Is Downsizing Ever Better?

Is Downsizing Ever Better?

A BEYOND team member attended a training in a large East Asian country. The 16 trainees were leaders of various Discovery Bible groups that had started in the past year. These trainees had belonged to a growing church in the city.

The church, however, had recently come to a startling revelation: the more the church grew numerically, the fewer disciples they made. Their focus on excellent preaching had failed to produce any real lifestyle changes in their church members. Additionally, they found that as the church grew, they had fewer new believers attending. Their desire to grow numerically actually made them less effective as a church.

In a bold move, the church leaders decided to structure the church to once again meet in small groups. They trained leaders in the Discovery Bible Study group process and ensured all their members attended a small group. 

Shortly after they made this decision, government officials demanded they shut down their large Sunday meeting place. If this decision had come a few months earlier, it could have been disastrous, but these leaders saw God’s hand in the timing of these events. They decided that it was confirmation of God’s will and leading. They would not seek another place for their large meeting. Instead, they would continue meeting as house churches and use the new Discovery Bible Study process.

Pray that God will spur churches to evaluate the true purpose of the Church. Ask God to equip bold leaders like these as they move to fulfill the true purposes of the Church.


Matt* recently led his Christian language teacher through Matthew 28:16-20. When he asked who Jesus was commanding to make disciples,  read more …

For years, three Muslim-background followers of Jesus lived and ministered together in the same Muslim community. The three friends would gather  read more …

One team of disciple-makers in Indonesia had been praying and pondering how they could send out more national workers to unreached areas. read more …

Someone Has to Be First (Part 2)

Someone Has to Be First (Part 2)

The Power of Promise

by Steve Smith

There was a time in Israel when there was no precedent for killing giants. Less than a generation earlier, Israel was paralyzed at the very thought of approaching a giant in hand-to-hand combat. 1 Samuel 17 describes Goliath as a giant of a man who stood over nine feet tall (v.4)!

Saul stood head and shoulders above the men of Israel (1 Sam. 9:2), yet in his own strength he cowered in fear. For weeks, the Israelites camping in the Valley of Elah followed Saul’s example, frozen with fear (1 Sam 17:10-11, 23-24). Each day Goliath taunted them. Each day they fled from the battle. They lived a lifestyle of fear and lack of faith.

When David saw this scene unfold he was appalled. David believed the promise that God would overcome this giant because he understood the heart of God. God had promised to give His people the land and to give them victory over their enemies. In David’s mind, it was Goliath against God. Goliath didn’t stand a chance.

What do you do when you have no precedent?  All you have is a promise. The promise is enough!

What’s going through David’s mind? We are not told, but he begins to shout the promise out loud to the enemy:

“You come to me with a sword, a spear, and a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the LORD of hosts….” (1 Sam. 17:45, NASB)

Whether fear was creeping in to David’s heart or not, we don’t know. But his heart meditated on the promise of God in the face of the enemy.

The promise is enough
At the end of the day, if you have no precedent for a church-planting movement, and all you have is a promise, it is enough. David acted on the promise and became a giant killer. His example served as a precedent (model) for others to follow. What’s radical today is commonplace tomorrow.

Fifteen years ago, CPMs were only a dream. Today, CPMs are almost taken for granted in many places around the world. Why? That’s the power of precedent.

But when you don’t yet have a precedent, the promise of Scripture is still clear. God will harvest a great multitude from every people group and He will launch discipleship revolutions that will rock the world (e.g. Matt. 24:14, Rev. 7:9, John 4:35, Matt. 9:37-38, Mark 1:15-17, Matt. 13:23, Matt. 13:31-32, Mark 4:26-29; Acts 19:10). Live your life based on His promise. He wants to fulfill it in your place, at this time, through you!

Epilogue: Forgotten Precedent
Sometimes there is precedent from history but we have forgotten it. CPMs are not simply a modern-day phenomenon. Throughout church history, there have been CPM-like movements.

Sometimes, there is precedent from history but we have forgotten it. Such was the case with the story of David and Goliath.

According to Joshua 15:14, 400 years earlier, Caleb, at the age of 85, drove out three giants from the mountain God had promised him. The ancient record indicates the race of giants Caleb defeated were even larger than those that David and his men encountered.

Forty years before that, Moses and his army defeated Og of Bashan (Num. 21:33-35). According to Scripture, Og was even bigger still. The Bible says Og slept in a 13-foot bed (Deut. 3:11); remember Goliath was only nine feet tall! Og was so frightening that God appeared to Moses personally to promise his deliverance, announcing:

Do not fear him, for I have given him into your hand, and all his people and his land; and you shall do to him as you did to Sihon, king of the Amorites, who lived at Heshbon. (Num. 21:34, NASB)

Moses had a promise from God. And he had personal precedent on a smaller scale (Sihon). It was enough.

Did the army of Israel, camped in the Valley of Elah, taunted by the giant Goliath remember these stories?

If they did, they apparently dismissed them as irrelevant:

  •  That can’t happen here. Our situation is different.
  •  That can’t happen through us. Moses and Caleb were special.
  •  That can’t happen today. It’s ancient history; God no longer works that way.

