This article explores two case studies of church formation, continuity, and multiplication among Australian Church Planting Movement (CPM) practitioners. Factors that positively influence group formation include clarity of vision, prayerfulness, access to experienced mentors, role modeling, teamwork, and strategically appending church to family mealtimes. More research is needed to evaluate whether improved teaching of biblical models of church and providing periodic larger gatherings may effectively prevent the attrition of urban CPM churches.
As of June 2020, there are at least 1000 multiplying movements of small reproducing churches world-wide. Each of these movements has multiple generations of churches that have planted churches. Such movements are often referred to as Church Planting Movements (CPMs) or Disciple Making Movements (DMM). In one of the best-known examples, a CPM pioneered by Ying and Grace Kai, more than 1.7 million people were baptised and 150,000 churches started in the years between 2001 and 2011. As mission-minded Australians hear of these results, a growing number have begun to implement CPM/DMM practices within their mission work. Teams from Pioneers, Praxeis, Power to Change, Move, Oikos, and the Anglican, Presbyterian, Baptist, and Crosslink denominations have workers applying CPM/DMM principles in Australia. Discussion among Australian workers suggest that while there are positive signs of improvement in mission effectiveness, church formation and multiplication among these ministries is not as effective as hoped. This article explores two of the most effective instances of church formation and multiplication located among CPM and DMM practitioners in Australia.
These two case studies are drawn from a wider study undertaken to investigate church formation and multiplication among Australian CPM/DMM practitioners. Their greater effectiveness was demonstrated by having more conversions and more generations of churches (or groups) than other ministries that were reviewed. It is hoped that providing the experiences of these two effective practitioners will prove helpful to others who are seeking to implement similar strategies. Within the sample interviewed both of these superior cases happened to be CPM practitioners rather than DMM practitioners.
The scope of this paper covers, first, a brief precis of CPM and DMM strategies. This is followed by a description of the research rationale, design, and methodology from which these two most effective cases are drawn. The two cases are presented, and, finally, conclusions are drawn and suggestions for further investigation made.
What is a CPM/DMM?
A CPM/DMM is a movement in which numbers of new disciples are coming to faith in Christ and forming churches in a consistent and sometimes rapid manner. David Watson, whose work has extensively influenced this ministry in Australia, offers a definition of CPM: “An indigenously led Gospel planting and obedience-based discipleship process that resulted in a minimum of 100 new locally initiated and led churches . . . within three years.”
Churches in this DMM/CPM model usually meet in homes, cafés, and parks—spaces other than church buildings—propagate along relational lines, are led by lay believers, and may range in average membership size from 11.5 to 85 believers. The CPM/DMM model of church multiplication does not focus activity around a large weekly meeting or key leader but caters to those who are not yet in church and meets in their “place” and with their relational network.
Significantly, churches in these movements are encouraged to start new churches, who are in turn empowered to start new churches. Each new church is considered the next generation from the previous one. Thus, from an original small church multiple generations of churches may be spawned. These smaller groups may meet as a larger group periodically depending on need and issues such as safety.
The two methods, DMM and CPM, have much in common: both encourage wide gospel sowing, a deep commitment to prayer, and new believers empowered to share with friends and family immediately and form new churches. Both use inductive Bible reading strategies with a high value on obedience. The DMM model tends to avoid “gospel presentations” and, instead, practitioners focus on praying for people’s needs and sharing Bible stories. These activities are used to find a person who is open to the gospel, spiritually hungry, and willing to share what they are learning with their friendship group. A discovery group is usually then formed around this leader. The DMM worker may not attend the group, but coach the leader who is still exploring the gospel how to facilitate the discovery group with their friends and family. The friendship group then has an opportunity to discover the gospel as a community with the Bible as the authority. The DMM worker provides the new leader with a selection of biblical texts to study. CPM practitioners, however, tend to use gospel presentations and start groups among people who have already made a commitment to Christ. These new converts learn how to lead a meeting and are coached to start their own meeting with their friends at another time in the week. Having said this, within Australia workers are often eclectic and borrow tactics from one another so that CPM practitioners often borrow from the DMM stream and vice versa.
