Discipleship Stages for People Groups
As church planting vision spreads throughout our denomination, many Missionary Churches are considering parenting a new congregation in the U.S.A. In keeping with this vision, why not have “twins?” Parent one church among our people that looks like “us” and another one among an adopted people that looks like “them.” This type of vision makes sense because it flows naturally from our denominational mission statement which describes the Missionary Church as an evangelical denomination committed to church planting and world missions.
Although the concept of adoption is easy to understand, there are some very complex issues related to parenting churches cross-culturally. That is why the Missionary Church, U.S.A. and the Evangelical Missionary Church, Canada, have joined hands to form World Partners, our denominational mission agency. The World Partners director has been appointed by the World Partners Board to supervise the ministry activities of our missionary teams so our goal of discipling 40 - 50 people groups will be reached.
Once a congregation decides to participate in discipling a people of another culture, it will likely begin the steps of adoption outlined in the previous chapter. As research is done into various groups, a committee will soon realize that not all people groups are in the same stage of discipleship with Christ. What are these stages? Can an understanding of these stages help a committee decide which group to pick?
World Partners has identified four different stages, called “Stages of Discipleship.” Each stage is important and people groups in each stage need adopting churches. The information about each of these stages is helpful in the adopting process and a church can adopt a people at any stage that interests them.
Discipleship begins here when a people group has been approved by World Partners for cross-cultural church planting. A church adopting at this stage becomes an integral part of the recruiting, training and sending process. The Susu of Guinea are an example of a people group in the Vision Stage. Three churches have adopted this people group and are praying God will raise up a church planting team to go. You can read more about this in a previous chapter, “Where Do We Begin? How One Church Adopted a People.”
In this stage the church planting team is living among the people group and is engaged in language learning, culture study and evangelism. It is in the pioneer stage that the first converts are won, the first churches are started and the first pastors are trained. Bible translation, which is essential for discipling any people group, begins in this stage if they do not have the Word of God in their own language.
The Royal Oak Missionary Church in Michigan has adopted a people in this stage, the Yalunkas of Guinea, West Africa.
Churches adopting at this stage are engaged in intercessory prayer for specific individuals, towns and regions as well as for their missionaries. Short term mission involvement of members from an adopting church may be of value to the missionary team, but this always depends on the physical needs, felt needs and language of the people group. Location as well as the spiritual warfare issues surrounding the people are also factors to be considered.
The Kurds in the Middle East, the Thai of Thailand, and the Yalunka of Guinea are examples of church planting in the Pioneer Stage.
In this stage, trained national pastors are now equipping others for ministry, a skill they have learned from the missionary team. As missionaries continue to teach church planting principles, they often rely on established national leaders to be the primary trainers in church multiplication skills. The parenting of daughter and granddaughter churches has begun with church multiplication as their vision.
Churches adopting people groups at this stage are very active in opening new regions for the gospel to penetrate through warfare praying. Adopting churches can also assist the people group by sending short term teams such as medical teams, street evangelism teams, youth teams and sports teams. Of course the helpfulness of these teams depends, once again, on the location and needs of the people group and the resources of the adopting church.
The Spanish speaking Mestizos of Ecuador and the Mestizos and Aztecs of Mexico are now in the Church Multiplication Stage.
With a strong program of church planting started, missionaries are now engaged primarily in leadership training. Yet the work is not complete until churches have accepted their responsibility for cross-cultural missions. Missionary Church missionaries and adopting churches have a strategic role to play in mobilizing former “mission field churches” to become “mission active” churches.
The Warren Community Church, a Missionary Church in Warren, Michigan, is an example of a church adopting a people group at this stage of developement. They have adopted the people of the Dominican Republic and the people of Cuba. The Dominican Church is discovering their goal of sending church planters to the island of Cuba. The Warren Church is helping to mobilize the Dominican people for missions by praying for the Dominican and the Cuban people and supporting World Partners missionaries who are encouraging Dominican church planters who may serve in Cuba.
As a denomination we have over 100 years of mission history and experience that mission-minded pastors and lay people from the churches in the U.S. and Canada could be sharing with our sister churches in other countries.
The Missionary Church in Jamaica is now sending it’s own missionaries, yet there is much that Jamaican congregations need to learn about sending and caring for their missionaries. Possibly one of the most strategic mission ministries your church can have is to help Jamaican churches understand what it means to send and care for their missionaries. Things we have discovered could be shared with Jamaicans through short term mission trips made by volunteers from churches that have adopted the people of Jamaica.
The ideal goal of missions is to help each people group make its way through the stages from the Vision Stage to the Mission Mobilization Stage. Spiritual growth is so important. Whether you are working one on one with an individual or working as a church with a people group, it takes lots of work, prayer and time.
The Missionary Church has a great opportunity to disciple the 40 to 50 people groups God has entrusted to it. These stages of discipleship help us understand each of these groups and how God is working among them at this time. Hopefully these stages will be helpful to local churches who are seeking the guidance of God in adopting a people group.
As more and more Missionary Churches enter into long term relationships with people groups, the result will be a more effective missions program and a larger and stronger kingdom for Him.