If they had forgotten them, it was their loss. It was a precedent they could have used.

Did David know those stories? We don’t know. If so, then perhaps they inspired him as he ran toward the battle line. He had precedent.

If they were forgotten stories, stored in musty scrolls in a tabernacle, unavailable to a common shepherd boy, it didn’t matter. He knew his God. The promise was enough.

This article was adapted from the final chapter of Steve Smith with Ying Kai’s book T4T: A Discipleship Re-Revolution (Richmond: WIGTake Resources, 2011), the inside story of the world’s fastest growing church-planting movement. It was first published in Mission Frontiers Magazine.

About Steve Smith: Steve Smith planted a church in Los Angeles and then helped initiate a church planting movement (CPM) among an unreached people group in East Asia. He trained believers in CPM and worked with the International Mission Board (SBC) in reaching Southeast Asian Peoples. Steve graduated to heaven in March 2019

*CPM numbers have since grown.

Missed Part 1? Read it here: Part 1

From Brick-makers to Disciple-makers

From Brick-makers to Disciple-makers

Lakshmi was the first person ever to wash John’s feet. She and her family are migrant workers from a very poor brick-making caste in India.

Lakshmi poured some of their precious water over John’s feet and wiped them with her hands. John wept unashamedly. As she washed, Lakshmi thanked Jesus for John and the message he had shared. You see, John hadn’t just preached to the brick-makers. He had spent time with them. He had eaten their food and drunk their water. He had shown them how to follow the God who loves them and knows them by name. Lakshmi and several others soon became beloved co-laborers with John in their community. 

A few months later, monsoon season arrived. While the farmers rejoice at the rains, brick-makers cringe. They can’t work until the rains end. Since they couldn’t work, the brick-making families decided to go back home to see family.

But when Lakshmi and the other leaders shared their plans with John, he was sad and confused. Why leave? A year ago, when they arrived, they had been idol worshipers. Now there were 17 house churches among the 40 families of the community. “Why go home?” he asked. “Please stay. We can pray and wait out the monsoons. Don’t go.”

These folks love John as much as he loves them, but they knew they had to leave. That was six weeks ago.

John recently learned that each of the 17 families has started at least one new Bible study in homes among their family and friends back home. Their departure didn’t make sense before, but now John knows that God had a plan to use all of them in their home state. They planted churches in a previously unreached place. Now John looks forward to the families’ return in early October. What a joy it will be to rejoice together over what God did during their months apart!

We all too easily think we know best what other people should do. But in making disciples of all nations, our recurring question must be: Whose disciple am I making – my own or His? To make disciples of Jesus, we all, like John the Baptist, must decrease so that Jesus can increase.

Related Articles:
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Someone Has to Be First (Part 1)

Someone Has to Be First (Part 1)

The Power of Precedent 

by Steve Smith

As a CPM trainer, I often get requests from missionaries to send them CPM case studies. Their preference is for a study that exactly matches their situation. I get requests like this:

Do you have an example of a CPM among educated, post-modern Middle-Eastern Arabs living in Western Europe?

 I check my files. Nope. No case study for such a group. Their response seems to say:

 Well, that proves it! A CPM can’t happen in my people group!

 Their logic makes no sense. The absence of a case study only proves that we don’t yet have a CPM among that people group!

 So, I send them case studies from China. They respond: “Don’t send me these. Of course CPMs can occur there; that’s China!”

They don’t realize that CPM pioneers in China in the late 1990s were told: “It takes an average of four years to win a Chinese atheist to the Lord.”

 So, I send them several Indian case studies.

 They reply: “Don’t send me these case studies. Of course CPMs can happen there. That’s India. So many people speak English there!”

 They don’t know that the area was historically called the “Graveyard of Missionaries” because of its unresponsiveness.

 As I’m beginning to get frustrated, they say they really want a case study for reaching Muslims. So I send them a case study of the largest Muslim-background CPM in the world. But their response is: “Don’t give me this. That’s in South Asia. It’s easy there!”

 They don’t understand that believers in that movement gather offerings to rebuild burned-down homes of persecuted Christians and assist Christian women who have been raped by their persecutors.

 Finally, I send a confidential case study of a Muslim-background CPM in one of the most restricted countries in the Middle East. The response I get is: “Impossible. They must be lying!” (I’ve actually been told this several times.)

 At this point, I see that for some people no amount of case studies will convince them. There is a basic disconnect in their faith in the very nature of God and His heart to reach the nations.

Someone has to be first
There are indeed places where we have no CPMs – yet. The number and diversity of places for which we DO have CPMs increases each year. Just a few years ago, I could count 10-15 CPMs. This past year I felt pretty confident about 30-35.* But interactions with other CPM trainers and mission leaders indicate that the number is much, much higher. What we know is just a fraction of what God is doing.

“And there are many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose even the world itself would not contain the books that would be written.” (John 21:25, NASB)

You must assume that God is doing more than you are aware of even when your heart doubts.

