Construct Inviting Facilities

Christian apologists often say that their purpose is not to reason a person to faith, but simply to help clear the forest of some questions so that people can get a clear view of Jesus.

The fourth principle of Encounter with God—Construct Inviting Facilities—does much the same thing.

It is true that the church is formed of people not buildings. Likewise there are certainly cases where the focus on church buildings becomes more about increasing the comforts of the saints than equipping them for ministry. Nevertheless, facilities can be vital tools to enhance evangelism, corporate worship, training and discipleship.

This is definitely true in Latin America where the physical presence of the traditional church is a central theme in Latin culture. Visit any plaza in Latin America and you will find the traditional church at the center of town. Deep in the psyche of most Latin Americans, even among the nominally religious, a physical building is an important indicator of legitimacy.

This is especially true in the urban professional levels of society where evangelicalism is often regarded as the religion of the poor and ignorant. For much of its history the physical presence of the evangelical church contributed to this misperception.

Most evangelical churches were located in poorer communities with extremely humble facilities. Praise God for these churches. Yet, the almost exclusive focus on this segment of society to the neglect of others helped foster this stereotype. Moreover, though the churches in lower income areas often contained fervent and faithful believers, they had a difficult time reaching demographic segments beyond their own.

The Encounter with God approach of developing simple, but nice centers for worship and discipleship helps break down such stereotypes and bridge barriers between social classes.

The presence of an inviting facility forces reevaluations of long held misperceptions. Many times the building enhances curiosity and openness to the gospel message.
Moreover, the right facility can help foster a greater mix of social classes. Encounter churches seek balance between providing a place inviting to urban professionals, but not so ornate as to intimidate others. Encounter churches are unique in their diversity. Lower, middle and even upper income people worship together in many churches.

In a world prone to stringent social and economic stratification, this can be a tremendous testimony to the unity in Christ.

The Church is not a building, but a building can help a church better be the church– uniting people of every social level to bear witness to the power of the gospel to change lives and transform nations.

Pick a Strategic Location

Not long ago a CMI staff member was sharing a prayer request with men from his home church regarding a CMI project in Latin America. The need involved the funds to purchase a strategically located piece of property for a new church. The price tag: $360,000.

Upon hearing this, an American pastor present in the room exclaimed with astonishment, “What kind of property costs $360,000?” He could not reconcile how a church in Latin America could justify spending that kind of money for a piece of property.

It was an expensive price tag to be sure, but not uncommon for a sizeable, well-located property in a major Latin American city. That said, it was still a downright bargain compared to the $6.8 million lot that the astonished pastor’s own church rested on.

The American pastor’s surprise reveals much about the common perception of the typical Latin American church. In fact, for most of the evangelical church’s history in Latin America, local congregations were primarily located far from the principal avenues.

“Before the Encounter program,” says Peruvian pastor Luis Palomino, “evangelical churches were located in little streets, not important streets, and people who were converted to the Lord many times had difficulty in finding the church where they even made a decision for the Lord. But having a church in an important artery of the city, I think that makes a difference.”

“As I visit with believers from Encounter churches,” remarks CMI’s Craig Murray, “it is remarkable to discover how many of them came and heard the gospel at that particular church simply because they saw it when they went about their day-to-day activities. In a sense, a strategically located church can remove one of the most difficult physical barriers to people coming to a church.”

Though such properties are usually more expensive, the costs of failing to secure a strategic location are immense. Dollars may be saved by selecting a less prominent property, but such a choice can result in tragic losses in terms of evangelistic effectiveness, church growth and overall gospel impact.

“The location and the facility of a church are important markers of credibility in Latin American society,” says former missionary and current CMI board member Mark Searing.

For this reason, Encounter with God churches are located on principal avenues, visible to the masses passing by every day. They are located near bus lines and major traffic routes of the city so that they are well known, easily found, and readily accessible.

Strategic locations may come with higher price tags, but when viewed in the light of their long-term gospel impact they are bargains!

