Church Planting and Evangelism in the Twenty-first Century

From the ministry of Jesus Christ and the early Church, it was clear that the gospel message was intended not only for the transformation of individuals, but entire communities. It was in the context of community that lives were transformed and also for transformed lives to transform entire communities.

It was in communities of faith as experienced in the early Church that believers exercised their spiritual gifts, new believers were taught and mentored into maturity, and “the Lord added to their number daily” (Acts 2:47). And as the Lord added to their number daily, more communities were formed to accommodate their growing numbers, as well as the commissioning of a few from their own ranks to bring the gospel to other peoples to form yet even more communities of faith.

This interconnected relationship between evangelism and church planting was not only a distinctive mark of the early Church, but it continues to be the hallmark of a healthy Christian community today. The great message of hope and salvation is communicated through the life of the person of Jesus Christ to others and continues to be communicated through life upon life—whether it is from a brief encounter or through many years together. But from the very beginning, the Lord intended for the message to be communicated through individuals who are part of a community of faith and for new believers to be brought into the community of faith. And as believers multiply, new church bodies are to be formed. The missio dei was never intended to be insular, but rather to spread exponentially to all peoples in exciting new ways.

In our day, the need to highlight the importance of evangelism and church planting cannot be reiterated enough. This past February 2008, as the Lausanne Theology Working Group convened in Chiang Mai, numerous dimensions of the gospel message were studied. Emphasis was on how we understand the gospel message to truly be good news to help deliver this message to a world thirsting for such good news.

Expressions of the Christian faith and how we come together in community have also become increasingly more complex and varied; however, the message and the need for the message have not changed—only how we deliver it. This is why the need for church planting to speak to such various peoples and people groups is so great. From house churches to megachurches to internet churches, from churches in the great urban cities of the world to churches in Islamic contexts, Buddhist contexts, socialist contexts, and poverty-stricken contexts, the challenges are formidable. However, the potential expression is so great to be a glorious expression of the amazing power and universality of the gospel and the Church to be the divine Body of Christ.

In this issue of LWP, I am delighted to present to you perspectives on evangelism and church planting. It is my prayer that as we engage further in thought and action, we will be inspired and spurred on toward the hope of the gospel for every people, nation, tribe, and tongue.

Doug Birdsall is executive chair of the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization. He served as president of Asian Access from 1991 to 2007 and continues to serve on their board of directors. Birdsall is a graduate of Wheaton College, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and Harvard University. He is co-publisher of Lausanne World Pulse.