In the early 2000s I (Bradley) played an active role in a church planting movement (CPM). Within only a few years of that movement, tens of thousands of people had come to know Christ, and dozens of “house groups” were planted. This firsthand experience allowed me to honestly assess not only the blessings of a CPM, but also the challenges. As part of Element 06: Evaluating Sending Models and Partners, it is important for sending churches and sent ones to be familiar with this popular missions strategy. Thus the purpose of this resource is neither to advocate for nor criticize movements (whether CPM, Disciple-Making Movements [DMM], Training for Trainers [T4T], Four Fields, etc.), but rather to help you be more fully informed about them.
What is a CPM?
In his book Church Planting Movements, missiologist David Garrison defines CPMs as “rapidly multiplying indigenous churches planting churches that sweep across a people group or population segment”. He also identifies ten universal elements that are present in each movement:
Intentional planting of reproducing churches
The authority of God’s Word
Churches planting churches
With these elements combined, the result is the exponential growth of new disciples and churches, to the extent that at least three “generations” of believers (disciples of disciples) are seeking to reach the remaining population. This, however, must be accomplished in a completely indigenous way.
How This CPM Unfolded
When I applied to the missions organization, I was directed to a team whom they said was working among one of the most unreached people groups in the world. My team leader had developed a strategy that was an oral version of Training 4 Trainers (T4T), with a more robust form of discipleship. He also cultivated a team culture with a high value of Christian community based on Ephesians 4. He taught us to engage new areas based on Paul’s example in Athens in Acts 17, and from Jesus’ example in sending the 72 in Luke 10. We also embraced a form of contextualization that sharply differed from the missionaries who had gone before us.
Not long before I arrived the first five people in the movement had believed and were being discipled together in a “house group”. Along with the harvest came much persecution. And very soon there were numerous house groups we were discipling toward becoming churches, both in our city and across the province. When I left after three years, the movement was beyond count (in the tens of thousands of believers with dozens of house groups, numerous churches planted, and at least four generations of believers).
Beyond the CPM
I am uncertain about the full status of the movement today. This is largely because of my lack of direct involvement in the movement. I have been involved enough to know that many of the believers are still established, but not as many of the churches (in that they do not continue to meet regularly to fulfill all the characteristics of Acts 2:42-47). All of my former teammates have also moved on to new ministry areas. As a result, a number of national leaders have taken on much of the ongoing work.
As for me, I returned to the states to get married, and with the intention of rejoining the work with my family. However, God did not open the door to do so, but instead called me to help others to be sent, first as a missions pastor and then as writer and now as a lead pastor. After finishing seminary and becoming a lead pastor, I have experienced a major contrast in expectations of church. As I have reflected on my experience with Church Planting Movements and now being a lead pastor, I have been able to evaluate the Pro’s and Con’s of a Church Planting Movement. I have seen ways that the American church can be blessed by aspects of Church Planting Movements. I have also seen ways that Church Planting Movement strategy can miss critical aspects of ecclesiology in favor of movement.
In the full article, “The Pro’s and Con’s of a Church Planting Movement,” I list give principles for churches to consider how they want to shepherd their Sent-Ones to relate to Church Planting Movements. I encourage churches to consider how to keep a high Christology, Missiology, and Ecclesiology as they shepherd their Sent-One’s through strategy.
This article is available to members on the Upstream File Share and $2.99 for non-members.
Bradley is a missiologist, pastor, and trainer. He has been at Upstream since 2014, producing blog and social media content, authoring The Sending Church Defined and Receiving Sent Ones During Reentry: The Challenges of Returning "Home" and How Churches Can Help, and serving as a board member. He is also the lead pastor at Antioch Church. As a former global sent one, Bradley reflects on missions and formation at Broken Missiology.