It seems that migration is a “hot-topic” these days, whether ideologically, politically, or practically. Everyone seems to have a perspective (that’s correct!). Yet, I would like to propose that migration is more than those things, it is biblical and missional. With regards to that perspective, how should followers of Christ view migration?
First, we should acknowledge that the world is witnessing the largest number of displaced peoples in history, However, we also recognize that people migration is not a new concept. Unfortunately, many Americans, even or especially some evangelicals, have forgotten how the 16th through 18th century migrations of people to this continent helped forge the DNA of this country’s greatness. America became the beacon of hope for the world’s downtrodden—the descendants of all current U.S. citizens.
As a reminder, in 1884, France gifted the United States with the Statue of Liberty. She still stands as a colossal structure that commemorates the United States’ dedication to friendship, opportunity to provide safe harbor to vulnerable peoples of the world, and devotion to those seeking asylum. Emma Lazarus’ words are more than mere poetry; they are forever etched in the bronzed open book of the “Mother of Exiles”:
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
While the Statue of Liberty is only one example of welcoming the foreigner, the global movement of peoples is recorded as far back as Genesis 1:28 and the creation of humanity. The Lord commanded the first man and woman, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” Of course, humanity rejects God’s mission. God judges the world with a global flood. After the flood, the Lord reinstitutes his mission through Noah and his sons, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Gen 9:1). Displacement can occur for a myriad of reasons (war, famine, disease) and it can also occur as part of the mission of God. Whether examining Genesis or the early church’s rejection to fulfill the Great Commission-mission to “make disciples” of all peoples (ethné, Matthew 28:18-20; c.f., Acts 11:19), the migration of peoples is biblical and missional. This article will briefly examine the biblical and missional aspects of migration.
Throughout the Bible, especially within the pages of the Old Testament, migrations are frequently recorded. Whether the movements at the Tower of Babel or Jacob and the first tribes of Israel from their homeland to Egypt, the Sovereign million-person migration of Israel with Moses to the Promised Land, or the conquering and enslaving performed by Tiglath-Pileser III or Nebuchadnezzar, the Scriptures are teeming with accounts of forced and willful migration. We ought not view migration as a contemporary political or ideological construct of a border wall.
Throughout history humanity has been building walls to keep people out and protect people from within. Regardless of one’s views, when war, famine, and disease force people from their home, the people migrating are generally not excited to leave their culture, customs, and land. Everything must be relearned; how to speak, what to eat, where to work, when to worship, and why change is inevitable. Often, migration is terrifying for the migrant.
One notable historic migration movement that is revealed in the New Testament demonstrates the difficulties they cause. Yet, this singular event ended up providing the world with one of the most widely read works—Paul’s letter to the Roman Churches. In Acts 18:1-2, Luke briefly describes how the apostle Paul met Priscilla and Aquila, “Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome.” As Paul was church planting in Corinth, and because Paul was skilled in leatherworking, he met them as they migrated to that city.
As the account is stated, Emperor Claudius removed all the Jews (Christian Jews, too) from Rome. He disperses them throughout the Empire. But, years later, his successor Nero, with open arms, invites them back. However, the resulting migration of Jewish Christians filtering back into Roman churches caused much turmoil.
Douglas Moo reveals, “[when] the Jewish Christians returned to a church that, in their absence, has become a largely Gentile institution. The situation was ripe for social tension.” The Jews believed that their faith traditions steeped in a Jewish Savior was essential for salvation, while the Gentiles proclaimed that there was no need for the ancient law or ancestral traditions. Turmoil!
Assuredly, the central point of Paul’s letter is to unify and provide the leveling truth of the gospel (no one is righteous), but his work reveals the migration of people to foreign lands and back to their homelands isn’t such an easy task. I’m sure some of the Gentile Christians believed the Jewish believers should “go home to where they belonged.”
While biblically, sometimes migration is viewed as oppressive, confounding, causing division, or otherwise, it is also acknowledged and connected to God’s mission (Missio Dei). The Lord reveals to the prophet Jeremiah, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jer. 29:4-7). Thus, the exile of God’s people into Babylon was a sovereign migration.
Understanding the missional movements of God is not as easy as it seems. For who can know the mind of God (Rom. 11:34)? Perhaps, missionally speaking, God allows the movements of people to occur due to an inactivity of his church within a region of the world; thereby, calling other people groups to that region that will obediently live out the gospel? Missiologists label these groups diaspora. But, who’s to say? One thing is certain, biblical accounts of migration have demonstrated fulfilling God’s purpose and mission.
