Behind & Beneath our Church Planting Vision

"Even nonbelievers in his community are puzzled, 'How does he know so much of the Bible?'" (from Issue #516)

by Jim Stauffer

GWHaving been raised on the “Barrengrounds,” he never had opportunity to learn to read and write. So even nonbelievers in his community are puzzled, “How does he know so much of the Bible, especially in his own language?”

Missionary Arlyn van Enns say it’s because their friend was taught the Bible chronologically.

He understands well God’s Story and plan of salvation as revealed throughout all of Scripture from beginning to end, says Arlyn, and can knowledgably share it.


In church planting, a reasonable question is: why a plan at all? … why a strategy? Isn’t it enough to have a passion for Christ, and for reaching the lost?

In short, we believe planning our work helps us to be effective in spreading Christ’s redeeming love. It gives us direction. It helps us evaluate our efforts. It keeps us from getting distracted by other things. That kind of clarity is needed especially in ministry.

Ministry is connecting people with God. It’s all about relationship. And relationship, by its very nature, is hard to regulate and evaluate because no one can (or should) control another person.

There is a danger of going to one extreme or the other. One extreme is to become so regimented in the use of time and energy that relationships suffer for the sake of trying to accomplish our mandate. The other extreme is to become so lax in use of time in order to accommodate the flexibility needed for quality relationships, that little gets accomplished.


Another challenge in relational ministry is that it is difficult to evaluate the quality of the interactions. If no evaluations are made, the ministry may go on for years without being effective. If evaluations are made, people (both nationals and missionaries) may feel like they are being treated like projects.

Something that diminishes the tendency to slide into an extreme is to have a good plan or strategy.


Some missionaries have used the “Five-Stage” church multiplying strategy. It’s a plan used to facilitate the growth of strong, indigenous, multiplying churches. It is not the only approach that God can use, of course, but it is Bible-based and has proven effective.

This strategy is described in detail in Tom Steffen’s book, Passing the Baton.

Not a Trivial Pursuit

Here are some underlying principles in our church planting vision:

  • Church development is God’s work, yet it is a work He has chosen to accomplish through His people. It is the Holy Spirit who directs, empowers and sustains in the planning and in the implementation of every step of these plans.
  • Every stage in church planting is oriented toward the goal of the final stage: a strong indigenous multiplying church and the phase-out of the church developing team.
  • The general idea is to move progressively through the stages, yet at times it may be necessary to return to previous stages. For example, discovering how people think and communicate continues throughout the entire process.
  • A church planting team has objectives in relation to an entire community. Each community, however, is made up of individuals – who may be at different stages and with whom the church planter must relate correspondingly.
  • From the earliest stages, the team seeks the involvement of local people in decisions and activities, realizing that it is community people who are best able to determine what is appropriate in the local context. The team does not create a church, but simply helps local believers through the teaching of God’s Word to develop their own spiritual gifts and leadership abilities and gradually develop their own churches.

(adapted from Northern Lights issue #516). Note: some of the locations and involvements of our missionaries may have changed since the original publishing of this article.