Some of you have heard the ins and outs of this one before, but many have not. Last spring, we made a significant change to our mission strategy here in Mexico.
So you have a little background, here is our situation:
We work in an area of southern Mexico that is filled with indigenous people groups unreached with the gospel. A group is considered unreached until it has a self-sufficient, indigenous church capable of evangelizing the rest of the group. Our region has hundreds of villages that have no such church, many without any Christians. The goal of our work is to see strong, indigenous churches raised up in each of the unreached villages. We live in a centrally-located market town of about 20,000. One day a week, people from all the surrounding villages come here to buy and sell. Many from the villages have come here to live.
In response to the need in our region, here is what we did:
Our strategy in the past was to form gringo church planting teams to work in the different villages. These teams would begin the slow process of building relationships, earning the trust of the villagers, and then gradually beginning to share the gospel and trying to start studying the Bible with those who were interested.
Here are some problems we found with that approach, though:
- That’s a lot of gringos needed. If you need 3-4 expatriate missionaries per team, even if you can get one team to cover several villages, that’s still several hundred expats required.
- It takes a long time. In many cases, we would work maybe two years before beginning to have significant spiritual conversations and/or Bible studies. By the time you win new converts, disciple them, bring them together as a church, raise up leadership, and then pull out, you’re looking at 10 or more years. To date, we have not been able to get any expat church planters to commit for even close to that long. The longest we have had a church planter committed is about two years.
- What about raising up Mexican leadership? Our former strategy was a very gringo-centric model. But it’s hard to disciple people and raise up indigenous leadership when you’re only in their village a day or two a week. We found it equally hard to get traditional churches in our market town excited about reaching out to the villages.
Last February, we spent a couple of weeks praying and discussing strategy changes we could make to help us reach the villages more effectively. The result of the deliberation was a new game plan that we believe is from God and that has us fired up!
The new plan:
We noted that, in Acts, one reason the gospel spread so fast was the Holy Spirit fell in Jerusalem, the crossroads of the world. The market town where we live is the “Jerusalem” of our region. People from every village within hours live here, and many more come once a week for market. Many people in the surrounding villages speak a tribal language other than Spanish, but those who live in our town almost always speak Spanish well. Those who come to this town are almost always more open-minded types who receive us and our message much more readily.
So we decided to focus our energies on planting simple, reproducing churches in our market town. We are able to reach the Spanish-speaking, open-minded people here much more quickly and effectively. We can better disciple them as we live in the same place, see them often, and share more of our lives with them. Many of those we reach have existing networks of friends and family back in a village somewhere. They can reach these people far more effectively than we can, since we have to start from scratch and overcome a significant barrier of trust. If we properly disciple new converts to spiritually reproduce, there should be no stopping a movement of reproducing churches affecting every village in the region.
We are now several months into this new strategy, and we are even more excited about it now that when we began.
Other benefits of the new strategy, besides those already mentioned:
- We don’t live compartmentalized lives. Before, we had this weird thing where we ministered in the villages but lived in our market town; therefore, we didn’t really view day-to-day living as ministry. Now, everything we do and every conversation we have is strategic and moves us towards raising up new disciples and reproducing churches. This is what the Christian life should be like.
- Not driving out to villages is a lot easier on time and financial resources.
- Before, wives felt like they couldn’t have much part in the ministry. It’s hard to drag kids out to a village all day and then try to have deep conversations with people of another culture. Wives can now play a vital role.
- In the villages, it was hard to answer the question, “Why are you here?”. Now, the locals can see us working through our nonprofit organization and feel like we have legitimate jobs and roles in the community. Our work consists of things that benefit the community, like teaching English, selling water filters, and doing solar cooking demonstrations.
- As we hosted short-term mission teams last summer, they got sold on the new vision. I felt like they were more excited about the work and had a greater understanding of their role in it than ever before.
- Our Mission Training School students are able to do more hands-on learning than ever before. In the past, they went to the villages a day a week. Now, life is their lab.
- Our church planting team now lives in town, among the people they’re reaching, rather than at our mission base.
I truly believe this change in strategy was a landmark event for GFM. It will affect everything we do in Mexico from here on out, as well as what we do in other countries. The impact will be far-reaching, as we train students who will later minister all over the world. I’m excited, because I believe we will be much more effective in the long run as we focus on starting reproducing churches in the “Jerusalems” of the world. Sometimes you have to learn by trial and error, and this was one of those cases for us. GFM will never be the same, and I couldn’t be more excited about it.