A Revolution in Church Multiplication in East Africa

A Revolution in Church Multiplication in East Africa

This is a guest post from David Hunt.  David Hunt is a founding director of Horn of Africa Mission. After four years as coordinator of church planting ministries in East Africa he is transitioning to the role of Vice President for North American Church Planting for NewGenerations International, the church planting division of CityTeam Ministries with which he has served in several capacities since 1984. He graduated from Prairie Bible College in Alberta, Canada, did post-graduate work at Trinity Western University in British Columbia, and earned a Doctor of Ministry degree at Bakke Graduate University in Seattle, Washington. David and his wife Lynn currently reside in California along with their Ethiopian son, Tariku. Sons Ryan, Jason, and Brooklyn and five grandchildren live in California.

This is an excerpt of his doctoral dissertation. You can download the full dissertation using the link below. Feel free to read and share.

David Hunt’s dissertation is covered under the same Creative Commons Licensing as this website.  All attributions need to recognize David Hunt as the author of his dissertation.


The provocative question was tossed like a grenade into the assembled group of CityTeam Ministries[1] executives seated around the table in the president’s conference room. “What do we have to show for the $75 million we’ve spent over the past ten years?”  For a few moments no one dared break the poignant silence.  It was almost as if we were holding our collective breaths.  Minds whirled with defensive answers, responses no one wanted to express because they seemed too shallow; the question was just too penetrating.  Most of this leadership team had been together for more than the past ten years.  Diligent effort, commitment to excellence, and kingdom thinking characterized each ones’ contribution.  There were many good answers.  Just look at the reports.  In ten years over five million hot nutritious meals and one million nights of warm safe shelter provided to the homeless.  Thousands of inner city kids had been given the opportunity of a lifetime, a week at summer camp.  Well over fifteen hundred babies were born to women in crisis pregnancy; many saved from abortion.  Thousands of families had been cared for; many marriages restored.  Hundreds of men and women had graduated clean and sober returning to jobs, families, and productive lives. And the list of good accomplishments could go on and on.

But the question still haunted as the hush extended.  It became one of those God-moments when silence was the only appropriate recourse.  Gently He stirred our hearts, “Yes, you have done many good things but I want you to do great things.”  We knew that, for us, the issue was “fruit that remained.” After ten years of service, how many real disciples of Jesus could we identify as a result of our ministry?

The grenade had exploded, shattering the complacent satisfaction with our ministry accomplishments and forcing a deeply introspective self-evaluation that was to lead to a ministry that looks fundamentally and radically different.

Since that day God has birthed a new vision in our hearts, a vision to raise up and empower truly transformational leaders who would be the catalysts to initiate an explosion of literally thousands of new churches – caring communities of Christ – that consistently and rapidly replicate themselves among the poor in communities throughout the world. As one CityTeam leader put it, “We are pregnant with a thousand churches!”

Perhaps there is no better way to communicate the intensity of the passion we began to feel than to quote Wolfgang Simson from Houses That Change the World.

Nothing short of the very presence of the living Christ in every neighbourhood and village of every corner of the nation will do. He has come to live amongst us – to stay on.  We therefore need to initiate and promote church-planting movements that initiate and promote other church-planting movements, until there is no space left for anyone to misunderstand, ignore or even escape the presence of Jesus in the form that He has chosen to take on earth – the local church.[2]

And so began the quest for my part in this new vision; a quest that led me into doctoral studies at Bakke Graduate University of Ministry[3] in the Church and Ministry Multiplication Specialization. Within a year I found myself living in Ethiopia, assigned by CityTeam Ministries as the Regional Coordinator for East Africa. I had little idea at the time what that really meant but had a strong sense that it was part of God’s plan for the revolution of our ministry, a revolution that would take CityTeam from doing good things to sustainable self-replicating ministry through the catalyzing of communities of believers, who would bring transformation to thousands of communities. This dissertation tells the story of that revolution.

Part One describes the church multiplication project that began when I moved to Ethiopia in 2005. These chapters describe the background and some of the discovery process that was initiated in the quest for a strategy that would be the catalyst for a dynamic movement of church multiplication. The specific goals that emerged are then outlined at the end of chapter two.

In Part Two the results of this search for a culturally relevant and thoroughly biblical model of church and church multiplication strategy are presented. Chapter three describes the new paradigms – a new understanding of church, a different kind of church planter, and a new strategy for rapid church multiplication. Chapters four through seven outline briefly the principles that have been implemented and are being used to plant thousands of new churches throughout East Africa.