Today, we prepare new missionaries going to Asia to expect that CPMs will develop. It’s not hard to create this expectation because we have examples of CPMs there. We have precedent.

But there was a time when there were no CPMs in those places.

 There was a time when there were no CPMs in China, India, and Southeast Asia: someone had to be first.

 There may be no CPM where you live — yet. Someone has to be first. Be that first one!  In the beginning, when there is no precedent, someone has to be first.

Fortunately, in some places in the world, we do have precedent for CPMs. These precedents are a great encouragement to believe that a CPM is possible and to provide a model for what it can look like. This is illustrated well in 2 Samuel 15-22.

Now when the Philistines were at war again with Israel, David went down and his servants with him; and as they fought against the Philistines, David became weary. Then Ishbi-benob, who was among the descendants of the giant … intended to kill David. But Abishai … struck the Philistine and killed him … after this there was war again with the Philistines … Then Sibbecai … struck down Saph, who was among the descendants of the giant. There was war with the Philistines again … and Elhanan … killed Goliath the Gittite, the shaft of whose spear was like a weaver’s beam. There was war at Gath again, where there was a man of great stature who …had been born to the giant. When he defied Israel, Jonathan … struck him down. These four were born to the giant in Gath, and they fell by the hand of David and by the hand of his servants. (NASB, emphasis added)

This is a remarkable record: four giants killed by the hand of David’s followers. Imagine the situation with the first one Ishbi-benob. The giant spots David and rushes toward him, intending to kill David.

But David is not the one who slays him. Instead, Abishai, one of the army commanders does.

Shortly thereafter, another descendant of Goliath, Saph, fights against the Isrealites. David doesn’t slay him either. Sibbecai does.

Later, a descendant of Goliath fights Israel. David doesn’t slay him. Elhanan does.

Finally, the greatest of the descendants fights against Israel. But David doesn’t slay him. Jonathan does.

What’s happening here? How can four men in succession slay vengeful giants when less than a generation earlier, the entire nation of Israel cowered in fear? How did they learn to slay giants?

They had precedent
David showed them how to slay giants; now they had a model and the faith to reproduce it. One after another, these men slew giants that only a generation before stopped an entire army.

That’s the power of precedent. When you have it, you know how to find victory. The precedent gives you a model and the courage to attempt the same thing.

What seems radical today will be commonplace tomorrow. There was a time when CPMs were unusual. Now it seems like everyone is talking about them. That’s the power of precedent.

But what do you do when you have no precedent?

This article was adapted from the final chapter of Steve Smith with Ying Kai’s book T4T: A Discipleship Re-Revolution (Richmond: WIGTake Resources, 2011), the inside story of the world’s fastest growing church-planting movement. It was first published in Mission Frontiers Magazine.

About Steve Smith: Steve Smith planted a church in Los Angeles and then helped initiate a church planting movement (CPM) among an unreached people group in East Asia. He trained believers in CPM and worked with the International Mission Board (SBC) in reaching Southeast Asian Peoples. Steve graduated to heaven in March 2019

*CPM numbers have since grown.

Read Part 2

He Taught a Communist Rebel to Study the Bible

He Taught a Communist Rebel to Study the Bible

Two years ago, Ethan and Nicole* led an introductory disciple-making training in the Philippines with 14 seminary-trained pastors. Honestly, they had doubts about the outcome. Would traditional, denominational pastors be willing to go outside the walls of their church, outside the walls of their own traditions, in order to obey Jesus’ command to go (not invite)? 

Sure enough, months later, they’d barely heard a word from any of the participants. Then, nearly a year after the training, Jacob, one of the pastors, contacted Ethan. “I am mentoring a group of young pastors in Manila,” he wrote. ”Would you and Nicole spend a few days with us, doing what you did last year?”

After praying together, they decided Ethan would hold the training with Alex, a BEYOND colleague who lives in the Philippines. After the training, Alex could coach those wanting to apply what they’d studied. 

Since then, Ethan has occasionally wondered if anyone was applying the training and, if so, how it was going. In May, he received an encouraging email from Jacob.

“Three months ago, “Pastor G” taught a former Communist rebel how to study the Bible in his home with his family. He has been doing this for several weeks. Last week, the rebel’s son became severely sick, to the point of death. The father remembered the story of the woman who touched Jesus and the story of Jairus’ daughter. At his son’s death bed, he prayed, “Lord, we surrender our son to you if this (his death) is your will, but can you please heal my son as you have done for this woman and for Jairus’ daughter? 

His son immediately sat up and asked for water!

Thank you for this life-changing experience (the training and coaching). Today, our group has 45 non-Christian families studying the Bible in their homes.

Alex adds that since March, when the COVID-19 lockdown started, Pastor G’s church has transformed into eleven house churches, and it is still growing! They have many more people involved in these house churches than they had in their “building” church before the lockdown.

In Matthew 16:18, Jesus said, “I will build my church, and the forces of Hades will not overpower it.” Jacob and these pastors are discovering the joy and fruitfulness of simple obedience to Jesus. The Lord is building his church among the nations (the ethnic groups) of the earth! “All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him” (Ps. 22:27). Hallelujah! 


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