The Best Strategy for Planting Churches Among Unreached Peoples

by Dr. Bob Finley
Founder of Christian Aid

Most Bible believing Christians agree that our Lord´s supreme purpose for this age is to take out a people for His name from every tongue, tribe and nation. The traditional way to do this was developed during the heyday of European and American colonialism in the 19th century. Churches were urged to "send out missionaries." They would go and live in foreign cultures for three to five year terms, then return home on "furlough." Some were greatly used of God. Others did more harm than good.

I have frequently stated that 19th century missionary traditions have no Biblical precedent. That is, there is no record anywhere in the New Testament that God ever sent an apostle (missionary) to serve where he would be looked upon as a foreigner, or where he did not know the language.

The churches were never told to "send out your missionaries" to foreign countries. Peter, Andrew, James, John and the other apostles who received "the great commission" did all of their pioneer work in Jerusalem. Most if not all of their converts on the day of Pentecost were foreign visitors (see Acts 8:1 and 11:19-26). They, in turn, took the gospel back to their respective nations.

Andronicus and Junius returned to Rome and started churches in houses. Barnabas returned to Cyprus and did likewise. So did 3000 others.

God did not send Philip to Ethiopia, but rather to reach an Ethiopian who was away from home on a visit to Jerusalem (Acts 8:26-39). Saul of Tarsus went as a foreign student from his native Cilicia (part of greater Greece) to the feet of Gamaliel in Jerusalem. God called him to be a missionary, not to India or Egypt, but back to those who spoke Greek. Paul once considered going to Bithynia, but was forbidden by the Holy Spirit. Instead, God led him on to Macedonia (Greece) where he would know the language."

Our Lord has revealed a strategy in His Word for spreading His message. It´s by reaching people away from home and sending them back to plant churches among their own people.

John and Edith Hayward won Bakht Singh to Christ in Winnipeg in the 1930´s. After he returned to India they mimeographed his letters and sent them out to friends. Many sent small gifts which the Haywards mailed on to India. Result: over 1000 new churches were planted, most in places where the name of Christ was not known.

One reason the gospel spread so effectively from tribe to tribe in Nepal is because pioneer apostles reached people from other tribes who were away from home, often in prisons where tribal barriers were minimal.

One denomination sent "cross cultural" missionaries to an Oneida reservation in Ontario. They put up a nice church building but couldn´t get a dozen Indians to go inside. After they gave up, Phil "Flying Eagle" Ireland returned, having found the Lord in Mississippi. With help from Christian Aid he bought the building and within six months had it overflowing with more than 200 of his fellow tribesmen.

When God visited the aboriginal tribes of Taiwan, it seems as though He purposely waited until all foreign missionaries had left the island in 1942. Even the mighty armies of Japan had been unable to penetrate the mountain jungles where head hunters were waiting with poison darts in their blow-guns. But a woman from the Tyal tribe, Chi-oang, ventured down among the Chinese residents, met Christians and found the Lord. So did Dowai, a young fellow from the same tribe. And Wiran of the Ami tribe. The first believer of the Sesset tribe was led to Christ in Hong Kong after having been forced to serve in the Japanese army.

All of these returned to their people and planted churches. In spite of severe persecution by the Japanese military, Chi-oang was known as the mother of ten thousand souls. Through her influence, dozens of entire Tyal villages turned to the Lord. When missionary James Dickson returned to Taiwan in late 1945 he was astounded to find over 100,000 believers among the mountain tribes where no foreign missionary had ever been.

When local Christians saw how Campus Crusade and other foreign organizations were trying to reach college students with the gospel, they said, "We can do that." Thus Student Missionary Outreach was born and with financial support from Christian Aid became a very effective student ministry in the Philippines.

Many "cross-cultural" missionaries have been used of the Lord, but they are exceptions rather than the rule. The primary way by which churches have been planted among unreached nations is through their own people who returned after having found the Lord while away from home.

In many cases those who returned have received some financial assistance from fellow believers where they met the Saviour. This support, though small, has often enabled them to accomplish far more for the cause of Christ among their people than a foreigner could with ten times as much financial backing. That´s why God raised up Christian Aid to help these pioneer apostles advance His kingdom where Christian witness has never gone before.