While in the Garden, Adam and Eve display disobedience to the mission, and by Genesis 11, the Lord disperses the people throughout the world. The Genesis 11 dispersion is a global migration of epic proportions. The Spirit of God creates new tongues and languages to confound and halt the people from refusing the mission of God (i.e., be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth). In Genesis 11, the writer specifically records the people’s intentions, “let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth” (11:4). The last part of the verse provides the context— “lest we be dispersed …”
Thus, the Lord’s dispersion of peoples is foundational to the mission of God and the cultural mandate. The people reject the cultural mandate (i.e., be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth) thus, the Lord missionally migrates them in order to fulfill his plan. Many missiologists (this one included) believe that the Spirit’s infilling at Pentecost is the proverbial reversal of the Tower of Babel (i.e., bringing divine understanding to all people that the mission of God may be fulfilled).
Another recorded missional (and biblical) event sponsored by God was the migration of the early church in Acts 8 and 11. Jesus commanded his church to “make disciples of all nations” (Mt. 28:18-20; Acts 1:8). Yet, it seems the Great Commission was placed on the back-burner as the church at Jerusalem was growing. With the martyrdom of Steven, the Bible reader is informed that the church began its dispersion. While we would all agree that Steven’s stoning is not something that the Lord particularly desired, we do know that he was watching and standing in judgement (Acts 7:56). As well, Paul provides a reminder in Romans (i.e., the migration book) that “for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (8:28).
While there are multiple biblical missional accounts of God’s sovereign hand migrating peoples throughout the world, we must be reminded that the world is in fact, his. Additionally, it’s important to recall that all people are created, “from him and through him and to him” (Rom. 11:36). God allows situations to occur (even evil ones), divinely knowing that he will “bestow on [the oppressed] a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair” (Isa. 61:3). While horrific wars, catastrophic weather, disastrous famine, or infectious deadly diseases do not sound like the love of God, assuredly, the Lord can and will utilize calamitous events to bring about eventual good.
Assuredly, the dispersion of the early church during a time of chaotic persecution was horrifying, but the result was surrounding regions received the invitation of the gospel and restoration of souls. Consequently, as modern migration movements occur throughout the world, displacing millions of people, the prayer of the believer is that God is missionally leading the people to safety. May God’s words to Joshua be encouraging, “The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged” (Deut. 31:8).
How can followers of Jesus come alongside the missional migration movements of God to glorify Him?
What practical steps can you take to promote the welfare of migrants, asylees, or refugees, in order to demonstrate the love of Christ?
Do you have any perceptions or misconceptions that need illuminating by the Spirit of God? If so, seek the Lord with a humble and contrite heart.
Lastly, who can you share this message with?
 Douglas J. Moo. Encountering the Book of Romans, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002), 27.
 Refugee Data Finder. https://www.unhcr.org/refugee-statistics/
Thankfully, the comprehensive nature of the gospel is more than salvation—as if salvation were not sufficient. Yet, the wholeness of the gospel encompasses redemption, restoration, and freedom from injustice. Recently, it has been identified that Gen Z views ending racism (83%), climate change (79%), social equality (78%), and alleviating poverty (78%) as more important than evangelistic mission.
While many evangelicals may have their feathers ruffled with such a thought, I think it’s important to understand that the passions of Gen Z are biblically aligned. I believe they provide a powerful connection to the mission of God and the inherent principles of the gospel (dignity, love, and value).
In the Bible, Moses describes mankind as being created in “the image and likeness of God” (Gen. 1:26). While Genesis 1:26 is one of the first theological confessions, it is also a profound statement that highlights the inherent value and dignity of all people. Genesis 1:26 establishes the essence and substance for understanding human identity, purpose, and even potential.
The Divine Image and Likeness
Being created in “the image and likeness of God” (Gen. 1:26) means that every human being possesses intrinsic worth and deserves respect, love, and dignity. The divine imprint that we possess transcends race, gender, age, or any other characteristic that may divide us. It seems that Gen Z is merely implementing “word and deed” measures (1 Jn. 3:18). They recognize this truth challenges us to see the immeasurable worth within every person and people group. It compels us to work towards justice and equality for all. Consequently, they do not view a distinction or divorce between gospel-living and justice—it’s unified.
The Comprehensive Nature of the Gospel
The gospel message goes far beyond personal and corporate salvation. Yes, salvation encompasses redemption, but also restoration, and freedom from injustice. When Jesus begins his earthly ministry, he cites Isaiah 61:1, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound.”
However, according to Matthew (an eyewitness), when John the Baptist was cast into prison, he sent his messengers to specifically ask Jesus if he was the fulfillment of Isaiah 61. Jesus responded, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them” (Matt. 11:4-5). The incarnate Word brought restoration and freedom to those he encountered (including the condemned adulterous woman).
