In military strategy, one of the biggest concerns is spreading forces too thin. Doing so, increases the territory covered, but also reduces effectiveness. History is replete with examples of powerful militaries rendered weak because they tried to hold too much territory too fast.
The same can be true for people. Everyone knows people who are so busy doing so many things that they are incapable of accomplishing much of anything. We likewise say that such a person is “spread too thin.”
The same applies to missions. Frequently, churches use a “shotgun” approach in missions strategy–trying to cover as much territory as they possibly can. The logic is that reaching new territories means touching more lives. However, the same limitations that govern militaries and individuals apply also to missions work. Rarely are there sufficient financial resources and adequate personnel available to be effective when people and resources are spread too thin. Attempting to cover a broader expanse can debilitate the entire enterprise.
In contrast, one of the key concepts of the Encounter with God approach to missions is a firm commitment to concentrating human and financial resources in a limited arena. This means beginning with one church in one city. This initial church has a capacity to develop more ministries, reach more people and achieve greater impact than it would otherwise be able to dream. Such churches advance and develop much faster, quickly becoming partners in future expansion efforts. The result is reproduction by multiplication rather than simple addition.
Over time this concentrated focuses produces a network capable of generating the resources and leadership required for sustaining reproduction without dependence on outside resources. Strong churches of this nature will reach new territories and hold greater promise of discipling entire nations for Jesus Christ.
In Jesus’ last words to His disciples, He commanded them to be His witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria and to the uttermost parts of the earth.
In fact, the remainder of the Book of Acts relates how this was precisely the manner in which the gospel went forth—step by step from the epicenter in Jerusalem. It spread to Samaria and other parts of Judea. When persecution began, the church took another step to the city of Antioch. From there Paul and Barnabas carried the message progressively step by step westward through the Roman Empire.
In a similar way, CMI believes that this “small step” approach remains the best way to disciple nations for Jesus Christ. Concentrating missionaries in urban centers is an effective way that this can be done. This does not mean missionaries shouldn’t go to remote places if the Lord calls them there. It does mean that redeploying a substantial number of missionaries into cities may be the most effective way of taking the gospel to that country.
When a missionary is sent from North America to the jungles, a huge step is taken. That step results in a tremendous gap in all areas—including housing, food, transportation, language and culture and in the ability to establish understanding between peoples of such diverse backgrounds. When a missionary from North America is sent to a capital city it is a smaller step. Some adjustments to culture, another language and they’re soon at work.
When the people of the city are won to Christ and challenged properly, they can go to the secondary cities—again a small step. These people in turn can go to the provinces and those of the provinces can go to the jungles.
Each group taking only a small step in systematically reaching their country with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Whether you have personally visited them or not, it is likely that you have seen pictures of skyscrapers like the Sears Tower or the Empire State Building. These colossal structures tower above the skyline, dominating the other buildings around them. On any given day, hundreds of people will come to marvel at the heights to which they stretch. They are truly amazing sights.
But while nearly everyone would want to ride to the top to take in just how high these man-made marvels reach, very few consider going down to look at their foundations. In truth, as impressive as they are, they are only as good as their supports.
In the same way, to truly understand Encounter with God, we must look at its foundation. Essential to the Encounter Movement is its deep connection to three biblical foundations that guide and undergird all other concepts and principles.
Great Commission Oriented
First and foremost, Encounter is Great Commission oriented (Matt. 28:18-20). The intent of the Encounter with God Strategy is to, as the Commission states, “make disciples of all nations.” This demands a balance of evangelism and discipleship. Reaching new people with the gospel is essential, but there must also be a commitment to maturing each new believer if we are to keep the Lord’s command.
Local Congregation Centered
Discipleship is best done in the context of the local body of believers. In fact, this is the one institution that Christ established. Likewise, when the Apostle Paul conducted his missionary efforts his primary method was the establishment of local congregations that were responsible for furthering the cause of the gospel in their city and region. Social and educational missionary work is valuable, but CMI believes that a strong local church will be able to provide these same types of ministry to its own community more effectively, thereby enhancing its testimony and drawing more people to make decisions for Christ.
Pauline Model of Missions
If you were to get a map of the ancient Roman Empire and then note the cities where Paul initiated ministry, you would find several commonalities between them. In almost every case, Paul concentrated ministry in cities of significant influence. Locations such as Lystra, Derbe, Ephesus, Philippi, and Corinth were centers of commerce, transportation and education. Paul focused his efforts in planting churches in the major urban centers of the Roman world, ultimately moving toward the city of cities – Rome itself. Analyzing Paul’s strategy, Roland Allen writes that “in his hands [these strategic centers] became the sources of rivers, mints from which the new coin of the Gospel was spread in every direction.” Similarly Encounter with God is a strategy that seeks to maximize the crossroads of culture, planting churches in those locations that will have the greatest impact in spreading the Gospel message.