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1,000 churches equals thousands of souls

Dr. George O. Wood, newly elected general superintendent of the Assemblies of God, previously served as the Fellowship’s general secretary for 14 years. In determining a new course of direction for the Assemblies of God, Wood has set forth several priorities he believes must guide the future of the Fellowship. One of the priorities that will characterize his administration is a proactive plan to vigorously start new churches. Recently, Wood met with Steve Pike, director of the Assemblies of God Church Multiplication Network, and discussed why starting new churches is a crucial part of his vision for the Fellowship.

PIKE: Why do you believe it is important for the Assemblies of God to plant new churches?

WOOD: First of all, let’s think biblically. In Acts 13, the church of Antioch is growing and vibrant with two lead pastors, Barnabas and Paul. The Holy Spirit says to send the lead pastors away. The work of God cannot continue to exist if it simply stays at status quo.

I had an incredible spiritual experience last March as I stood on the beach at Seleucia — the harbor from which Barnabas and Paul sailed to Cyprus on their first missionary journey (about A.D. 46, Acts 13:4). I was with a group of missionaries. As we prayed, I realized that when Paul stood in that spot, not a single book of the New Testament had been written and only the Jerusalem and Antioch churches were established.

Paul and Barnabas didn’t appear to have a five-year or even a one-year plan. They got on the boat, and the wind of the Spirit, a supernatural and a physical wind, blew them to Cyprus. Because Paul and Barnabas obeyed the Spirit of God, the Church today is profiting 20 centuries later from those churches that were launched.

If our Fellowship is to be biblical and apostolic in the next generation, we’ve got to stay on the cutting edge of what the Holy Spirit wants us to do next. I believe that is to plant new churches.

PIKE: The idea for launching the Church Multiplication Network of the Assemblies of God was born earlier this year during a meeting where key leaders were anointed with a fresh passion for reaching the lost through the best-known method of evangelism — planting churches. U.S. Missions and the ReachAmerica Coalition are working with us. Our target is MX9 — planting or committing to plant 1,000 churches by August 2009. How do you see the national office helping facilitate the starting of 1,000 new churches that could result in tens of thousands of people being reached?

WOOD: The role of my office is to motivate, encourage, resource and strengthen. We do that by focusing on a goal such as MX9. We do that by offering financial partnership to districts and local churches. We raise the level of discourse and conversation and serve as a resource center, helping districts and local churches do ministry better. One of the valuable resources we offer for church planting, for example, is access to the demographics of an area: the residents’ age levels, income, ethnicity, etc. 

More strategically, we offer support to churches and districts through Church Planting BootCamps. These camps help local churches and districts assess the gifts, natural abilities and experience of church planters and tailor those to a particular locality or cultural target group.

PIKE: Another important priority you plan to focus on for the future is “strategically investing in the next generation.” What is the connection between church planting and investing in the next generation?

WOOD: Young people are the ones throughout our Fellowship’s history who have planted the new churches. In the early days when students completed Bible college, they planted new churches. In more recent years, the tendency has been to follow the Antioch model and also send mature leaders to start new churches. But I think the tide is turning to include more young ministers once again.

PIKE: Yes, many more young ministers are planting churches, and they are utilizing creative, nontraditional methods to reach people for Jesus. How will our Fellowship embrace these church planters and their methods?

WOOD: As a movement, we need to be mature enough to recognize the great diversity of this Fellowship. Different strategies can be used to reach people with the gospel. Because the younger generation is more wary of denominations and organized church, the nontraditional methods of doing church may help to reach those without Christ.

We must be sensitive in bringing the unchanging gospel to a changing culture so that we connect the two. I think the Pentecostal message is uniquely tailored to a younger generation, because the Spirit of God is continually innovative, creative and leading us in new directions.

One of my favorite sayings is from Deng Xiaoping, chairman of China after Mao Zedong died. He instituted economic reform in capitalistic ways. He was being criticized by the old Maoists for neglecting Mao’s economic philosophy, which had brought poverty and peril to China.

Deng Xiaoping said, “It doesn’t matter if it is a black cat or a white cat; as long as it can catch mice, it’s a good cat.” 

I think that way about church. I don’t care how we do church as long as people are getting saved, baptized in the Spirit, delivered, healed, ready for Jesus’ coming, and taught well how to live life on earth. We’ve got to quit judging churches or church planters by the methods they use; instead we must look at what they are producing.

PIKE: Church planting is by nature a local activity. What can we do to provide support for grassroots planting efforts to help those who are starting new churches?

WOOD: We’ve been saying it for a long time, but every Assemblies of God church should be a parent or a partner in church planting. That’s the key.

My parents were pioneer church planters, and in their era they had what I call, for lack of a better term, Ecclesiological Darwinism or “random selection and survival of the fittest.” They faced attitudes of territorialism, had no financial support, and received very little encouragement.

New church plants succeeding in those days can only be attributed to the fact they were planted by a generation of people who were truly committed to Jesus Christ and loved what the Assemblies of God stood for.

Today we hope to come alongside church planters and be a cooperative fellowship. Pastors in strong, healthy churches need to mentor, support and sustain staff members who can become future church planters.

If we simply maintain the status quo, then we are in the maintenance mode rather than the growth mode. Where churches get excited about planting a church, that church is going to be planted.

PIKE: Jan. 13, 2008, is Church Planting Sunday in the Assemblies of God. At Church Multiplication Network, our goal is to help every local congregation and district optimize their ministry effectiveness. We want to help facilitate their mobilization of people and resources so they can most effectively carry out the Great Commission.

On Church Planting Sunday, we’re asking that every church in the Fellowship take a step of faith and say yes to expanding the kingdom of God through starting new churches. As general superintendent, what would your hope be regarding the response of each local church and district to this church planting initiative?

WOOD: We cannot go forward unless this church planting initiative is soaked in prayer.

Jesus looked out upon the crowd, He had compassion on them, and He said, “Pray for workers in the harvest, because the harvest is plentiful and the laborers are few.” Jesus always identified the problem not as a lack of harvest, but as a lack of laborers.

One of the core values I’ve stated for our Fellowship is, “We fervently pray for God’s favor and blessing as we serve Him with pure hearts and noble purpose.” It was out of prayer that Acts 13:1,2 took place, where the Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” (NIV). As we pray, God will speak to people’s hearts and lives about what they should do.

To go forward in church planting, we need to open the window to the Holy Spirit and say, “Lord, what creative things do You have for us to do?” And then we must get out of our comfort zones. When we get out of our comfort zones, that’s where faith and sacrifice are born. Without faith and sacrifice, the work is not going to be done.

Every year should be a year of church planting! Evangelism is going to happen and America is going to be reached with the gospel. We want to be part of that.

We’re not planting churches so our statistics will look good. We’re planting churches because people need Jesus. The most effective way to reach people who need Jesus is to go plant a church.

E-mail your comments to tpe@ag.org.

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