Church Multiplication that Works, and… Doesn’t!

I’m writing this in Japan while on my way home from teaching for a week about church multiplication in Columbo, Sri Lanka.

Actually, teaching pretty much the same material in both places. I’m interested in the overwhelming success of the group in Sri Lanka compared with the United States as we increasingly turn away from Christianity.

The group there number more than 18,000 people worshipping each week in just over 2,000 microchurches. Do the math, these churches average just nine people in membership. But that’s not the whole story. The original church now numbers 2,100 people meeting in multiple services on any Sunday. They generated a network of churches planted by church members who A. Maintain their jobs and careers. B. Serve as freelance church planters, with little or no pay. C. Plant churches among some of the poorest people in the country—some of whom are now planting churches. This is all about serious church multiplication and the “priesthood of every believer.”

What’s cool is that microchurch works in a Buddhist nation where the dominant religion actively persecutes both Christians and Muslims.

A Tale of Two Churches

Contrast Sri Lanka to Japan for a minute. Japanese pastors are the most highly educated and the best paid in the world. In roughly the same time as the group in Sri Lanka has been in existence (from the early 1980s) church attendance in Japan fell from 3 percent of the population to just over ½ a percent. Something is amiss.

While the Japanese copied the American church (beginning with the post World War 2 missionaries) the Sri Lankans did something that approximates the Antioch church and its network in Acts. The one model works, even under persecution and religious tension. The other has failed miserably. That’s why I’m in Japan this week—we’re planting microchurches.

The Times They are a-Changing

That prophet, Bob Dylan, once warned that “The times They are a-changing.” Many disbelieved him, but American culture shifted radically away from God during the 1970s. It’s been downhill ever since.

The U.S. church would do well to learn from people like this. Our culture is rapidly secularizing, even generating hostility to the gospel and Christ-followers. The church population is aging, as is the age of existing clergy. Our future will be different from our past and present. The age of the megachurch will prove itself a blip in history. Millennials are turned off to church in general and the expense of super-size Christianity in particular. They want intimate relationships and a church that cares for starving people in Africa.

So, do we try to stick to business—as is? Or, do we crack open our Bibles and try to re-learn how to do church as a minority force in a hostile culture? Whatever we do, we ought to think it through while the choice is still ours. So, what do you think—am I an alarmist or is there a viable tidal shift requiring some serious consideration? Sound off in the Comments Box below.

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash