We talk plenty about church planting (at least I do). But I wonder sometimes if the more accurate term might be “church finding.”
Missionary Paul Okken was once looking over a huge valley inhabited by many tribal people. He was an evangelist by gift and calling and felt a burden for all the people living in clusters across the valley. He shared the gospel message and a handful of people came to faith.
Paul Okken then developed a method from a very simple New Testament theology: the concept of the congregation as a body with discernible parts. Whenever a person came to Christ, his missions team assumed God wanted a body of believers established there. At the first convert, the missionary team did not know if they had uncovered a hand or a leg. So they would continue evangelizing, until they could discern in the new believers’ group enough of a body, with its various functional parts, to make a viable church.
At one point, the team of missionaries wanted to move on, but Paul told them, “No, we can’t leave here yet. That man is the one who God has given the pastoral gift to care for the flock, and he’s not a Christian yet. We have to keep coming back here until he gets saved.”
It’s such a simple concept: every time there is a new convert, you have discovered an elbow, a kneecap, or a nose. The assumption is that the rest of the body must be nearby and a church will emerge through evangelizing the new convert’s network of relationships. Through any one person, you can find the seeds of a new church. Discover where God is already working and leverage those people and relationships to find the rest of the church emerging.