The identification of a group as “church” varies among CPM/DMM practitioners interviewed in this study. Some practitioners begin calling the first meeting with a person who is moving toward Christ “church” in order to make the concept of church less daunting. Others would call such meetings a “Discovery Group” or just a “group” and transition to identifying as “church” once a significant portion of members have been baptised. Most CPM/DMM practitioners consider Acts 2:36–47 to define and identify normal functions of a healthy church.
A simple definition of church from the DMM stream is: “A group of baptised believers in the Lord Jesus Christ who meet regularly to worship, nurture one another (feed and grow one another), and fellowship (practice the “one another” statements of the Bible), and depart these gatherings endeavouring to obey all the commands of Christ in order to transform individuals, families, and communities.”
In summary both CPM and DMM models seek to win new disciples who are empowered to share their faith and disciple others to follow Jesus. All believers are encouraged to instigate the start of new groups and churches that are encouraged to multiply. As such both models align with the scope of this investigation.
Rationale for Research
The research project that uncovered the two case studies described in this paper was spawned from awareness of many ministries, from nine organisations, who are applying significant portions of the CPM/DMM paradigm. Positive results have been noted from the adoption of these principles such as the deployment of more CPM/DMM trainers and an increased number of baptisms. However, most practitioners also report limited success in group or church formation, continuity, and multiplication.
The research project was designed to investigate the state of CPM/DMM development in Australia with a focused interest on church formation, continuity, and multiplication. The specific question under investigation was: What are the factors (helps and hindrances) which influence the formation, continuity, and multiplication of churches among CPM and DMM practitioners in Australia?
The research project employed a Grounded Theory methodology. Semi-structured interviews were used to collect data from Australian CPM/DMM practitioners. The interview data was analyzed to identify reported factors that enhanced successful group/church formation and multiplication. Further analysis included coding of the transcripts followed by a review of themes and links within the data sets. Frequency counting of similar factors was employed to highlight consistencies within narratives. Interviewees also provided information about the number and generations of groups that had developed through their work. The groups developed by each practitioner were mapped visually to clarify patterns of group multiplication, number of generations, and group size.
Those interviewed in this investigation come from the following organizations:
- Sydney Anglican (2)
- Church of Christ (1)
- Power to Change (2)
- Baptist (3)
- Crosslink Christian Network (2)
- Independent (1)
- Salvation Army (1)
- Praxeis (5)
All interviewees were legacy Christians (i.e., from traditional church backgrounds) who have received CPM/DMM training and were applying these models within their relation networks, local communities, or across a region of Australia. Some are leaders of existing traditional congregations and have sought to find a subset of people willing to attempt a CPM paradigm from within their congregation. Of the seventeen participants interviewed, twelve are working with or have worked with a model that approximates the CPM model and five with a DMM model. The qualitative data provided by interviewees is based on self-report. As such the interview probed participant’s insight and self-awareness regarding the success and failures of both their own work and that of their team.
The sample method was a “stratified purposeful” sample to “illustrate a subgroup and to facilitate comparison.” Further, cases that manifest an “intensity” of data through greater effectiveness of CPM outcomes (more generational churches), function as “critical” cases to be mined for attributes that lead to successful outcomes. A “snowballing or chain” approach was used to expand the interviewee cohort by enquiring during each interview of other successful CPM workers who could contribute to the insights within this study. There was also an aspect of “convenience” to this sample given the unavailability for interview of some groups and individuals.
The two case studies reported below were the most successful ministries found during the investigation.
CPM Case Study 1: Ed – Urban Australia
Ed has been working with a CPM paradigm for around nine years—the longest of any practitioner interviewed.
Ed has responsibilities for church networks in southeastern Australia that also extend offshore. During 2017, upwards of 50 home-based family churches formed from Ed’s training and his family’s “Person of Peace” (POP) searches. POP is a term drawn from Luke 10:1–12 to describe a person who accepts the messenger, message, and mission by sharing what they know immediately so that many have a chance to meet Jesus. It is Ed’s custom to annually release church networks or hubs so that they take responsibility for the downstream churches and groups. These hubs are expected to coordinate their own quarterly support training and leadership development events after the first year or so of supervision by Ed.
