– Missional Partners: More Info
by Rev. Hiroshi Kawasaki
Former Director of JCGI Network

Pastor Hiroshi KawasakiThe 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.

33Our 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

Once a month for over half a year, pastors, missionaries, church officers and interested lay people gathered for worship, prayer, fellowship, and mutual encouragement. It was important to support our church planting by systematically preparing for the start.

2. Barnabas Time for Church Planting Pastors (Group Coaching)

Once a month, the pastors gathered for a coaching time. There was time to share specific problems, encourage and pray for one another. Later this became the basis for the church-planting network.

3. New Church-Planting Network

This began several months before the end of the Parent Church Network and continued to meet for two and a half years, every other month. Pastors, missionaries, church leaders and lay people gathered for worship, prayer, and encouragement. It was a time to develop the vision, dedication and strategy for starting the churches. An important part of that strategy was the starting of cell groups. Also, there was a Barnabas coaching time for the church planters to have more detailed discussions.

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)

Pastor Hidemitsu Nawa
Membership: 50

This church began in 1990, targeting the North Murayama Rural District (population: 100,000) and became an established church three years later. It joined the network with a goal to plant a church in the next city, Higashine City. In the fall of 1996, the Higashine Chapel was constructed. They are holding English conversation classes and evangelistic Bible studies, and have a Sunday afternoon worship service twice a month.

2. First Bible Baptist Church of Yamagata City

Pastor Kanji Torii
Membership: 193

This was the first Conservative Baptist Church planted in Yamagata, and is the mother church for all the other Yamagata churches. For this project the church targeted Sagae City, 20 kilometers away. They are holding English conversation classes and evangelistic Bible studies. The summer of 1997 they obtained a building that became the home for the Sagae Christ Church. They first met on Sunday afternoons, but this year moved to Sunday mornings, with the mother church's assistant pastor serving as the leader.

36a3. Zao Christ Church

Pastor Hiroshi Kawasaki
Membership: 145

This church was started by the First Bible Baptist Church in 1969, and is evangelizing a housing development on the south side of the city. Through the network, it targeted an area south of the present church. They rented an office that served as the missionary's home as well as the meeting place. They are carrying on English conversation classes, Bible studies, children's evangelism and cooking classes. November, 1997 saw a worship service begun that especially included children, and then in February, 1998, an adult worship was added. From August, 1998, they were able to rent a building for the church program, and so began Sunday morning worship services. In April, 1999, Kohitsuji Chapel became an independent church, and the assistant pastor of the mother church was officially called as the pastor.

4. Kaminoyama Bible Baptist Church

Pastor Kazutoshi Ito
Membership: 37

This was the first church started by the First Bible Baptist Church. The children's nursery program has been their main evangelistic method. The church participated in the network with a goal to start a cell group church in the north section of Kaminoyama City. They are using English conversation classes, evangelistic Bible studies, and cell groups. Two cells have been started that are led by lay leaders, and they are seeking to begin more.

5. Keisen Christ Church

Pastor Jiro Chida
Membership: 267

This is the largest church of the Japan Conservative Baptist Association, and meets in three locations in Yonezawa, with chapels in Nanyo, and four prefectures (Ibaraki, Chiba, Kanagawa, and Fukushima). The church participated in the network, seeking to pioneer chapels in Nanyo, Nozawa, and Aizu. Regular Sunday services are being held at each location. A pastor has been called to the Nanyo Chapel, and the Nozawa and Aizu Chapels are under lay leadership.

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.

24aAfter 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.


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. This article first appeared in "Japan Update" Fall, 1999 (#38), published by the Japan Evangelical Association (JEA). Republished with permission.