Absolutely, not, downplaying any aspect of salvation, through Christ’s sacrificial act on the cross, humanity is offered the opportunity to be redeemed from sin and reconciled with God. However, the gospel does not end there. It also calls us to participate in the restoration of all things, working towards the establishment of God’s kingdom on earth.
Succeeding the Millennial generation, Gen Z is the first to be raised in an entirely digital age, generally—they were born between the mid 1990’s to the 2010’s. For the most part, even though cultural background, socioeconomic status, and individual experiences can vary, Gen Z is a cohort of youth that are passionate about authenticity and having unique political and social perspectives.
In observing their list of concerns, it illustrates their value of people. They desire to see an ending to racism, be good stewards of the planet, promote equality, and alleviate poverty. These priorities are deeply rooted in the gospel’s call for justice, compassion, and love for our neighbors. As Gen Z recognizes God’s divine imprint upon every person, they are driven to confront the systems and structures that perpetuate suffering. Their desire is an all-encompassing faith of “word and deed.”
Word and Deed
Thus, living out a “word and deed” life incorporates elements of gospel-evangelism, social justice, and compassion. It involves sharing the good news of Christ’s redemptive work through our words and proclaiming the message of salvation. Additionally, it entails actively engaging in alleviating poverty, addressing the needs of the marginalized, and advocating for justice. It means extending love and hospitality to strangers, embodying Christ’s teachings of inclusivity and value. Above all, “word and deed” living recognizes the inherent dignity of every person, reflecting God’s image in our interactions, actions, and efforts to uplift and empower others.
The comprehensive nature of the gospel goes beyond personal salvation, encompassing redemption, restoration, and freedom from injustice. Gen Z’s prioritization of ending racism, reducing climate change, social equality, and alleviating poverty aligns with the biblical principles of dignity, love, and value.
Genesis 1:26 establishes the inherent worth and dignity of all people as being created in the image and likeness of God, transcending divisions such as race or gender. Gen Z’s pursuit of justice and equality reflects the recognition of immeasurable worth within every individual and compels us to work towards a more just society.
Living out a “word and deed” life involves gospel-evangelism, social justice, and compassion. It means sharing the message of salvation while actively engaging in addressing poverty, advocating for the marginalized, and promoting inclusivity. Such an approach recognizes the inherent dignity of every person, reflecting God’s image through our actions and efforts to uplift others.
 “Gen Z and Gen Alpha Infographic Update,”https://mccrindle.com.au/article/topic/generation-z/gen-z-and-gen-alpha-infographic-update/
In the book of Acts, Luke records Paul speaking to the Athenians, “Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers … said, ‘What does this babbler wish to say?’ ‘He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities’—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection (Acts 17:18). The Greek word translated as babbler means “seed picker.” The philosophers assumed that Paul was creating a new religion by picking up pieces of various deities. However, all good missionaries (and church planters) understand how to “seed pick” cultural norms, values, and behaviors for cross-contextualization.
Recently, a social media meme said, “You cannot reason and rationalize a person from a faith that they never reasoned or rationalized themselves into.” I’m not sure who the individual was that devised the statement. However, while everyone should know that memes are not exactly the best forms of truthfulness, they sometimes contain a portion of the truth. I perceive that the originator of the social media meme had apologetics in mind when crafting their statement. While there are similarities between apologetics and contextualization, we’ll focus on the latter.
Contextualization principles are visible throughout the Scriptures. In the Old Testament book of Nehemiah, it is recorded that the elders stood and “read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading” (Neh. 8:8, emphasis added). The concept(s) of providing people with the ability to understand is essential to everyone’s daily conversations. We strive to ensure that we are understood.
For decades, missionaries have learned and applied the art of cross-contextualization. By employing specific techniques for understanding people groups, cross-contextualization helps a missionary or church planter relate and listen to a culture (hence, picking up seeds). A proverbial bridge to the gospel can be constructed by comprehending the culture’s sufferings, pains, and idolatries. Finally, contextualizing the gospel in a way people can understand is vital.
My desire in this article is to convey three essential principles of cross-contextualization. The objective is to provide practical insight and applications for reaching the unreached. The diagram below will be the basis of the three methods.
Michael Goheen rightly notes, “Contextualization will always be either ‘true’ if it is faithful or ‘false’ if it is not.”The biblical writers expressed the sinfulness of man, the need for redemptive salvation and restoration, along with God’s longsuffering, mercy, and steadfast love (2 Pet. 3:9). God’s longsuffering love for His creation is displayed in His words, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people … I know their sufferings” (Exo. 3:7). All people are created in the image of God, yet sin has distorted that image.