Ed defines his target group as anyone who is responsive to the gospel. This ranges from immigrants (Sudanese, Nepalese, Chileans, and Persians were identified) to upper class and lower-class Anglo Australians across Victoria and Tasmania. Ed’s local township of approximately 6000 people is three hours drive from the state capital. It is predominantly populated by blue-collar workers and long-term, multigenerationally unemployed persons. Among this latter group there are significant instances of drug addiction.
Definition of Church
As with many CPM practitioners, the model of church found in Acts 2:36–47 functions as a definition of church for Ed and his team. However, Ed calls all his groups “church” from the first meeting and uses “church health” criteria to assist them grow toward church maturity.
Groups and Churches
Ed provided a network diagram detailing churches formed between January 2017 and October 2017 by Ed and his team within Australia. For reasons of confidentiality, Ed was unable to release information about church networks created in previous years.
The size of churches started in 2017 is small, with an average of 2.6 persons per church. The largest group is 12 people. The groups are small as they are new. Ed does not seek to combine disparate friendship networks in order to consolidate and create larger churches. He has found that this does not work. Instead he seeks to build the groups’ size from the convert’s oikos (extended family/friendship network). Larger churches form among recent immigrant Australians where more extensive households and friendship circles exist. For Anglo Australians, the church size is often smaller due to smaller household or friendship network.
Ed reports that the networks that develop from this work typically extend for three to five generations or more; frequently they then become absorbed into a local traditional church.
Ed considers church size a secondary and perhaps irrelevant factor to church longevity. He identifies the primary factor as Holy Spirit inspired koinonia (fellowship). Ed also encourages regular celebration of the Lord’s Supper over meals; this occurs daily or weekly in some families. The existing family structure and the high frequency of communion may be instrumental to group cohesion and capacity to multiply generationally.
Ed has overcome a number of significant obstacles in order to form churches. When asked how progress has been achieved through the network, Ed immediately points out that “you can’t do anything without the Holy Spirit.”
Ed has a deep investment in personal prayer with tens of daily alarms on his phone that trigger prayer for those whom he disciples and coaches. A prayer alarm on Ed’s phone would normally indicate that he has asked the person he is praying for: “What time of the day do you have your quiet time?” He has then committed to pray for them at that time. This question helps engender a culture of daily prayer within the network. Ed also prays fervently for people he is reaching out to.
Prayer is also a significant attribute within their networks. SMS and email are used to communicate live prayer requests around significant issues relating to gospel sharing and protection for emerging and new believers. Ed says that for those exploring faith “on the cusp of salvation”: “you are their protection—you have to pray for them.”
Ed does not consider himself a natural evangelist. However, having been mentored by and observed a number of “exceptional evangelists,” Ed steps out knowing he has a repertoire of skills that he can bring to this task. Ed also acknowledges deep work that God has wrought within him whereby he is always willing to share the gospel when called by God to speak: “who am I to not speak if God calls me to.”
Ed and his wife Sarah have had to persevere through considerable personal and family illness. Ed shared that engaging in CPM work over nine years has coincided with the worst period of ill health in his life. Further, inconveniences such as sudden car breakdowns while engaging in mission have alerted Ed to the opposition faced by a worker who seeks to “extend the kingdom of God.” Ed’s theological background is conservative evangelical, but the reality of the interference over the years has created an awareness of the need to prayerfully “armor up” against demonic opposition. They explain that through persevering God has changed their attitudes (e.g., more loving, humble), practices (simplifying and culturally honing methods, increasing prayerfulness), and the workers’ capacity to see the world (groups and families not just individuals). Character pruning and character development appear to be a function of perseverance.
After persevering from 2009 to 2012/13, Ed experienced a significant increase in effectiveness in bringing people to salvation and church multiplication. For example, before 2013 Ed’s team would be able to start 10–15 churches per annum, but during 2017 upward of 50 oikos-based churches were started. Ed nominated two contributing factors. The first factor is: “being genuinely loving and interested in people when doing POP searches—you need to be genuine.” Ed says that if a person is not interested in the gospel, his attitude to them does not change, nor does he end the conversation immediately but continues to interact with the person. Ed considers that a POP search is an opportunity to “love people.” Ed shared instances of noticing the needs and interests of people as he moves around the community. Ed may help people by helping pack away a stall at the market, buying a person a coffee or purchasing a chili plant for an aged immigrant. These relevant and genuine acts of kindness often open a door for Ed to share his relationship with Jesus.
