I have found that focusing on the church is a key way to get at the soundness of a ministry strategy. My foundational belief is that the church should be the center of evangelism, discipleship, meeting human needs, and ultimately, any missionary task.
Here is what I mean:
Strategy #5: House Church Movement
Missionary: I’m going to start a house church where believers can come to a neutral place rather than a “spiritual meeting house” or dedicated worship space and we can authentically create a New Testament community as described in Acts 2:42. I expect that when this group grows, it will divide to create another house church rather than move to a larger facility. I have done the research and this approach makes sense in the new context and most local believers support this approach and have seen this method’s fruit in the local context.
Me: How will that start or build churches?
Sound church strategy: What do you mean? That is the church strategy! I plan on starting out by developing relationships with any existing house church networks and working with them to consider how to use my gifting to strengthen the movement. If there are no believers in the new target area, I plan on going first to a similar area where there are believers using a house church methodology. I will then be better able to understand how believers live out their faith in the culture. In either case, I will use my gifting to serve the local believers and intentionally work to develop local leadership, and then when I have recruited a team of local or near culture believers, move to the new target area to start a house church using only the local language. The house church will have local leadership from the beginning.
Unsound church strategy: What do you mean? That is the church strategy! I plan on starting out by getting a few other foreigners who are close friends on my team and create an authentic New Testament community. Then over time, as we develop relationships in the community, we’ll invite local seekers to the group so they can watch how we relate to one another and see our marriages and how we parent our children. Eventually as we learn the language, we’ll switch the meeting language to the local language. By this time the group should be growing and healthy. When we get a house full we’ll multiply the group, praying that a local believer has somehow emerged to lead the new group. Soon after that, both groups will multiply and we’ll have four groups. I heard this is how they do it in China. I expect this to create a church planting movement.
What should we do?
Like the other strategies, first ask if the missionary has ever done what he plans on doing overseas in his own context. If he has, talk about the additional difficulties of starting churches in a new culture and determine if he has carefully considered the differences. If he hasn’t ever started reproducing house churches in his own context, ask him to spend time learning from those who have seen fruit in the house church methodology and then take additional time to start a reproducing house church in his own culture before attempting the more difficult task of starting house churches cross-culturally.
Additionally, if existing local believers can’t get the house church methodology to work or if the majority religion of the local culture does not use house “religious meeting” methodology, a missionary should be cautious before launching a specific method of church planting. If he claims that the house church methodology is the only biblical model, encourage him to take a basic theology or church history course to help remove his ignorance.
See summary article here posts on unsound strategy: Humanitarian Aid, Evangelism, Business as Mission, Making Disciples, and the House Church Movement.