|Church Planting by Networking|
[Editor's Note: This article was written in 1999, following the first 3-year cycle of church planting in Yamagata. Though much has happened since then, the article gives the reader a good sense of the model of church reproduction by networking.]
The Lord desires that Japan be evangelized. We are called to witness and to plant as many churches as possible. A healthy church is one that establishes itself while starting other churches.
Church planting is not an easy task. Many churches in Japan have been involved in church planting, but the results have not always been encouraging. There is, of course, no one method for planting churches, but we must strive to develop the most effective strategy possible.
Let me introduce a strategy that we have been using in cooperation with Asian Access' Japan Church Growth Institute, testing it in Yamagata Prefecture since 1996. It is called "Church Planting by Networking."
In order to properly appreciate what has happened in this effort, please remember that compared to the rest of Japan, Yamagata Prefecture has a very slow church growth rate. The largest evangelical fellowship here is our Yamagata Evangelistic Band, churches that fellowship with the Japan Conservative Baptist Association.
In 1948, Joseph Meeko, missionary with the Conservative Baptist Foreign Missionary Society, and his family, along with Setsuko Suyama, a woman evangelist, began church planting in Yamagata. The work progressed so that in 1995 we had 14 churches, with 900 believers. Five of these churches have banded together to form our church-planting network.
Networking is Important
In order to maintain his fitness, one pastor took up jogging. He soon noticed that the same people were out enjoying jogging at about the same time every morning. Within a few days, he had become acquainted with these people. When he would feel tired and want to skip his exercise that day, he would remember his new friends. This pushed him to keep up his daily exercise. The church-planting network works the same way.
Many churches have been started without any kind of a network. But it has taken an extraordinary amount of energy, time and sacrifice. However, if several churches band together around a vision to plant churches, a network can be formed. They can cooperate and encourage one another, greatly increasing the possibility of success.
Our networking plan had a vision to plant churches, which in turn would plant other churches. Five churches in Yamagata (Shion Christ Church, First Bible Baptist Church of Yamagata, Zao Christ Church, Kaminoyama Bible Baptist Church, and Keisen Christ Church) formed this network in January, 1996, with the goal of starting churches which will in turn start other churches. The Japan Church Growth Institute of Asian Access and Robert Logan, a church planting consultant, joined us in this project. For the Yamagata Project, I, (then the pastor of Zao Christ Church) and Jiro Chida (Pastor of Keisen Christ Church) accepted the responsibility of serving as "Barnabas coaches."
The Coach ("Barnabas") is Important
A key to successful church planting by networking is the Barnabas, the one who serves as coach. Through the Barnabas, we are encouraged and trained, and we grow in effectiveness and obedience.
We Prepared for Networking and Enlisted Churches
First, we held an explanation meeting in which we shared the vision for starting churches which will start other churches through networking. We decided on a three-year time frame, and recruited interested churches. One of the pastors served as the coordinator. Here is an explanation of the various meetings that took place.
1. Parent Church Network
2. Barnabas Time for Church Planting Pastors (Group Coaching)
3. New Church-Planting Network
For our project, Asian Access' CM (Church Multiplication) Team provided one missionary family for each of the five churches. These missionaries served under the supervision of the responsible pastors.
What Has Happened?
1. Shion Christ Church (Murayama City)
2. First Bible Baptist Church of Yamagata City
3. Zao Christ Church
4. Kaminoyama Bible Baptist Church
5. Keisen Christ Church
We Look Forward to More Blessings
In March, 1999, a celebration was held in Yamagata City to bring the Yamagata Project to a close. We praise God for all He has done these last three years. However, our network goal has been to plant churches which would also plant other churches. Even though each of our churches was able to see new churches started, our original goal of the new churches starting new churches, resulting in grandchild churches, has not yet been realized.
After three years, the new churches have not yet reached a place where they are stable and able to begin new works themselves. So the churches that participated in the first Yamagata Project, along with the new churches, have joined together to launch Yamagata Project No. 2, which started in April, 1999 and will finish in March, 2003.
Shion is targeting Obanazawa City; First Bible Baptist will start a church in a town in the Sagae City area; Pastor Hiroshi Kawasaki, formerly of the Zao Christ Church, begins ministry in Yamagata City; and Keisen will begin outreach in Takahata, a town near Nanyo City.
We have much for which to thank God when we see what He has done in Yamagata Prefecture, known for being a difficult area in which to plant churches. We pray that in every area of Japan, church-planting networks will spring up, and thus speed God's evangelization of Japan.