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February 26, 2017Missiology

Missions Sunday: Church-Planting Catalysts for Gospel Movements (Part 1)

Catalytic Inputs that Contribute to Movement Development
Missions Sunday: Church-Planting Catalysts for Gospel Movements (Part 1)

Many pastors and missionaries are crossing the globe, teaching, encouraging, and resourcing with good intentions, but questionable effectiveness. Other church-planting catalysts, especially those who work within a denominational framework, manage systems like assessment, church-planter boot camp, financial support, coaching, and others. They try to maintain some church-planting momentum, but rarely achieve movement.

Dr. Paul Gupta from the Hindustan Bible Institute calls for another type of church-planting catalyst, one that contributes to the apostolic advance of gospel movements (1):

Expatriates have an even greater role to play: equipping and mobilizing thousands in these newly planted churches to be on mission for God. As a trainer, consultant, and facilitator, expatriates may serve the national church to develop a church-planting movement, or to equip that movement with the essential leadership skills and resources to grow mature, dynamic Christians and churches. (Gupta 2000, 98)

This article is my attempt to contribute some best practices of church-planting catalysts that contribute to gospel movements, based on fifteen years of experience, reading, and reflection. I served first as a church-planting catalyst for Latin America, then was asked to develop others globally. These are some practical outworkings of the apostolic model of church multiplication that my co-author Craig Ott and I have laid out in the book Global Church Planting: Biblical Principles and Best Practices for Multiplication (2011).

In 2001, I received a call to teach a church-planting course in southern Brazil. We wrestled with new paradigms of a lay movement during five packed, taxing, and unforgettable ten-hour days under a canopy in the sweltering July sun. The Brazilian church leaders were hungry for a way to start many new churches that did not require salaries and buildings. When we talked about God’s work through church-planting movements, the question emerged, “Why are we not seeing this kind of movement? Why are so few churches planting others?” They humbly confessed the reasons:

Obstacles to Church Planting in Southern Brazil

  1. Lack of missionary vision
  2. Excessive preoccupation with the established church
  3. Faulty theology or missiology—reflection and teaching
  4. Not disposed or willing to pay the price
  5. Lack of conviction or call
  6. Inability to work on a team; too much independence
  7. Satan doesn’t want it
  8. Lack of financial and human resources
  9. Lack of motivation and leadership
  10. No adequate church-planting strategy
  11. Lack of training for church planting
  12. The church doesn’t beat with the heart of God
  13. Sin and spiritual coldness

This led to a time of confession and calling on God. Afterwards, one man declared, “Today is the first day of a new church-planting movement in Brazil.” After the teaching was over on the final day, a few of the leaders drafted a resolution. The entire group signed it, pledging to do everything in their power to become God’s movement agents and multiply disciples, leaders, and churches. Later, the association of churches adopted the same pledge and chose a national church-planting catalyst to lead their efforts.

Training was contextualized, workers mobilized, and church planting accelerated. My missionary colleague, who introduced me to this group of Christian leaders, had been praying for a church-planting movement for years. That week in July was a catalytic moment.

In chemistry, to ‘catalyze’ is to add a substance to produce a greater reaction. Church-planting catalysts are experienced church planters who come alongside local kingdom partners with strategic inputs and resources in order to mobilize workers and catalyze a gospel movement.

Catalytic moments often occur when outside facilitators bring in “just-in-time” ideas, inspiration, and resources to a group that is filled with missional impulse. Together they join hearts and hands to produce an increased reaction, resulting in changed lives and new waves of disciples and kingdom communities. Catalysts can serve as activators who provide a pathway and empowerment for emerging leaders toward multiplication ministries.

What elements tip the scale toward multiplication and movement? We have found these five critical inputs, when sustained over time, support movement development:

Catalytic Inputs that Contribute to Movement Development

Catalysts are willing to invest in fraternal relationships built on trust and mutual encouragement. Those relationships must be real, and they must be nurtured. They build on the things that transcend culture and are nurtured by the humility and respect that views partners as equals who can learn from each other. If you see a long-term partnership that has produced fruit for the gospel, you will often find, at its core, this kind of mutually-edifying relationship which is centered by a common desire to advance a gospel movement.

Catalytic Input #1: Relationships of Trust

We must remember that the relationship is not just a means to an end. Catalysts plan extra time before and after equipping events to meet with leaders, their teams, and families. Many times, shared trials are the instruments God uses to forge and grow these relationships. Sickness, cultural challenges, spiritual conflict, and other forms of adversity can bring partners into a deeper level of trust.

Catalytic Input #2: Prayer Foundation

An African saying goes, “We cannot walk where we have not prayed.” We told the story of a missionary in southern Brazil who prayed with others for years for a church-planting movement. That kind of praying gives birth to vision and action. A gospel movement is something that God initiates and invites us to participate in. It is bigger than any one person or team, and can only be accomplished in his power.