When viewing cultures, it is, therefore, essential to see them through the lens of Scripture—through an objective truth. We become conscious of the suffering of culture due to innate sin. Missionaries and church planters understand the plight and suffering of cultures because they first comprehend the suffering of Christ’s flight into Egypt as a newborn, no home for his head as a missionary, or His expression of Divine love with healing the diseased, marginalized, and broken-hearted.
The writer of Hebrews asserts:
But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering (Heb 2:9–10)
Thus, the gateway element begins with a view of culture seen through the lens of the biblical metanarrative. Consequently, at the forefront of the missionary mindset should exist a unique amalgamated trichotomy of human suffering due to sin, Christ’s suffering for sin, and man’s redemption and salvation through Jesus Christ. For cross-contextualization, a truthful view of the gateway provides a potential path.
Bridges are utilized to conjoin two separate entities. Likewise, building a contextualized bridge unites people but ultimately prepares a path of communication. Sometimes, good “exegetes” of culture utilize linguistics, demographics, sensory perception, or history to discern a diverse culture in order to build a bridge. Listening and observation are practical tools.
In Athens, Paul emphasizes, “I passed along and observed the objects of your worship” (Acts 17:23). The bridging stage is a discernment and internalization of viewing and dialoguing with the culture. For the bridge, the questions that need to be asked are: (1) Is there something the people cannot do without? (2) What do they love the most? (3) What do they worship?
The answers to the questions supply an internalization and discernment of the culture’s pains, sufferings, idolatries, and relationship with God or gods. Goheen asserts that within missionary observations, there should be the overall assumption of human brokenness because “the gospel will always be expressed in and therefore encounter a cultural story that is incompatible with it.” The bridge seeks to connect the culture’s brokenness to Christ’s wholeness.
Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost verify, “To contextualize is to understand the language, longings, lifestyle patterns, and worldview of the host community and to adjust our practices accordingly without compromising the gospel” Thus, contextualization is not a static process. Still, a dynamic one—it necessitates Holy Spirit illumination. For the most part, Holy Spirit-inspired contextualization relates to the missionary’s ability to receive particular wisdom concerning the Bible’s authorial texts, ascertain the text’s meaning, and then apply the appropriate meaning to the given situation. As the Holy Spirit utilized the apostles, we “can learn from the ways that [they] appropriated concepts and images from their world in order to shape audiences.” While this may seem like seed picking, it is intentional thought in order to communicate the gospel effectively.
For Paul in Athens, he reasons daily with the Epicureans and Stoics in the marketplace (Acts 17:17). He quotes a Greek philosopher and a poet during his contextualization. Subsequently, He utilizes general revelation (which he often does, cf. Acts 14:15-17). For Paul in Athens (and Lystra), he chooses to contextualize the God of heaven and earth by utilizing general revelation. General revelation refers to the understanding that God has provided humanity with a valid, rational, objective revelation of Himself to humanity through nature, history, and human personality; man does not need to observe, believe, or understand general revelation for it to be real.
Hence, the missionary’s ability to link together the host culture’s story with the biblical metanarrative isn’t merely that God created the heavens and earth, but that all things have been created through and for Christ (Rom. 11:36). General revelation expresses that God has always revealed Himself to humanity, while special revelation relates to “God’s manifestation of Himself to particular persons at definite times and places, enabling those persons to enter into a redemptive relationship with him.”
Nevertheless, the components of effective cross-contextualization possess three succinct categories (1) the gateway, (2) the bridge, and (3) the connection. All three of these components can find common ground in the incarnational redemption story of Christ. Contextualization is a process of understanding, discernment, and proclamation.
 Michael Goheen, The Church and Its Vocation, 142.
The Covid-19 breakout placed the global church in a unique situation. Churches were forced to utilize social media or sources like Zoom to maintain connections with their congregations. While the church should be thankful for technological opportunities, we should be aware of possible hindrances to long-term “isolation.” Albeit, platforms such as Zoom can be highly beneficial and should be praised for their ability to sustain connectivity.
Covid-19 may have exposed humanity to a virus, but the impact that it has had on the church could be costly regarding ecclesial movements. No one would argue that social media platforms performed as a much-needed service and presence of stability during a time of instability. The leap to online church was not difficult for most Western churches. Many evangelical churches were already broadcasting services over the same networks—they seemed prepared (as much as prepared can be) for the situation. However, now there seems to be a select few that desire to never look back upon the congregational gathering. While I have significant doctrinal issues with “neglecting the gathering the of the saints” (Heb. 10:25), I have more significant practical problems.
