One common missiological method used on the field in church planting work is commonly referred to as “church planting movements” or CPM for short. It’s something not widely understood in western and traditional church settings and the language used to introduce it is often unhelpful as it focuses on buzzwords and unrealistic edge cases with what appear to be exaggerated numbers. I’ve talked to many people who are skeptical and even turned off due to the misunderstandings that these blips of vision casting they attend create. Those training and practicing often don’t take the time to clear them up either. I’ve been increasingly disappointed though with what appears to be a lack of communication between different streams of practice and would leave to see them engage each other a bit more specifically. To this end I thought I’d go ahead and write about six of these misconceptions to explain what the reality actually is. I’ve put these misunderstandings in bold below with my thoughts speaking a bit to the reality (as I know it) following. Please comment with any further question or suggestion. Also, if you have any misunderstandings you’d like cleared up let me know and I’ll try and add to this list.
Six Common CPM Misunderstandings
- The mantra Rapid Reproduction means that everything happens really really fast. The reality is quite a bit different. It doesn’t typically happen overnight (there are cases that counter this but they are the exception not the rule). Instead, things don’t move incredibly quickly until a critical mass of local disciples living out their faith is reached. You can’t ignore all the time spent integrating into a culture and building in to these initial disciples though; Jesus spent 3 intentional years with 12 before things exploded in the days of the early church and that’s a more common figure these days as well (particularly when cross cultural work is involved). Rapid is more descriptive of the end game (when things are sustainable and healthy and reproducing through local efforts) not the messy/chaotic/learning initial engagement stages.
- CPM people hate the church. This is one I’ve heard a lot. When people say this they most typically mean ”Traditional Church” or ”Western Church” even if they don’t realize it. Because of the CPM emphasis on simple structures and the core values of what church is, many in traditional structures feel threatened and see CPM models as an attack on what they themselves are actively doing. But it’s important to note that all of the CPM people I’ve come across love the church; they don’t hate it. They are passionate to see it thrive. The challenge CPM practitioners offer traditional models tends to be focused on their commitment to see the core values lived out. CPM people are quick to question the emphasis placed on things like big buildings and sound systems and expansive programs because of this. They get frustrated when these things get equated with church. I’ve known some to take this frustration too far and criticize in really unhelpful ways but many would love to work on integrating CPM principles with traditional style churches. See the book Spent Matches for an example of this done well.
- CPM models are focused on objectifying people. When this is said, people presume that in movement situations people are only valued for how they respond (i.e., if they don’t respond they are ignored and if they don’t respond in the right way they are sidelined). They think that attention given is based on a local disciple’s ability to memorize and perform. I think this comes from a couple of different avenues: (1) the emphasis on obedience based discipleship can override the importance of relationship if people aren’t careful and (2) methodology like ”person of peace” emphasizes connecting and releasing in challenging ways. I can’t speak for every CPM model there is but I know this isn’t true for the model I’ve worked with. Instead there is a high value placed on relationship. To paraphrase one key trainer, strong relationship precedes close discipleship. Much of the language of release (i.e., ”shaking the dust off your feet”) comes from not wanting to force spirituality into a relationship that doesn’t want it. We relate to those who just want friendship and relationship as well as those wanting to explore discipleship. Where we do work that would be considered more “social justice”, all are invited regardless of their spirituality. Now, individual practitioners might behave in different ways but where CPM works you’ll find a high value placed on relationships and the importance of people; after all relationship is integral to the long term health of a community (how often does the New Testament talk about our love for one another?).
- CPM doesn’t care about worldview transformation. This is another common one that frustrates me a bit. Many people hear the word CPM and think “insider movement”and then think “Cultural equivocation. Nothing actually changes. It’s an easy way out.” I’ve heard this numerous times. The actual reality is that worldview transformation is an integral part of any serious CPM methodology. You don’t get healthy church without it. Local leaders should know to be constantly engaging their culture and asking, ”Does this particular aspect point to the divine? Is it spiritually neutral? Or does this thing intentionally point away from Jesus?” The first two categories are things that can be culturally upheld (even if it might seem weird to me as an American); the third category they must stack against the Kingdom of God and they have to actively choose the way of Jesus. One point to note in this: Worldview transformation doesn’t mean transformation to western or American or European ways; it means transformation to kingdom of God ways. I’ve met a few folks who assume worldview transformation necessitates making American style disciples; frankly this is more tightly connected to colonialism rather than church planting. We want healthy contextualized forms of church to emerge (not just American ones). Also to note: Western, American, European and every other culture must actively engage in this process too (and it’s not always easy - just look to John Piper’s recent dust up looking at guns and American culture and Kingdom culture).
- CPM practitioners don’t like partnerships. While this might be true of some people, the truth is that we need partnerships, particularly in the form of coalitions, to actively engage in healthy and lasting ways. Truthfully they are going to be the only way to engage emerging mega-cities. Some practitioners might want to do their own thing and ignore the world around them but we will all go much further by working together. Partnering wherever it is relevant is a significant boon to ministry work. To be honest I think some of this reputation comes from the fact that most practitioners don’t like to waste time and partnerships can be a lot of work if everyone isn’t on the same page. But I know that they are valued and worth pursuing.
- CPM people hate structure. This might be the most common one I hear tossed about. This misunderstanding stems from the early and intense focus on simple church and reproducibility as things are in the initial messy and chaotic stages of CPM. The reality though is that we hold quite strongly to the idea inherent in Einstein’s quote: ”Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” This means that as movement emerges and grows, structures must evolve and adapt as well. And yes, this means the formation of things like formalized theological training and even occasionally, mega-churches. The important note to make is that practitioners want to see structures emerge from within the scope of the movement rather than being forced upon them by outside influences. And structures do tend to emerge in beneficial ways that have the added benefit of being reproducible as they come from the movement itself.
- I’ll add a seventh bonus critique: It’s all about the numbers. It’s not though (or at least shouldn’t be). It’s about the kingdom of God transforming places. This particular issue comes from the books and stories that proclaim mind boggling numbers. More often than not the numbers are accurate and are great for casting vision in regards to the scope of potential but people do tend to focus on them in unhelpful ways. But it is something we have to be careful about not using as a measure of success or pride.
Hopefully this is clarifying for some of you that might be reading. I know I just loosely touch on many of these as that’s more appropriate in the blog setting. If there are any that you’d like to see additional discussion around, leave a comment. Or if you have another potential misunderstanding, leave that as a comment as well. Lets engage about healthy ways to see transformation in the world around us.