Team-Based Ministry

Encounter Elements

Part 7: Team-Based Ministry

One of the greatest sports upsets of all time occurred during the 1980 Olympic Games when a collection of college and amateur hockey players from the United States upended a juggernaut team from the Soviet Union en route to claiming the gold medal. The Soviet team boasted some of the greatest international players of that time and their dominance earned them the nickname “The Red Machine.”

In the face of overwhelming odds, the U.S. team succeeded not because of their talent, but because of the quality of their teamwork. What they lacked in talent and experience, they made up for in intensity and chemistry. U.S. coach Herb Brooks meticulously selected the players he wanted, turning down some gifted players for the sake of achieving the exact mix of skills, speed and mental discipline that he knew would be needed to have a chance against the Soviets.

In ministry, as in sports and business, an effective team is critical. But in many cases we follow a lone ranger approach. In an effort to cover as much geographic territory as possible, or to launch as many new projects as possible, missions agencies and churches have sent out individuals to start new works trusting that they would develop a team at some point.

In contrast, the Encounter with God Movement believes that team ministry is essential from the very start. It was a team of people that developed the initial Encounter church in Lima, Peru. The same team-based concept was transferred to successive daughter churches. Even today, each new church starts with a senior pastor and at least one assistant, and often more, who share in the pulpit ministry, as well as the rest of the ministry of the church.

The multiplied effectiveness of a ministry team can be the difference between a successful church plant and a false start. A more diverse skill set develops more well-rounded ministries that lead to more rapid church growth. In addition, team ministry that shares the pulpit encourages church members’ commitment to the church and not to individual personalities.

The positive benefits of team ministry are likely the reason that Jesus and the early church made consistent use of teams. In commissioning the disciples to preach the gospel throughout Israel, Jesus sent them in pairs. Likewise, many of the earliest recorded missionaries, such as Peter and John, Paul and Barnabas and later Paul and Silas, functioned in teams.

Their example is a good model for us. For as the writer of Ecclesiastes says, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work….”

Unrelenting Prayer

The development of a church is a direct attack on the devil. It is a frontal assault on what Satan considers to be his territory. Unless proper preparations are made and needed “supplies” are provided for those involved in the battle, the attack will fail. The fundamental preparation and the critical “supplies” come from prayer.

Relentless prayer is marked by four characteristics. It is intentional, intense, intimate and inspired.

“Intentional” prayer plans specific ways to involve as many people as possible in prayer. Many Encounter churches have started as home prayer meetings. Using this as a foundation, they move to larger facilities but maintain the emphasis on prayer. Often the members meet for early morning prayer or conduct all night prayer vigils. The basic premise for the church is that nothing is accomplished without prayer.

“Intense” prayer is marked by tenacity. It does not stop after the first year or two of existence of the church. Tony Evans, in his book “The Battle is the Lord’s” states, “If you and I are going to see this thing work, prayer cannot be an addendum to our day or week. It must be the controlling agenda of our lives. We need to pray when we feel like it and when we don’t.”

“Intimate” prayer signifies a clear knowledge of each request. It begins with a heart focused on God, not one merely going through the motions. It ends with praying in specificity and not with generalities, such as “bless this church.” Winning a city for God begins with prayer, but it is specific, thoughtful prayer that is the intimate form of communication that the Bible models.

“Inspired” prayer prays for great things. Acts 4:23–31 is a powerful example of this. Peter and John were commanded by the rulers, elders, teachers and high priest not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. When they were released, they “went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them” (v. 23). What follows is an “inspired” prayer that provides us with a clear example of how to claim victory in very difficult situations. Inspired prayer believes great things.

The earliest roots of Encounter with God, like all great movements of the Holy Spirit in history, began with unrelenting prayer. So, too, the power of a church and its people begins and ends in prayer. If prayer is foundational, the power of God is unleashed in great ways in a church. It is strengthened for battle and Jesus promised that “the gates of Hell” will not stand against His Church.