Church Planting Movements (Read: The Amazing Power of Doubling Groups)

All around the world there is a spiritual revolution brewing. It is bound to come here.

The way they do missions today is totally different from the way it was done when I grew up in the Philippines.

Forty years ago, it worked like this. An evangelist would go out and share the faith. Some would respond. After they responded, the evangelist would gather these new Christians into churches. (This order is important as we will see in a moment.) The churches would take on an approximate form to a church in America. They would have a choir and a Sunday School and a constitution. (How can you run a church without a constitution?) They would have committees and Wednesday night supper, church counsel, & visitation. In the early days we even built buildings with red bricks, a tall steeple and white columns out front.

Then, we grouped churches together in Associations, State Conventions and National Conventions. We created institutions, seminaries, agencies and so forth. We sent our young ministers to our seminaries and they received degrees that duplicated the kind of degrees they can get here. In short, we not only exported the gospel, we also exported the whole form of the way we do church in America. We exported not only the wine, but the wineskins as well.

Around 20 years ago, we started experimenting with a different model, one that is now known as Church Planting Movements. It is the dominant model of missions around the world these days. I found this statement on the International Mission Board's web page:

International Mission Board’s Overseas Leadership Team adopted a vision statement: We will facilitate the lost coming to saving faith in Jesus Christ by beginning and nurturing Church Planting Movements among all peoples.

Now, the phrase "Church Planting Movements" is probably not all that clear to you, as it was not to me. I think of "Church" as "Church as I know it." These are more like house churches, as was made clear to me on a recent trip to Richmond and a conversation I had with an IMB executive there. These are not churches as we think of churches. The executive clarified this to me adding, "In fact, we try to keep them small and continually reproducing."

These Churches in the Church Planting Movements are more like Sunday School classes than they are Churches as we think of them. They are small groups led by laymen that meet in homes. They are house churches.

I am curious what comes to your mind when you think of the phrase "House Church." It has always had a bit of a negative connotation to me. It has always spoken to me of people who could not get along with the people in traditional churches and decided to just do church at home. But, these are not rebels. This is an intentional strategy. Those who follow this strategy are following the top leadership of the IMB.

One other caveat. I don't see an essential difference between a Sunday School style group and a home group. To me, a group is a group is a group. Whether the group meets on campus on Sunday morning or off campus during the week does not change the essential character of the group. There  are pluses and minuses for both home groups and Sunday School style groups. One is not essentially superior to the other. A group is a group is a group.

I have done a little reading on House Churches in America. I was surprised to learn that many who participate in House Churches in America actually attend a traditional church on Sunday morning. This raises an interesting question. What is the difference between this house church and any other home Bible study? One word: attitude. They see this house church as just that, a church. It is just as legitimate as the traditional church, it just takes on a different form.

Church Planting Movements

This change of strategy is resulting in unprecedented world-wide growth of the church. For example:

Southeast Asia

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.

North Africa

In his weekly Friday sermon, an Arab Muslim cleric complained that more than 10,000 Muslims living in the surrounding mountains had apostatized from Islam and become Christians.

City in China

Over a four-year period (1993-1997), more than 20,000 people came to faith in Christ, resulting in more than 500 new churches.

Latin America

Two Baptist unions overcame significant government persecution to grow from 235 churches in 1990 to more than 3,200 in 1998.

Central Asia

A strategy coordinator reports: “Around the end of 1996, we called around to the various churches in the area and got their count on how many had come to faith in that one year. When they were all added up, it came to 15,000 in one year. The previous year we estimated only 200 believers altogether.”

Western Europe

A missionary in Europe reports: “Last year (1998), my wife and I started 15 new church cell groups. As we left for a six-month stateside assignment last July, we wondered what we’d find when we returned. It’s wild! We can verify at least 30 churches now, but I believe that it could be two or even three times that many.”


A missionary strategist commented, “It took us 30 years to plant four churches in this country. We’ve started 65 cell churches in the last nine months.”


Abdul came to faith in 1987. The team found more than 350 evangelists serving in 29 districts, nearly 2,300 pastors serving among some 4,000 churches, and 89,315 baptized members—all direct spiritual descendants of Abdul. More than 23,000 of the baptisms had occurred during the previous year alone. And that’s only part of the overall church-planting movement now spreading through Abdul’s people, who number in the tens of millions, comprising one of the largest unreached groups in the world.

Consider this chart I found at

By AD 1430, (1%) were Bible believing Christians.
By AD 1790, (2%) were Bible believing Christians.
By AD 1940, (3%) were Bible believing Christians.
By AD 1960, (4%) were Bible believing Christians.
By AD 1970, (5%) were Bible believing Christians.
By AD 1980, (6%) were Bible believing Christians.
By AD 1983, (7%) were Bible believing Christians.
By AD 1986, (8%) were Bible believing Christians.
By AD 1989, (9%) were Bible believing Christians.
By AD 1993, (10%) were Bible believing Christians.
By AD 1997, (11%) were Bible believing Christians.


It took 1430 years for 1% of the world population to become Christian. Now, we are gaining 1% every 3 or 4 years. The percentage of Christians doubled between 1970 and 1993 from 5% to 10%. WOW!!

If this doesn't seem quite right to you, consider this. I heard a statistic from George Barna years ago that said that North America is the only continent on the planet where the church is not growing. It feels like we are not making progress because we are in the United States. But, in many places around the world we are making rapid progress.

I'd invite you to do some reading up on Church Planting Movements. Do a search on and start chasing down the links. It is exciting.

Let's experiment together with how to make Church Planting Movements a reality in America.

Dr. Charles Stanley

We recently had the privilege of hosting Josh Hunt for our mid winter Sunday Morning Bible Study leadership conference. The emphasis on investing and building relationships is the key to reaching our society today. Fellowship is premium in a world where we face an epidemic of loneliness. People are looking for more than a "friendly" church. They want a place where they can grow and develop lasting relationships that will assist them in building a biblical foundation for life. If you have not had the opportunity to have Josh Hunt in your church or attend one of his conferences, make plans to involve your leadership. His concepts will make a difference in your thinking about how simple it really is to reach out to people.


Charles F. Stanley
Senior Pastor First Baptist Church Atlanta

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