
- Most missionary agencies serve already "reached"
populations and have use church planting practices that fail to allow churches
to reproduce rapidly, in the truly apostolic way.
Myth #14: If we start too many churches, then many
of them will only die prematurely.
Fact: Wherever we start many new churches rapidly,
the rate of survival is far higher than where missionaries have, out of caution,
kept the pace moving slowly.
- Most churches, even non-reproductive ones, will probably
die when they become sterile, failing to reproduce and to practice the ministries
that the New Testament requires.
- What a sad tragedy when a church dies before it has reproduced!
- In rapid church planting movements, most churches thrive
and start new, healthy churches, in turn. It is part of their God-given, spiritual
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