I believe sustained online church strategies will quench the guidance of the Holy Spirit, create reproducible disciple-making obstacles, and hinder the innovative pioneering needed for ecclesial movements. With that stated, I primarily desire to focus on the latter of the three in this short article, hoping to write about the former at another time.
So, let’s address the question: what may be two apparent ramifications for the long-term online church regarding ecclesial movements?
Corporations spend billions of dollars in research and development (R & D). For the most part, organizations utilize the collective collaboration of innovative thinkers and analysts to make important decisions about their products and marketing. Subsequently, Covid-19 disrupted the flow of analytical in-person collaboration. Corporations were forced to use social media or tech platforms to unite their employees like the church.
As Covid restrictions were universally lifted, corporations analyzed data and noted a reduction in their financial overhead. Online employees were not utilizing corporate buildings—hence corporations began to sell off their office space. Perceived as a winning solution—remote work thrived. Businesses envisioned a paradigm shift of savings and streamlining.
Why is corporation data relevant to ecclesial movements? We know that culture has shifted from the church to the marketplace. People are the workplace as much as people are the church—basically, the same people! The people who work from home are also the same people watching online church services. There’s an ease of isolated lifestyles—drinking the money coffee is solace, reporting to work or watching a church service in pajamas, or hitting mute and eating crunchy cookies—yet perhaps it produces a collaborated yet individual apathy of collective motivation.
A recent study of US employees indicates that 75% of those surveyed preferred working remotely at least once a week—while 40% stated that they would leave their job if required to full-time in-person work. While people choose to work from home, those preferences weigh on faith and worship preferences. What happens in organizational and leadership culture tends to overflow into the church.
A recent Lifeway Research study indicates that pastors view disciple-making strategies and technological skills as two of the most prominent areas of needed development. The correlation between online church and culture is evident—pastors feel the pressure of trying to connect with congregants. While refraining from using “lack of gathering” terminology, the reality is that online church is producing a collaborative apathy among believers. While technology is a good tool for the church to utilize, it has also relegated the essential nature of the communion and fellowship of the saints as optional. However, this is not the most significant ramification of online church.
Hindering Innovative Pathways
A study involving Europe, Asia, and the Middle East found that “videoconferencing inhibits the production of creative ideas.” I would love to confess, “I told you so,” but I don’t want to be that guy. Yet, the study is not surprising if one understands that people are created in the image of God. As image-bearers, people were made for relationships.Within relationship building is communication. Communicative attributes are not solely verbal but very much non-verbal.
The manner in which someone rolls their eyes at a new thought or concept, the shifting of weight in a chair, sounds, sighs, and grunts all provide clues and insightful feedback when discussing essential concepts. With the conference call on Zoom, many of those vital non-verbals escape notice—especially when microphones are muted or a screen video feed is briefly turned off. However, non-verbals are not the only suppression of collaborative idea generation.
One study notes the dilemmas between eye focus, video conferencing, and in-person collaboration. The video-conferencing participants only view what they see broadcasted from their colleague’s narrow screen. In-person collaboration requires sharing the same space and “visual scope.” The reality is that “idea generation … requires cognitive focus and analytical reasoning … virtual interaction uniquely hinders idea generation,” recognizing that “videoconferencing groups generate fewer creative ideas than in-person groups due to narrowed visual focus.”Understanding that the research and analysis of the extensive studies by major corporations may not be producing the outcomes they expected. Before corporations begin mass sell-off of office space, some conclude that innovative pioneering occurs best in person.
How might this information directly reveal the hindrance to creating innovative pathways for church multiplication strategies? While the Holy Spirit can direct an individual through a video feed as easily as in-person, human relationships thrive and were designed to use the five senses (touch, smell, see, hear, and taste). Perhaps the sense of taste seems ridiculous, but coffee and donuts or shared meals are still the number one way gospel conversations occur.
The online church could be hindering congregants from having idea-generating conversations. One may argue that these conversations are not occurring in person either, but they cannot be cultivated or experienced without human interaction. Historically, the most remarkable church movements were established and sustained through human interaction, idea generation, and strategic gospel multiplication.
I believe it is wise for the church to look into some of the corporate research. While the church is not a corporation, it is a body of believers that manifests the power of the Holy Spirit and the collective love of Christ. If the church is to reach neighborhoods and communities, strategic divine ideas are essential. We should not neglect our innate senses, design for a person-to-person relationship, communication, and life-on-life.
 Barrero, J. M., Bloom, N. & Davis, S. J. “Don’t force people to come back to the office full time.” Harvard Business Review (24 August 2021).