The theological foundations under girding this project are integrated throughout part two with special attention to the biblical foundations included in the discussion of the new paradigm of church in chapter three and each of the church planting principles in chapters four through seven. In addition, several Scriptural sources are listed after each of these subjects.

This paper is an attempt to make clear a process that spans several years, includes thousands of participants, and is spread over several countries. It looks at the institutional or the traditional church in contrast to a new paradigm of church. It introduces a strategy of church planting that while seen more and more in North America and around the world, is not consistent with the majority of church planting that is done today. Inherent in all this is a significant risk of misunderstanding. Thus it is important that a few terms and concepts are defined at the outset of this paper.

Church Planting. The term church planting is used throughout this paper because it is part of our normal terminology when talking about church growth and multiplication. However, it is important to understand that missionaries or church planters or denominations don’t plant churches.  Planting churches is the work of God, a divinely produced phenomenon.  Jesus said, “I will build my church….”  (Matt. 16:18).  The church’s job is to discover what He is doing and cooperate with Him.  David Watson teaches in his workshops that effective church planting goes to the “edge.”  It is discovering “where God is working [emphasis mine] by His Holy Spirit and through His representatives to seek out and meet lostness for the purpose of evangelism, discipleship, and church planting….”[4]

Imagine being part of that seminal event when “everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles” (Acts 2:43).  The account of these awesome events makes it clear that the apostles were not the builders of the church but the catalysts.  Following the description of that simple first church, “They broke bread in their homes, and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all people,” it says in verse 47, “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”

New church development should be spontaneous and natural.  Church planting becomes the natural and essential expression of the missional church as the gospel is proclaimed in word and deed, and believers are gathered together for fellowship, worship, and mission. What the Church needs to do according to Christian Schwarz is to “concentrate on the removal of obstacles to church growth and multiplication within churches.  Then church growth can happen all by itself. God will do what He promised to do. He will grant growth (I Cor. 3:6).”[5] All by itself has the underlying thought of performed by God Himself.

Church planting today is often understood as essentially a program or strategy which church leaders develop and implement. They gather the financial resources, appoint a charismatic leader, establish an organizational structure, secure property, construct a building, and initiate a marketing program to draw people into the church building for various programs and activities. So the concept becomes one sided – the human side, and the real meaning is lost. Throughout this paper the word planting is still used although the concept of church emerging is also used and is perhaps a more meaningful description.

Church Multiplication: Multiplication refers to an exponential growth in the number of new churches emerging in a region. It is different than church growth that tends more to focus on growing larger churches. A strategy of addition adds one generation of daughter churches to the mother church. For example, the mother church adds one new church, then a few years later one more, then perhaps another one for a total of four churches. In multiplication a church seeks to catalyze multi-generational self-replication. For example, a church establishes three new churches. These three in turn quickly establish three more churches and each one of those establishes three more for a total of forty churches perhaps in as little as two years.

Model of church: Since labels often mislead, this paper avoids terms such as the post-modern church or the New Testament church, the emerging church or the alternative church. The term model is used to identify what the church looks like in the context of this project. This model that has emerged in East Africa is more fully described in chapter three.

New: Throughout the paper reference is made to a new model of church, a new way of “doing” church, a new kind of church planter, or a new church planting strategy. It should be understood that these are new in the context of the people involved in this project. Likely little if anything about this church planting revolution in East Africa is really new in the broader sense. But it has become a whole new paradigm with a whole new outcome for those involved in the project.

Church Multiplication Strategy: This paper frequently uses the term Church Multiplication (or Planting) Strategy. As discussed above it is not the intention to say that the establishing of new churches is essentially a human process. It is not. The term is used rather to define the human role as I have seen it in this project. It asks, “What, according to the Scripture is the Church called to do in terms of building the community of believers?” Rather than a step by step methodology, this strategy is defined in terms of church planting principles that are detailed in chapters four through seven. It should also be understood that it is not my intent to say that this strategy is the final word on how to plant churches. Many have gone before upon whose work we have the privilege and responsibility of building.

Catalyst: Believing that church planting is the work of God and that churches emerge spontaneously and naturally, perhaps the term catalyst best describes the human part in this process of church multiplication. God calls believers to be His servants. As such when they allow Him to inject them in His way into the church planting equation they can become the catalysts for an explosion of new churches. In this project in East Africa it appears that the training in a new understanding of church and a different strategy for church planting have become the catalysts to an explosion of new churches throughout the region.

