Once a week we had “chapel” at the Bible college in Missouri. Most of the time our guest speakers were area preachers or professors from the college. Once the head janitor preached (he had a Masters in theology!), and every so often we had a missionary or church planter deliver a message. At the time I was interested in missions only as one aspect of the life of the church, and church planting was interesting but a bit foreign to me. One visiting preacher came from the Kansas City area to tell us about his church planting work, and that was my first brush with an approach to starting churches that seems common in the U.S., but of which I know almost nothing.
This church planter explained how he had raised support from interested churches, organized a mission organization and fund, and began forming a team. They then spent a year or two laying the groundwork for the church plant. When the “big day” came for their first worship service, they didn’t know what to expect. What they got was an overflow crowd. The numbers diminished in the following weeks, levelled off and by the time the preacher was speaking to us the church was beginning to show consistent numeric growth.
This is not at all like any church planting I’ve ever been involved in, and that’s the topic of my post today. A recent post over on Aaron Mont’s blog has gotten me to thinking about how churches are planted, and as I reflect on my time in Brazil, I can’t think of a single plant I witnessed in action or was told about that took place as these I’ve had described to me Stateside.
The Church of Christ in Uberlandia, Brazil began with two Christian women, friends and housemates, who moved to the city. They began evangelizing other women, especially relatives of a woman named Selma who was from Uberlandia and then living in Belo Horizonte, several miles away. One of the women they studied the Bible with and baptized (yes, women baptizing women…get over it ye legalists!) was the woman who is now my wife. They met, women only, in homes to study the Bible. On Sundays they began to have worship services complete with the Lord’s Supper, hymns and preaching, all organized and carried out by the women and for the women. After several months, the downtown church in Belo Horizonte sent over some couples to visit on weekends. A year or so later, a team from Belo Horizonte, including Selma and her husband Marcelo, relocated to Uberlandia and began working with the church.
I, a Johnny-come-lately, showed up over a year into their work with the church, if memory serves. Christiane and I were wed. After I time I began evangelizing in a neighborhood called Aurora, while Marcelo, my brother-in-law, evangelized the neighborhoods of Pacaembu and Roosevelt. He baptized a household, then invited my wife and I and another couple from the original team from Belo Horizonte to join him in the work of the new church. A building was rented and regular worship services began.
These plants were more “missional,” I think, than the event-oriented plants I’ve heard about in the United States. I just can’t figure out how an American church plant works, and maybe it doesn’t matter. One thing I suspect is that most new churches in the United States start with people who have some prior experience in evangelical churches, while in Brazil the new members are actual converts from nominal Catholicism and even Spiritism.
Any thoughts? I’d especially love to hear from people who have been involved in church planting in North America (Canada and U.S.).