A Church Planting Movement is a rapid multiplication of indigenous churches planting churches that sweeps through a people group or population segment. There’s a lot more we could add, but this captures the essence.
Rather than prescribing what could or should happen, this definition describes what is happening in Church Planting Movements. Throughout this website we will stick to what God is actually doing in these movements and resist the temptation to prescribe or predict how we think God ought to be working. By clinging to a descriptive approach, we are humbly admitting that the work is not ours; it belongs to God. So rather than trying to squeeze God into our flawed predictions or prescriptions, we will let God be God and we will alter our understanding and behavior to be on mission with him.
It’s not easy to stay descriptive. Each of us comes to the table with preconceived notions about the mighty acts of God. Church Planting Movements aren’t immune to these tendencies to misunderstand. So let’s clarify our understanding by carefully unpacking our definition, and examining each of its five parts.
First, a Church Planting Movement reproduces rapidly. Within a very short time, newly planted churches are already starting new churches that follow the same pattern of rapid reproduction.
“How rapid is rapid?” you may ask. Perhaps the most accurate answer is, “Faster than you think possible.” Though the rate varies from place to place, Church Planting Movements always outstrip the population growth rate as they race toward reaching the entire people group. Once you’ve viewed a few examples, you will begin to get the idea.
The second key word in our definition of Church Planting Movements is multiplication. Church Planting Movements do not simply add new churches. Instead, they multiply. Surveys of Church Planting Movements indicate that virtually every church is engaged in starting multiple new churches. Church Planting Movements multiply churches and believers like Jesus multi-plied the loaves and fishes.
Perhaps this is why Church Planting Movements are devoid of goals to start ten or twenty additional churches in a country or city. Instead, these churches are satisfied with nothing less than a vision to reach their entire people group or city—and eventually the whole world! As each church realizes that it has the capacity and responsibility to reproduce itself, the numbers start compounding exponentially.
The third word is indigenous. Indigenous literally means generated from within, as opposed to started by outsiders. In Church Planting Movements the first church or churches may be started by outsiders, but very quickly the momentum shifts from the outsiders to the insiders. Consequently, within a short time, the new believers coming to Christ in Church Planting Movements may not even know that a foreigner was ever involved in the work. In their eyes the movement looks, acts, and feels homegrown.
Church Planting Movement: A rapid multiplication of indigenous churches planting churches that sweeps through a people group or population segment
The fourth part of our definition is churches planting churches. Though church planters may start the first churches, at some point the churches themselves get into the act. When churches begin planting churches, a tipping point is reached and a movement is launched.
A tipping point occurs when new church starts reach a critical mass and, like falling dominoes, cascade into an out of control movement flowing from church to church to church. Many near-Church Planting Movements fall short at this critical point, as church planters struggle to control the reproducing churches. But when the momentum of reproducing churches outstrips the ability of the planters to control it, a movement is underway.
Finally, Church Planting Movements occur within people groups or interrelated population segments. Because Church Planting Movements involve the communication of the gospel message, they naturally occur within shared language and ethnic boundaries. However, they rarely stop there. As the gospel works its changing power in the lives of these new believers, it compels them to take the message of hope to other people groups.
Adapted from David Garrison’s, Church Planting Movements, How God Is Redeeming a Lost World (Midlothian: WIGTake Resources, 2004).