The second factor is “sharing with people upfront the requirements of discipleship” and not adding these on at a later stage—even if it is added only within hours or days. Ed now explains to a prospective disciple that to say “yes” to Jesus means that a person turns from sin and follows Jesus as Lord. The discipleship actions of obedience, baptism, and sharing gospel are now “upfront” and integral components of Ed’s initial gospel presentation.
These two shifts resulted in an improvement in receptivity to the gospel and, consequently, church multiplication among ethnic groups, the unemployed, and drug effected people. Ed has not seen much response from Middle Australia or from teens. Recently Ed has added the Three Circle’s gospel explanation tool (created by Jimmy Scroggins) and another tool called Lordship Circles to his evangelism technique and experienced a significant increase in effectiveness.
Ed considers that starting the gospel presentation with brokenness—“the world is broken and so are we,” a facet of the Three Circles presentation—resonates well with Australians. The gospel presentation therefore begins on common ground. The Lordship Circles clarify obedience and the yielding of all aspects of life to Jesus. The use of these two visual tools appears to bring clarity to the gospel and understanding of the commitment required to the new disciple.
Ed has also made these gospel tools, their church meeting process, and Bible story sets available via two paper bookmarks. These bookmarks have ensured that an effective meeting process and Bible content are readily available and transferable to anyone connected to this network. With minimal training, a new believer can easily use the bookmarks to share the gospel and start their own group.
When Ed is talking to an individual, he has in mind the connected oikos of this person. This network mindset orients Ed’s specific approach. The mandate of reaching each person’s oikos with the gospel is specifically taught, modeled, and also caught as culture.
If a person commits to Christ, Ed coaches them to immediately share something of their encounter with God with friends and family. Often a question like “Who needs to hear what Jesus has done for you?” is asked to help clarify who the new believer ought to share with first. Ed listens to their story in preparation for their sharing with friends and may give some guidance if their theology is not orthodox. However, Ed considers it more important that the new follower “shares something—opens their mouth” even if it is not perfectly sound. Ed will work on honing correct theology over the coming weeks with the new disciple.
Ed has found that Bible stories of lostness (e.g., Luke 15, 16:19–31) create the theological framework for new believers to understand that those without Christ are lost. However, Ed has also learned that unless the stories are grounded and applied directly to those that the new believer loves and cares about, the new believer is unlikely to take responsibility for sharing the gospel in their oikos. Ed helps the new believer to consider their relational world and to see the state of their relatives before God. He coaches them to share something of their encounter with God with others immediately. All disciples in this network are encouraged to take responsibility for their lost friends and family in this same way. When considering who needs to hear the story, Ed does not allow a general or nonspecific answer such as “everybody.” People in their network are expected to pray, think, and share a name or names and find a strategy to act on this intent to share. In this way the gospel is “paid forward” in friendship groups.
Ed has a number of Bible stories he reads with enquirers, referred to as “The Stories of Hope.” Ed selects the story based on what he believes the enquirer needs to hear, rather than just reading the next story in the list. He uses an inductive Bible reading process using three questions following the acronym SOS: What does the passage Say, how do I/we Obey, who can I Share this with? Ed varies the gospel presentations because he has found that people respond more positively to different presentations of the gospel in the same way that people have different love languages. As a rule of thumb, Ed has found that after three such discovery group meetings that involve SOS on a passage, a testimony, and a gospel presentation, a person who is earnestly wanting to know God is normally ready to commit to Jesus as Lord. If the person responds, then baptism and discipleship follows. If not, Ed suggests the enquirer read a Gospel on their own and call him for the next lesson once they have completed the task. This tests the level of interest of the enquirer and saves Ed from pursuing people who are not responsive to the gospel.
Once a person responds positively and wishes to get baptised, Ed asks them where they would like to get baptized and who they would like to attend. He will also make a plan to meet with them to begin discipleship often in the location that they first met.
