The Book of Acts relates one of the most exciting stories in Scripture: the spread of the gospel from a small band of followers in a backwater of the Roman Empire to much of the known world — despite intense persecution and inexperienced leadership.
How did the early apostles do it? By the power of the Holy Spirit: But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem ... and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8, NIV).
The apostles also employed a powerful Spirit-inspired missionary method for extending the gospel: planting churches. These early churches became the rapidly reproducing means for Christian worship, teaching and evangelism: Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria ... was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord (Acts 9:31, NIV).
That was only the beginning. In the faithful hands of missionaries like the apostle Paul, the gospel soon surged out of its Jewish birthplace.
A missionary recently witnessed the same explosive phenomenon in an unevangelized region of Asia. Following Paul's model, he saw three small churches with eighty-five mostly elderly Christians — the only known Protestant congregations in a population of 7 million people — explode to 550 churches with 55,000 believers in four years.
Similar reports come from almost every region of the world. What's going on? A phenomenon called church-planting movements. It is a "rapid and exponential increase of indigenous churches planting churches" within a people group, city, region, or country.
Church-planting movements have common characteristics: They begin through the work of missionaries or other outsiders but soon become indigenous and self-reproducing. They increase exponentially since new churches quickly plant churches themselves. The movements emerge from prayer and build their foundations upon the Word of God.
They also thrive with lay leaders and don't depend upon professional clergy or buildings for growth. They don't wilt under persecution: New believers learn to expect it, endure it, and, if necessary, die under it.
Most importantly, "a church-planting movement is not an end in itself," stresses IMB strategist David Garrison. "The end of all our efforts is for God to be glorified."
That's where the passion comes from.
"All of our (church starters) are so on fire that we simply cannot hold them back," reports one mission leader. "We did not start it, and we couldn't stop it if we tried."
This passion to worship God among the nations also motivates the growing number of Southern Baptists who are going into challenging places and doing "whatever it takes" to spread the Word. They are planting their own lives with passion. Other Southern Baptists are opening long-locked doors for them through intensive and strategic prayer. Still others are giving sacrificially to help missionaries deliver the gospel.
The fresh wind of God's Spirit once again is sweeping the nations with New Testament power. We need God's urgent passion for reaching the lost. Through church-planting movements, we can tap into it.