 Marissa Postell, “Pastors Say They Need to Develop Disciple-Making, Technology Skills,” Lifeway Research, https://research.lifeway.com/2022/03/29/pastors-say-they-need-to-develop-disciple-making-technology-skills/
 Brucks, M.S., Levav, J. “Virtual communication curbs creative idea generation.” Nature (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-022-04643-y
In a recent article, I posted the differences between house churches and microchurches. Since then, I have been asked about delineating between missional communities and microchurches. While the objectives are a bit different and each unique, delineation is not exactly the purpose. The objective of delineating between church planting strategies is for gospel engagement alignment.
One disclaimer, for more in-depth study on the subject, one of my recently published books, Multiplying Jesus: Planting Churches describes these strategies in more detail. The book examines and explores the pros, cons, procedures, and steps for each church planting model, as well as provides a biblical and theological underpinning for church planting. For the purposes of this article, the examination will be as brief and concise as possible—illustrating the major differences.
With that stated, and to reiterate the opening remarks, the purpose of strategic church planting models is not to indicate the superiority of one over another, but how to align vision and mission for gospel engagement. Strategies are tools that must have implementation and application. Since we have already surveyed microchurches, we will first address and spend more time describing missional communities.
Mike Breen defines a missional community as a “group of approximately 20 to 40 people who are seeking to reach a particular neighborhood or network of relationships with the good news of Jesus.” I would define missional communities as a measurable expression of a reproducible kingdom movement that exists for regional gospel-saturation. With committed oikos’ that thrive and learn together for spiritual growth in Christ, missional communities are made up of a network of believers impacting a specific area or community.
Examining the above diagram, there are two sets of “homes.” The darker shaded black represents a missional community, while the lighter shade is households that are not within the “community”; those homes represent believers or non-believers. The solid and squiggly black line represents the community street that separates particular neighborhoods. While a microchurch may consist of several households of people that gather together (in community)—their mission is “micro,” it is defined as reaching something, someone, or someplace (more elaboration below). Yet, the missional community has an objective to saturate an entire community with the gospel (everyone). They may have multiple outreaches, events, and expressions of church that are variously aligned.
For instance, the missional community breaks bread together, lives life together, takes care of one another’s needs when assistance is needed, supports missions, community, neighborhood outreach, social justice endeavors, and worships together. Missional communities tend to have multiple elders that serve as pastors. While each home is a household, the community serves and exists as a whole. This means that two or more households may create an oikos for devotions, baptisms, Lord’s Supper, and worship. It is possible to have several different oikos’ within a missional community. For example, out of 12 homes in a missional community, maybe there are 3 collective oikos’. Without delving into a rabbit hole, one might observe the difference between a missional community and a house church, too.
A house church can have members that travel into a community and worship within a particular oikos. It is possible for a house church to have believers from other communities that believe in their mission and vision. Additionally, the house church does not need to focus on their specific neighborhood—they may focus on their city, region, or even abroad. Whereas, missional communities are focused on the people that live within their explicit community. Basically, the missional community desires to see all blue homes (diagram) turn to black, participating in the community gospel-saturation mission. However, just because the homes are blue does not mean that the people inside are non-believers. Those people could be part of a microchurch within their region, traditional church-goers, a house church, or any other ecclesial observing formation.
Looking at some of the benefits of missional communities, it is apparent that disciple-making would arrive at the top of the list. The principles of missional communities are highly attractive to people that are seeking spiritual growth, intimacy, open and honest accountability, and spiritual transformation. As well, people that are seeking companionship, true friendship, and a more communal aspect of life will become excited with this strategy.
Actively and intimately growing with others is appealing. When a member of the missional community becomes sick and needs care, more than a pastor or deacon visit; the missional community mows the grass, buys groceries, cooks meals, and eats with the family (not merely dropping off), they help alleviate lost income (if needed), or any other need. The missional community is immensely connected to another one in prayer, fasting, devotion, and the navigation of the daily rhythms of life. A person with cancer, a teenager with problems, a dying pet, the loss of job, or the death of a loved one would not be able to be hidden from a missional community. They do life together, every day.
Having examined microchurches in another article, we will keep this brief. Recall that micro does not signify small but rather the fine-tuned vision and mission. A microchurch has one objective mission that encompasses gospel engagement—the goal is not saturating an entire neighborhood or community (unless they live within a cultural ethnic enclave), but a focused mission to a particular people, place, or thing.
The common misunderstanding with microchurch is defining it. In a recent conversation with Warren Bird, we discussed how many contradictory definitions were being promulgated. Even among well-known evangelical individuals, there is a misconception that micro means small and intimate. Some evangelicals identify microchurch with micro-expression.
