Church planting without inviting people to church

One of the catch phrases of the Chinese church planting movement is ‘everyone is a church planter’. With a simple of church, everyone is enfranchised to plant.

Building new churches around new believers

David Garrison argues that one of the common factors in church planting movements is ‘rapid incorporation of new converts into the life and ministry of the church’.[1] Curtis Sergeant suggests that one of the secrets behind the success of the Chinese underground church is that new converts are not incorporated and absorbed into existing churches, but formed into new churches.[2] This helps the process of indigenisation and contextualization. New converts are not given time to adopt or absorb a different ‘Christian’ culture. They naturally express the Christian story in their own culture.

Often opportunities for starting new churches are missed because of people’s default patterns with new converts. The default pattern is frequently to incorporate new believers into existing churches. This should not be the default. The default pattern should be to start new churches whenever you get new converts. There are exceptions when a church is very new or very small, but as a general rule every opportunity should be taken to begin new churches. This can be done either by immediately assisting the new converts to pursue the conversion of friends and family members or by dividing an existing church and sending some of the members (including whoever led them to the Lord) to join the new convert or converts to form a new church.[3]

Church planting without inviting people to church

Here’s how we are thinking we might put this into practice in our context.

1. We need to give people a mandate and encouragement to hold evangelistic Bible studies outside Sunday church meetings (even if they do not themselves lead the study).

2. We will look to nurture evangelistic Bible studies into new churches.

3. We will locate evangelistic Bible studies and new churches in the homes or ‘third places’ of not-yet and new believers.

4. We will allow not-yet and new believers to set the ‘cultural agenda’ of the group while we set the ‘gospel agenda’.

5. We will consider an ‘apostolic ‘ of leadership in which new, unproven leaders are mentored in leadership under the authority of a mentor.So one of our teams is working with a particular ethnic group of refugees. They have started an evangelistic group based on Bible storytelling rather than inviting interested people to attend a church meeting. They want to expose people to Christian community through their shared lives, but not by requiring them to attend a culturally different style of meeting. Their hope is that this group, which meets in the home of an unbeliever, will develop into a church shaped by that ethnic culture.

Another congregation has seen two people baptised from another ethnic group. They are going to start a bilingual meeting in one of the their homes, again with a view to this developing into a church. They groups and churches will be integrated into our network so that new converts also experience the reconciling power, and transcultural nature, of the gospel.


1. David Garrison, Church Planting Movements (, 1999), 38.

2. Alan Hirsch, The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church (Brazos Press, 1986), 214.

3. Curtis Sergeant, ‘Insights from a CPM Practitioner’ (


6 thoughts on “Church planting without inviting people to church

  1. Tim,

    A couple of questions here:

    1. Could you describe (perhaps in a couple of different ways or suggestions) what you mean by evangelistic bible studies and what you think that could or should look like?

    2. You speak of these types of groups “developing into a church.” What are the requirements for a group of people being considered “the church” or “a church” in the way you’re describing?


  2. 1. I have deliberately not defined what form evangelistic Bible studies should take. I think the context should decide. (One of groups is using a chronological Bible storying approach.)

    By the way, please don’t take anything I write as a formula. Work out what will work best in your context.

    2. The groups will become a church when some people are baptised.

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