In the spiritual battle, prayer functions like the head of the spear penetrating the darkness. Without it, no new gospel beachheads can be won. Prayer not only paves the way for ministry, but in fact is the most elemental and foundational ministry. Through it, catalysts and their partners discern the heart of God, praying throughout every phase of the partnership, asking God for power, direction, unity, and wisdom.

Catalytic Input #3: Partnership in Training

A third catalytic input is partnership in training (2). Catalytic training not only conveys knowledge and skills, but produces change that is mediated by new understandings and paradigm shifts. Fresh understandings of God’s mission and a rediscovery of the nature and purpose of the Church can catapult learners forward. This kind of training is not an end in itself; it serves to catalyze the gospel movement.

We are finding that training is most effective when it is part of a long-term equipping partnership rather than a one-time event. When partners grow together in their understanding and commitment to the multiplication of kingdom communities, they are more likely to assess results and plan strategically together. In the context of trusting relationships and shared movement vision, learners can be expected to apply the basic training before being invited to more advanced modules.

We recommend successive equipping modules based on outcomes in the field (outcome-based training). Evaluation and selection is the responsibility of the local group, with counsel for external catalysts. The goal is that some effective planters become trainers and catalysts and reproduce the training in other regions.

For this to happen, the content cannot be ‘canned.’ Biblical principles that apply globally must be adapted to the local context. People have distinct literacy levels, learning styles, and educational cultures. Those create expectations and preferred learning environments. Because cultural insiders know best what will be effective locally, when external catalysts seek dialogue about the content and shape of training events, this allows for the possibility of a true partnership.

Catalytic Input #4: Shared, Sustainable Resources

Human, financial, and technological resources can catalyze a movement, or bring it to a grinding halt (Garrison 2004; Ott and Wilson 2011). Partnership in training generally implies working together to find the resources needed. The end goal is that national churches will own and support the training and movement through local resources. So if the training is patterned after Western conferences, with nice hotels, copious meals, and comfortable auditoriums, it will always depend on outside funding.

Thus, in many places, the training is held in a place of worship and participants stay in homes of friends or on mattresses in classrooms. If the first generation of training involves people from the different regions, outside help may be needed for transportation and lodging. But all involved should contribute relative to their ability. The principle is this: shared investment leads to shared blessing.

Catalytic Input #5: Coaching for Movement Advance

Job number one of catalysts is to reproduce themselves. External catalysts cannot coach many church planters in other countries, but they can coach a national catalyst who, in turn, will coach several church planters. Training alone may produce good ideas, but training plus coaching leads to implementation and fruitfulness.

Coaching helps bridge the gap between good intentions and strategic implementation. External catalysts model coaching to facilitate discovery during the training. Planters meet in smaller regional gatherings for review, evaluation, and peer learning. When peer review and coaching is not possible, follow up may take the form of a visit or a call from a catalyst. The coaching approach, modeled during church-planter training, is then more fully described and practiced during the training of trainers.

The idea of multiplication necessitates mobilization and deployment with an open hand. Controlling leadership styles will eventually put a limit to reproduction. Thus, the stage must be set by examining biblical models of empowering leadership before a true coaching approach can take hold. This is especially true in cultures of high-power distance. Even so, the practice of coaching will vary somewhat in form, especially where spiritual authority presumes age, wisdom, and experience.

Part 2, Best Practices of Gospel Movement Catalysts, will be available next Sunday.


[1] A gospel movement occurs when the gospel penetrates a city or region, in depth and in breadth, so that disciples, leaders, and churches are multiplied and entire communities are transformed. Church-planting movements are a type of gospel movement, usually the crest of the wave during the rapid multiplication phase.

[2] The word ‘training’ is not currently in vogue. We use it to describe gatherings that equip workers by reexamining God’s mission, reflecting on biblical principles and best practices, and facilitating strategic planning for the development of reproducing disciples and kingdom communities.


  • Addison, Steve. 2011. Movements that Change the World: Five Keys to Spreading the Gospel. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press.
  • Garrison, David. 2004. Church Planting Movements: How God Is Redeeming a Lost World. Monument, Colo.: WIGTAKE Resources.
  • Gupta, Paul R. and Sherwood G. Lingenfelter. 2006. Breaking Tradition to Accomplish Vision—Training Leaders for Church-planting Movements. Winona Lake, Ind.: BMH Books.
  • Mandryk, Jason. 2010. Operation World, 7th Edition. Colorado Springs, Colo.: Biblica Publishing.
  • Ott, Craig and Gene Wilson. 2011. Global Church Planting—Biblical Principles and Best Practices for Multiplication. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic.

EMQ, Vol. 52, No. 3 pp. 134-135. Copyright © 2016 Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. All rights reserved.

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