However, a micro-expression of the Kingdom is a broad missiological term that surveys the many different ecclesial forms. Missional community, house church, microchurch, oikos, and any intimate or disciple-making fellowship can exist as a micro-expression of the Kingdom. Yet, microchurch is defined not by the overall intimacy or fellowship size but by the unified mission that exists within the covenant cruciform community of believers. For instance, in the previous article, the development and mission of a microchurch were described by the prodding of the Holy Spirit to call a skateboarding church planter to seek a person of peace (another skateboarder) within a specific culture or subculture (in this case, skateboarders). In turn, the skateboarding person of peace lives within the daily rhythms of his or her life with other skateboarders (skateboarding subcultural enclave). The microchurch only focuses on reaching and making disciples among skateboarders—that’s it—their mission is micro.
As stated earlier, delineating between missional community and microchurch is not to examine the superiority of one model over another, but to assist in gospel engagement. Strategies help church planters stay focused. Maintaining mission-focus is not only vital for planters but for everyone invested and involved. Regardless, can a microchurch decide to be part of a missional community, or vice-versa, a participating missional community oikos decide to become a microchurch—absolutely—they can. The strategies are not denominational or doctrinal, but ecclesial. Models help cultivate movement.
 Mike Breen, Leading Missional Communities: Rediscovering the Power of Living on Mission Together (Pawleys Island: 3DM, 2013), 6.
Research has demonstrated a decline within the Western Church for several years. While statistics have shown that 80–85% of American churches are either dying, declining, or plateauing, those numbers are nearly a decade old (Malphurs 2013, 200). Unfortunately, the statistical data has not improved. A recent Barna Group study that included 34 denominations discovered 1.5 churches closed for every church that opened (Barna 2021). Subsequently, the United States receives over three times more missionaries than any other country worldwide (Matsuo 2014). J.D. Payne suggests that “God is the Divine Maestro orchestrating the movements of some of the world’s least-reached peoples into Western countries” (Payne 2022, 168). Thus, America is the mission field of the world, while within her borders, its Church is in decline.
With that stated, America is in a historically unique situation. While the United States has always been a beacon of hope to all people groups, it is currently receiving more foreign-born peoples than ever before, gathering 44 million per year (Connor and Budiman, 2019). From Census data, The Center for Immigration Studies found that one in eight people living in the United States is an immigrant, and one in five is between the ages of 40 and 64 (Hagey 2007). Within the American Church’s midst exists the ethnēof the world.
A recent New York Times article noted that if America’s current immigration trend continues, it will exceed the immigration influx of Europeans that arrived at Ellis Island in the 1890s (Gabeloff and Jordan 2022). While American missionaries once circumnavigated the oceans to reach the unreached, the people of the nations are here. As President Jimmy Carter once declared, “We’ve become not a melting pot, but a beautiful mosaic. Different people, different beliefs, different yearnings, different hopes, and different dreams” (Carter, 1976). The American Church has the opportunity to shape the world by cultivating gospel reconciliation among its minority and diaspora communities.
As Western Christianity gravitates toward enculturation and stagnation, it is presented with a paradigm-shifting opportunity to re-establish and cultivate missional movements that reach multiple diaspora cultures. Likewise, for the American Church to effectively cease its steady decline, it must redevelop itself, refocusing its attention as a global Church participant. David Bosch affirms, “The Christian faith must be rethought, reformulated and lived anew in each human culture, and this must be done in a vital way, in depth and right to the cultures’ roots” (Bosch 2009, 452). The American Church must reevaluate its thinking regarding the unregenerate among its communities and how it views itself within the global Church. Additionally, how the American Church recognizes and engages culture for multiplicative reproduction needs realigning.
Migration and Ethnic Enclaves
Enoch Wan asserts, “Urbanization is one of the global trends of diaspora” (Wan 2010). One study noted the increase of diaspora communities becoming essential developmental actors that improve socio-economic and cultural connections between the origin country and their hosts (Gamlen 2014, 180-217). Countries that mobilize diaspora for specific international training, business development, or cooperative assignments are not only becoming increasingly more relevant but a form of long-distance nationalistic mission.
Many countries, including China, India, the Philippines, Israel, and South Korea, recognize and implement the practical applications of using vast diasporas for economic, community, and organizational developments. For instance, foreign governments utilize specific student or working Visas for their people to study engineering or medical procedures abroad. Contracted diaspora gain a robust education through diverse cultural perspectives and practices.
Connected to the trending global migration, contracted diaspora, and urbanization is the aspect of settlement choice. Studies show that migrating peoples tend to gravitate toward largely populated areas and ethnically group together. For example, one population survey in Minnesota noted that 97% of the members of Hmong descent lived within the same region (Xiong, 2017). Not exclusive to the Hmong people, research specifies that ethnically concentrated enclaves formulate due to immigrants of a particular origin settling into areas where others from the exact origin live (Cheswick and Miller 2004). For that reason, it is imperative for local churches to effectively exegete their cities and communities to understand and engage the cultural and demographic shifts occurring.
