Defining Indigenous Church Planting

The dictionary defines indigenous as “existing, growing, or produced naturally in a region or country; something that is not exotic, but native.” When we speak of an indigenous church, we are talking about an autonomous church that naturally (in a manner native to the particular country) exists, grows, and reproduces solely through the labor of national converts. In other words, the church supports, governs, and propagates itself apart from any dependence upon or influence from outside / foreign sources.[1]

When we look at the New Testament, we see that autonomous, indigenous churches were consistently planted by missionaries.[2] It can be safely said that the “New Testament Church” and “indigenous church” are one-in-the-same. The concept of an established church being financed, governed, supported, or in any way dependent upon another church or even a missionary is contrary to anything found in the Bible.[3] The result of the  indigenous church-planting labors of the apostle Paul and others was the propagation of the gospel throughout the entire Roman  Empire in less than 20 years. This is an incredible feat, especially when we consider that this was accomplished without cars, planes, radios, the Internet, or any other modern convenience that we have available today! If we truly want to follow the New Testament as closely as possible and see the gospel powerfully propagated “to the ends of the earth,” we must be committed to the planting and establishment of indigenous churches.

Let’s for a moment take a closer look at the three “pillars” that make up an indigenous church. All three of
these pillars work “hand in hand.” A church cannot be considered indigenous if one of these aspects is missing.[4]

[1]    Obviously, a church planted on foreign soil would not be considered indigenous in its beginning stages, nor can it be considered so as long as it uses or depends upon the services of the missionary. The gospel must be preached and converts must be baptized, organized, and trained so that a continual gospel witness is  established – all of this will be done initially by the “outsider.” His goal, however, from the very beginning is to build the work in such a way that it “takes root” within that country and naturally governs, supports, and reproduces itself /propagates the gospel without his or any other outside help.

[2]    Indeed, these were the only kind of churches planted by missionaries!

[3]    From the moment that churches were organized under national leadership, Paul would take on an advisory role, but would not exercise direct authority over the churches he established. Thus, as soon as leaders were equipped, the church would govern itself. Until that point, Paul had to assume that role of leadership, but this was only for a very limited time.

[4]    From Missionary Micah Colbert’s Philosophy of Indigenous Church Planting


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