Ed reports that one significant obstacle is a “gatekeeper,” a person who is hostile to the gospel or gospel worker within an oikos group. Gatekeepers can block the worker or the gospel from the enquirer and their network. Ed identified gatekeepers as both an obstacle he has overcome and also as a live barrier in some situations. Ed said that getting around gatekeepers requires “prayer, prayer and more prayer.” Ed reported a willingness to both pray hard and engage with the gatekeeper if prudent, in order to create openings for the gospel. Ed would, however, primarily read passages of Scripture with the new believer that yielded a biblical strategy on how to respond to family who may be hostile to the gospel (e.g., 1 Peter 3, 1 Corinthians 7). This process provides a supportive framework for the new believer but leaves them appropriately responsible for their situation.
When asked about getting people together in the same location for a church meeting, a key issue under review in this study, Ed said: “This is not a problem as we work with the oikos; there really isn’t any trouble in getting people together.”
Ed enquired about the usual times that the oikos group is already congregating and meets with them at this time. This often turns out to be at mealtimes. Church and the Lord’s Supper in Ed’s network, therefore, become a regular extension of or integral part of a family meal.
Ed discusses forming a group around Christ and church cohesion: “They have to have a real commitment to Christ. Not just lip service. They have to be taught to feed themselves.”
In order to help people feed themselves spiritually, Ed does not answer questions directly wherever possible. Ed sends groups to the Bible to find the answers that they are looking for so that they become dependent on Scripture and the Holy Spirit rather than on Ed for knowledge. He is unwavering in this approach, suggesting it sets the DNA of the churches in this network, encourages an encounter with God through the Bible, and promotes ownership of the mission task within the new church.
Ed begins to call a group “church” from the first meeting even when the members would be considered to be enquirers. This is in response to his discovery that changing the name of a group to “church” after it had been meeting for a while created a stumbling block to the group owning the identity of being church and its associated responsibilities.
However, simply calling a group a “church” does not make the group a healthy church. Ed also monitors the group activities as a sign of the health of the church, based largely on the Acts 2:36–47 model. Ed introduces the group to Bible passages that expand the nascent churches’ theological and practical understanding of how they ought to be functioning as a church. The passages can then be passed to downstream churches.
Ed teaches new believers to share the Lord’s Supper regularly—perhaps daily. This ensures regular encounter with grace and the cross contributing much to church identity and group cohesion. Often, the Lord’s Supper is celebrated with whatever is at hand during the meal (coffee and chips); this means this meal is easy to integrate into life.
Current Challenges to Growth
Ed identifies network stability and sustainability beyond three to six generations (where each church in turn starts a church that starts a church, and so on) among Australian converts as an obstacle to CPM growth. Ed identifies two means by which these groups either disappear or stop reproducing. The first is that the network is absorbed into a traditional church. Someone in the network begins to feel that the CPM model or experience is inadequate in some way and then moves a house church or perhaps even a group of house churches under the auspices of a traditional church. Ed observes that this almost always changes the focus of the network from going to the lost to an attractional paradigm where the large meeting dominates church life. Ed observes the missional activity is normally greatly diminished once this transition occurs.
The second is through the church or network of churches choosing to adopt a church paradigm similar to the attractional church model and subsequently acquire land and build a building. This has encumbered this section of the network with additional organizational responsibilities and resulted once again in the development of a traditional attractional paradigm with an attendant drop in gospel sharing and growth.
- We observe the following positive salient features in this movement:
- A prayerful disposition and strategies for motivating prayer within the network
- Access to and the involvement of quality mentors
- Simple transferrable tools (e.g., bookmarks)
- Improvisation and adaption of various gospel sharing tools
- Regular and competent gospel sharing and POP searches by Ed
- Oikos-based gospel sharing and church formation
- Church cohesion appears enhanced by Christ-centered fellowship, regular sharing of the Lord’s Supper, and shared partnership in mission.
CPM Case Study 2: Dean and Rachel—University Campus
Dean is a full-time worker in a university where he applies CPM principles to student ministry. Dean and Rachel (husband and wife) have been working in this capacity for approximately 20 years and began to implement the CPM process around 2011/2012. Dean works with a team of 11 full-time mission workers on campus. Each of these workers is involved in befriending students and sharing the gospel with them on campus and seeking to start and run a Discovery Bible Study (DBS) with enquirers.
