How Long Does it Really Take to Plant a Church?

Why it can't take less time in a cross-cultural setting (from Issue #537)

by Ian Fallis

BaptismHOW LONG DOES IT REALLY take to plant a church, translate a Bible or train a missionary? The answers can vary, but it’s difficult to believe that it can take less time in a cross-cultural ministry.

Consider this?… North American church planters estimate it takes two years of work simply to start meeting.

Think about that. Trained, professional church planters, backed up by proven methodologies and a team of experts, say they need to start researching, planning and meeting two years before they even open the doors to a new church. That’s among people whose culture they understand and whose language they already speak fluently. And they’re not talking about establishing a church – that’s just holding the first meeting.

Crossing Cultures

That new church will be mostly people who were already believers. They already have not just one Bible translation in their language, but dozens, along with hundreds of helps and study guides and devotionals and more. They don’t usually expect economic or medical help from those church planters, either, so church planters can focus on planting the church.

How long do you think it takes to establish a church among people whose culture is foreign and whose language may be unwritten? Where there are few, if any, who profess to name Christ? Where there is no Bible, and where the people’s material (and social) needs are huge and pressing?

Scripture in Heart Language

Modern English-language New Testament translations take several years to complete.

Mull that over. Someone assembles a team of expert translators. They have access to hundreds of years of English-language translation heritage, thousands of translation helps and dozens of top-notch experts in ancient languages. And it still takes years.

The New International Version New Testament, one of the few “completely original” modern translations, took eight years to complete. The New King James Version New Testament required four years, with the preface calling it a revision.

A “limited revision” of the New American Standard Bible took three years to complete. “More than 100 people,” according to the preface to The English Standard Version, worked for three years to produce a revision of the Revised Standard Version.

How long do you think it takes for a few people to translate the Old & New Testaments from scratch? … A small team with limited access to experienced translators, and virtually no access to the world’s top experts?

Essential Training

Most established churches prefer a pastor with a Masters of Divinity.

Few will settle for less than a Bachelor’s degree. Some are looking for a candidate with a doctorate.

That’s a minimum of four years of training, if not six or even eight years. Their task? To help an established church, full of people from their own culture who speak the same language, move forward. Few would say that is an easy task. The training is vital; therefore many churches are looking for people with experience as well.

How much training should missionaries receive? We send out missionaries to establish a church where there are few or no believers. The people they will work among don’t think the same way – their culture is different – and they don’t even speak the same language. There may be no Bible in that language, either. They’re going to have to translate one. Training is essential.

Taking Necessary Time

Excellence takes time. Making disciples is the goal, and excellence is the standard. That’s why when we translate Scripture, equip believers and establish thriving churches, we must take the time necessary to do the job right. How could we do anything else?

Entitled “Excellence Takes Time,” this article is reprinted with permission from New Tribe Mission’s news magazine NTM@work, July 2016.

The past few years NCEM candidates and some of our long-term missionaries have attended Ethnos (New Tribes) training centres in Durham, Ontario, and Camdenton, Missouri.