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Every person you meet is a window for God’s blessing, church planter says

( Thursday, 6 September, 2007 )

by Tobin Perry     

LAKE FOREST, Calif. (PD)–Imagine if every person you met were a potential window — a window through which you could share the Good News with a whole new segment of your community. Imagine if God opened some of those windows and through those people started hundreds of new churches and brought thousands of people to faith in Christ.
Curtis Sergeant has done more than imagine that; he’s seen it happen.

As a church planter in an area of Asia with few Christians, Sergeant saw a multitude of new churches planted in just a few short years, in part because he and those he worked with looked at new relationships as doors to reach new segments of people with the Gospel.

For nearly two decades the term “church planting movement” has been a regular part of the evangelical vocabulary where missions is concerned. For most of that time the explosive church growth that accompanies such movements has been associated with the non-Western world, in societies characterized by long, uncomplicated relationship chains, according to Sergeant.

“Traditionally the church has done much better in those types of societies because once the Gospel enters a relationship chain it can travel relatively unimpeded all along that chain,” said Sergeant, now Vice President for Church Planting with Purpose Driven Ministries.

Still, Sergeant asserts, the church in the West can use these links to help spread the Gospel as well.

Relationship chains based on geography, socio-economic levels, ethnicity and more can provide a multitude of opportunities where a person can share the Gospel with fewer barriers.

It just takes more work in the West, he adds. Since churches in North America, Europe and, to an extent, Latin America, can’t expect the Gospel to move smoothly through relationship chains, they must focus their efforts on helping the Gospel take small jumps between various chains. The church can do this by helping new converts purposely look for people they know — even if the relationship isn’t strong — who could take the Gospel into a new segment of the community.

“These relationships might not be as deep as those common in other parts of the world, but they’re still relationships,” Sergeant said.

Sergeant gave the example of an Asian family who lives in his neighborhood. Since geographic neighborhoods are not as significant as they would have been in the United States 30 or 40 years ago, many people might not notice the ethnicity of the family. But with his experience in Asia, he noticed the family almost immediately.

“Because of that, I have an opportunity to share the Gospel with that family that others probably do not,” Sergeant said. “Based on my education level, my geography and other commonalities, there are certain people I either can or do relate to — even if only at a shallow level.

“I have bridges or potential bridges to a lot of people just based on my personal characteristics. This is good news because all of the things we look toward as barriers for the Gospel, suddenly become bridges.”

Sergeant encourages believers sharing their faith to not just think about the person who is coming to Christ but also to think about all of the people who could come to faith through that person. That can only happen when those sharing their faith also share a vision for new believers telling others about Christ.

At that point the person sharing their faith can also encourage new believers to look for the people in their life to whom they are most able to share their faith.

“That may allow the Gospel to enter into a new relationship chain,” Sergeant suggested.

Coca Cola uses a similar strategy, he explained. When looking to hire a new manager, the company regularly looks for people who “see where Coke isn’t.”

Sergeant encourages Christians, on the other hand, to have a vision for where the church isn’t; to ask themselves when they are sharing their faith, “What segment of society could the Gospel enter because of this person?”

“If I am looking for that and I condition the people to whom I am reaching to be looking for that and they condition those whom they are reaching to be looking for that, we can have a massive movement of people to Christ,” Sergeant said.

To do this, Sergeant recommends that every new believer write down the names of four or five people with whom he or she could share Christ. Usually, the first four or five people they list will be people to whom they have the strongest bridges. Then that new believer should be encouraged to start his own small group with those from this list who commit their life to Christ.

The most important part of the process, though, is to eventually help the new converts go beyond those first four or five people.

“Over time you’ll help them recognize how they can reach whole new segments of their society by sharing their faith with people who were not in their original core list,” Sergeant said.

Sergeant saw this strategy work in his own ministry in Asia. Shortly after he started the first church in the city where he worked, he began gathering the leaders together regularly. During his time with the church leaders, the group would plot on a large map the places where churches were meeting. Sergeant encouraged the leaders to see where the church was not.

Then they would see if anyone in the church (or by this time, churches) were from a different area and try to see if it was possible to use those people to start churches in places where the church was not currently meeting.

Soon Sergeant expanded the strategy beyond the bounds of geography, trying to start new churches amongst different language groups and socio-economic levels. The process helped to initiate a church planting movement in the city.

“It is amazing how often someone will know someone who can relate to them or there is someone in their church who has something in common with that language group or geographic area or that education group,” Sergeant said. “So they start to see that they have the resources to reach that group.”
That same strategy, he said, could be employed by a church forming new small groups or starting autonomous church plants.

Sergeant believes that established North American churches can help movements like this in their own communities by teaching their congregations how to look at new believers in terms of who they can reach and how to see where the church isn’t.

Tobin Perry is a staff writer with Purpose Driven Ministries. ©Copyright 2005. All rights reserved.

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