The CPM paradigm adopted by this team utilizes materials from various organisations. Campus evangelism is implemented with Power to Change tools such as “Knowing God Personally” or the bilingual tract featuring Chinese and English text of “The Four Spiritual Laws.” Those wanting to know more are introduced to Bible story sets such as “7 Stories of Hope”—a set of New Testament passages that introduce Jesus and the cross using Ying Kai’s Three Thirds meeting process. This team has discipling materials for new believers and for the development of leaders. The curriculum is often delivered via a discovery-based Three Thirds process.
The university ministry also connects publicly with students through a large weekly meeting in addition to holding many weekly small group meetings. Student leaders also have regular team support meetings where Christ-like character, prayer, vision, and skills are imparted and practiced.
Overseas students numbering 20,000 who attend the university campus are the main target group of this ministry team. These students are predominantly of Chinese origin.
Definition of Church
Dean’s group accepts the description of church in Acts 2 adopted by CPM practitioners as their model of church. Prior to exposure to CPM paradigms, their organization had not formed a church among students and had left baptism and sharing the Lord’s Supper to the local churches that they anticipated the students would attend. This model changed during 2017, and the team now feels free to form churches on campus and include baptism and the Lord’s Supper within their practice.
Groups and Churches
There has been a consistent increase in professions of faith (although not baptisms) over recent years. Before 2014, Dean reports that ten to twenty professions of faith per annum was normal for their ministry. When the CPM paradigm and training began influencing the ministry, professions of faith rose to thirty, sixty, and then ninety-seven in the years 2014, 2015, and 2016 respectively. Many of those sharing and leading others to Jesus were students or new believers rather than staff members. This ministry recorded a growth from 18 groups in May 2017 to 50 groups by October 2017, comprising seven G0 (Generation Zero) or training groups, forty G1, two G2, and one G3 group. The large number of first-generation groups is consistent with the transience of the university population as well as the fact that between January and October 2017, sixty-four new professions of faith were recorded among the students.
Ministry Features and Obstacles Overcome
Dean reports that training processes have adjusted significantly over the past four years. He considers a number of factors have contributed to the more dramatic growth in disciple making.
Dean emphasized that the leadership team needed to “get the DNA right so that people understand the inductive Bible study process” in contrast to a preaching ministry model that appears to detract from student initiative. He continually reiterates a CPM vision that each student is a disciple multiplier and is empowered to start their own group if at all possible. Ensuring understanding of the CPM model of the ministry was found to be important during the transition phase of this ministry. This was facilitated by the ministry team regularly meeting for prayer, vision casting, coaching, and encouraging.
The training of new believers to immediately engage with friends, share the gospel, and begin DBSs has been effective. New believers were noted to be sharing faith within a few weeks on campus—much faster than the previous model.
Student peers who share the gospel and lead groups early in their faith journey are powerful role models. Such students set a precedent for others to observe and follow. Given the constant recasting of vision around sharing and student-led groups, and the availability of readily visible role models on the campus (only one of the fifty groups meet off campus), it is not difficult to envisage how the ministry’s DNA has changed to foster group formation and multiplication.
Further, the formation of groups among students is also part of most campus courses where small group tutorial attendance is required. Students are therefore accustomed to meeting in small groups and discussing ideas. The DBS model aligns with this existing campus meeting pattern.
This ministry is supported by a weekly large public gathering open to the campus. This meeting was being attended by up to 185 students in late 2017. The meeting format includes worship, vision, testimonies, and teaching. It provides a connection point to the wider student body where enquirers can come and encounter friends and the message of the gospel.
Dean and Rachel convey a very warm pastoral interest in students. Rachel speaks Thai fluently, which supports efforts to connect with international students. Dean unfailingly points to God as the source of the growth in ministry effectiveness.
Current Challenges to Growth
Historically, this ministry did not baptize those who made professions of faith. Dean’s organization has recently restructured and begun to empower students to conduct baptisms, share the Lord’s Supper, and form churches.