Church Planting Movement: The term Church Planting Movements has gained extensive usage in recent years with many evangelicals since being popularized by the International Mission Board in 1998 and David Garrison’s[6] book of the same title in 2004. Perhaps it’s the new buzz word overtaking the former Church Growth terminology initiated much earlier at Fuller Theological Seminary. As such it is often used haphazardly and as a result may fail any longer to differentiate from various other strategies or processes of church planting. Because of this frequent mishandling the term is largely absent in this paper.

At the same time the concept of movement is foundational to this strategy of church planting. Movements in the context of Christian renewal or church planting are supernatural acts of God. They are outside of human control. They are not institutional, tradition-bound, managed, or owned. In this East Africa project the movements have been characterized by young believers still in a discipleship and maturing process themselves, passionately in love with Jesus who go from their newly established community of believers to make new disciples in a new region from which a new community of believers quickly emerges. For the participants in this project this rapid multi-generational self-replication of indigenous churches in a region defines church planting movements.

Community of believers: Church and community of believers are terms used interchangeably in this paper. The concept of church set forth in this paper is dramatically different than the concept of church for most Christians today; thus the inherent danger in using a term which we interpreted so differently. However, church is the biblical term and its true meaning should be recaptured as many have tried to do. Sometimes using an alternate term such as community of believers helps to remind the reader that I am talking about church in a different way than most people would think of it. The understanding of church in the context of the project will be discussed in chapter three.

Institutional or traditional church: Reference to the existing mainstream twentieth and twenty-first century church is problematic. While the terms institutional and traditional are used in this paper they are not meant to reflect negativity toward the existing church but to differentiate between them and what has emerged as a new way of doing church in the context of this East Africa project.

East Africa and Horn of Africa: Strictly speaking there is no designation for the seven-country region that is part of this project. Throughout this paper the reference to East Africa, or Horn and East Africa refers to the countries where the project has been initiated namely, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia, Sudan, Kenya, and Tanzania.

Finally, this project is about a revolution; it is not about a rebellion. Someone has said that a rebel attempts to change the past; a revolutionary attempts to change the future. This paper is about the future. Nevertheless, even revolutions are messy. They are chaotic. They are often out of control. And always revolutions are a dramatic departure from the past or the existing norm. By their nature they upset and change what has been. In all revolutions there are casualties. Some things cease to be. New untried realities become the new reality. As the new paradigm of church emerged, as a different understanding of the church planter was arrived at, and as a new strategy for planting churches evolved, it became clear that much would change. Through the determination and commitment of many godly and courageous men and women, a revolutionary process of church planting has begun. In places where the church has been stagnant a new energy has emerged and hundreds of new churches have been planted. In places where there was no church, courageous disciples have gone to declare the message of the gospel and hundreds of new communities of believers are now seeking to follow and obey Jesus. Often there has been intense persecution and sometimes opposition even from inside the existing institutional church, but the revolution continues to spread as a new generation of transformational leaders confront today’s challenges. Boldly they are charting a new course to plant churches in every city, town, village and community so that their nation “. . . will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Isa. 11:9).

It has been my privilege over the past four years to initiate, oversee, and support this project. My role has been to develop the original network of partners in the seven countries, and then to provide the initial training in the new concepts of church and church planting. More than two thousand people were in workshops I conducted during the first three years. As young leaders began to grasp hold of the new paradigms they carried the training forward, and my role changed to one of discipling and mentoring these emerging new paradigm leaders. I also had the privilege of visiting hundreds of church planters and churches throughout the region often traveling for hours into the African bush mostly encouraging and praying for them. In the final year of the project I focused exclusively on the coaching and mentoring of national leaders and on the development of region-wide leaders to take my place. I thank God for the African leaders He is raising up to do even greater things throughout East Africa.

[1] CityTeam Ministries was founded in 1957 in San Jose, California. Its mission statement read “to glorify God by serving people in need, proclaiming the gospel, and establishing disciples among the disadvantaged people of cities.”

[2] Wolfgang Simson, Houses That Change the World (Waynesboro: Paternoster Publishing, 1998), xxvii.

[3] Bakke Graduate University was then called Northwest Graduate School of Ministry.

[4] David L.Watson, “Definitions.” Lecture in CPM Workshop in Nairobi, Kenya, June 2006.

[5] Christian A. Schwarz, Natural Church Development (St. Charles: ChurchSmart Resources, 1996), 10.

[6] David Garrison. Church Planting Movements (Midlothian, VA: WIGTake Resources, 2004).

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