Therefore, in researching migrating people groups, several commonalities exist: (1) urban environments are the chosen settlement (Singer 2013), (2) overcrowded, multi-family, and multiple generational family housing is the norm within diaspora people with the additional trend pertaining to all racial groups (Cohn and Passel 2018), and (3) migrating peoples create ethnic cultural enclaves. By definition, ethnic enclaves are concentrations of people that share culture and ethnicity within a distinct geographic location.
Cultivating Cultural Oikos from Cultural Enclaves
As a practitioner, studying demographics can be beneficial. However, exegeting the neighborhood or city is better. Learning to exegete or interpret culture is just as crucial as biblical studies. One method for the Church to exegete community is by examining existing data. Another method to exegete community is for churches or organizations to deploy small groups that collect data by walking, observing, and recording. This last method can be tedious but more thorough and complete.
Regardless, for this scenario, utilizing the microchurch model will be an effective strategy. The microchurch planter feels the call of God and the prodding of the Spirit to reach a particular people group (if you want to know more about microchurches, click here). After establishing a relationship with a couple, they become his “persons of peace.” For decades, missionaries have utilized the person of peace concept (Lk. 10:6). Jesus instructed his disciple-making apostles with their marching orders, declaring, “Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!’ And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him” (Lk.10:5–6). As missionaries sought out the person of peace within a community, they rightly sought out hospitable and influencing type individuals that provided an opportunity to reach a village or people group.
There is a straightforward relationship between strategic church planting and immigrant overcrowded living, settlement, and housing. The comprehension that diaspora and migrating people create concentrated ethnic enclaves, dwelling within multigenerational and multi-family dwellings, relates to the attraction of utilizing the microchurch cultural oikos strategy. Biblically, the Greek word oikos refers to a household or dwelling. For church planting strategies, the organizational attributes of the oikos help cultivate intentional reproducible gospel reconciliation. Cultural enclaves can produce cultural oikos.
As the microchurch planter reaches and connects with his persons of peace, he has two developing scenarios. First, he can become the planter/elder/pastor to cultivate gospel reconciliation among the people group that he feels called to reach, or second, he can become the catalyst planter, discipling the persons of peace couple, so that they can be the elders/pastors of the microchurch. Regardless, without the persons of peace, reaching the ethnic enclave may not be easy.
In the diagram below, the planter becomes the lead elder, discipling the persons of peace. As they are discipled, they reach the cultural enclave, being invited to gather with the lead elder and couple. As the same nationality, ethnicity, and race, the cultural enclave is connected to the persons of peace. The persons of peace begin reaching others in their community enclave, in turn, cultivating the development of a microchurch cultural oikos.
Nevertheless, the closeness and constant communication within these dwelling places represent a cultural oikos in which greater opportunity for gospel saturation and reconciliation exists.
Subsequently, as someone more catalytic, helping the persons of peace become indigenous microchurch planters has similar features. The catalytic planter disciples the persons of peace in the same manner as the first strategy; however, he does not engage the microchurch plant as a participant. The catalyst’s role is to help cultivate as many microchurch cultural oikos’ as possible, by discipling persons of peace to engage their cultural enclaves.
Nevertheless, the goal is reproducible disciple-making. The missiological term cultural oikos only helps identify gospel engagement strategies. Understanding that diaspora and migrating groups are not models but people with deeply rooted rituals, ideologies, and beliefs—for the microchurch planter, the person of peace is vital. As one missiologist noted, “For many of these people groups, Christianity is viewed as a competing political and religious force that threatens to break up families and communities. These people need to be reached through a gospel movement emphasizing God’s blessing to heal and strengthen families. Many of these people groups have deep roots in their traditions, which can make it difficult for them to choose the gospel” (East West, n.d.). Gospel movements provide reproducibility and healing, restoring and reconciling the image of God, back to God. While a difficulty exists to infiltrate some traditions, rituals, and roots, the person of peace becomes the archetypal biblical Roman Centurion or Philippian jailer (Acts 10:2, 16:21). These reconciled men served as influencers among their people and became the gateway for their cultural enclave to become a cultural oikos to receive gospel reconciliation.
The primary content of this article was presented at the Evangelical Missiological Society Southeast Conference, March 19th, 2022. If you’d like a full copy of the article “Planting Urban Microchurches: Utilizing the Cultural Oikos to Cultivate Gospel reconciliation Among Minority and Diaspora Communities,” please feel free to contact me.