Dean and team have previously noticed a deterioration of discipleship behaviours (sharing the gospel and leading groups) once students leave the university. Dean suspects that by empowering students to make disciples and form and lead church while at university, these behaviours will have a greater likelihood of continuing as their lives extend beyond university. It may also prove necessary to have ongoing contact via online or remote support and coaching systems to help transition the graduates into discipleship and church planting beyond the campus.
Dean also notes that movement principles and tactics are not part of the mindset of the students who join their team; many come from traditional churches and think about growth in terms of addition rather than multiplication. Accordingly, ongoing training in CPM principles is a priority.
- We observe the following features in this movement:
- A large meeting provides a gathering point for all students
- Clear growth pathways exist for learning, developing community, and leadership
- Clear vision is articulated and communicated regularly
- Regular prayer meetings are scheduled
- Immediate deployment of new disciples to share faith is practiced
- Empowerment of students to lead
- Team—there is a growing workforce of volunteers and staff
- Committed pastoral care and shepherding by key leaders.
These two CPM case studies inspire hope for mission in the Western world.
Ed’s case study demonstrates that generational disciple making is possible in suburban Australia. Ed’s success in multiplying groups and churches along relational lines through oikos evangelism is instructive. Ed’s experience demonstrates that prayerful, Spirit-responsive perseverance is a key to fruitfulness.
Dean and Rachel are working among a demographic that is noted around the world to be responsive to the gospel: university students, and, more particularly, Chinese university students. The application of CPM tactics and principles in this target group resulted in a significant increase in faith professions and the number of student-led small groups. The fact that relatively new believers are leading groups is a helpful development and demonstrates capacity to multiply leaders and thereby expand this ministry further into the wider student body.
The two case studies highlight key factors that positively influenced group formation: a clarity of vision, prayerfulness, access to experienced mentors, role modelling and teamwork, simple gospel sharing tools, and clear developmental pathways. Ed reported that referring to groups as “church” from inception, teaching obedience to Scripture, and engendering a heartfelt concern for lostness coupled with empowering new believers to immediately share faith with friends and family were also instrumental to church formation and generational multiplication. Extending existing mealtimes to include church activities was a simple way of avoiding the need to find another time to gather people for church.
CPM practitioners can be confident that gospel sharing and house church formation through oikos networks is a viable strategy within Australia. The inner cohesion of these smaller groups appears to be enhanced by Christ-centered fellowship, partnership in outreach, and regular sharing of the Lord’s Supper. The presence of these factors is reported to promote capacity for generational multiplication.
However, in Ed’s case, their networks are frequently losing members to traditional church models. While these people remain in the body, Ed has observed that the transition to the traditional model is almost always coupled with diminished disciple-making activity. It is noted that transfers occur from every church and, as such, some activity of this nature is to be expected. In Ed’s case, these transfers may be helpful in keeping the focus on the missional task among those who remain. Even so, given that 85% of Australians are not involved in church life and the implied missional task, the loss of any active worker is of concern. Further enquiry and action research is warranted in four areas. Firstly, it would be instructive to investigate thoroughly the circumstances and motivation for transition to the traditional church paradigm. This enquiry could also seek to verify the missional involvement of those who adopt a traditional model. Secondly, it may be helpful to develop and apply better teaching around the nature and form of church supportive of the CPM paradigm. Thirdly, there is a need for exploring ways to support the church and network leaders through improved ongoing coaching and mentoring systems. Finally, it may be timely to investigate the role of more frequent larger gatherings of a number of CPM churches to provide a sense of belonging within a larger social context. Larger social gatherings are valued by most people and their infrequent occurrence within this network perhaps prompts members to explore other church forms. Providing such gatherings may help maintain vision and group identity and mitigate attrition to similarly sized gatherings in other organizations that do not share the CPM ethos.
David Milne is employed by Crosslink Australia training and coaching believers cross-denominationally in CPM paradigms and tactics. David is working with ministries focused on university campuses, urban communities, and new arrivals to Australia.
Darren Cronshaw is Head of Research and Professor of Missional Leadership with Australian College of Ministries (Sydney College of Divinity), Pastor of AuburnLife Baptist Church, and a Chaplain with the Australian Army (Reserve).