In ten years Paul established the church in four provinces of the Empire: Galatia, Macedonia, Achaia and Asia. Before AD 47 there were no churches in these provinces. In AD 57 Paul could speak of his work being accomplished.
In his book Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours? Allen writes:
This is truly an astonishing fact. That churches should be founded so rapidly, so securely, seems to us today, accustomed to the difficulties, the uncertainties, the failures, the disastrous relapses of our own missionary work, almost incredible. Those who write off what Paul did as “exceptional” “ one-of-a-kind” and “not applicable” look to other texts for examples. Yet, this is what the Holy Spirit has given us. And isn’t it true that all Scripture is given for our learning? The bottom line is that just about all church planting methods are placed upon Paul. Most church planters look to Paul and the Scriptures for justification of what they’re doing. So it is extremely relevant to ask what Paul did and whether we should follow this. We westerners have the tendency to want to promote everything we are and do as the right way. In other words, we go to cultures and to places and we establish our western style of thinking. This surely is not in tune with Paul the apostle and his methods. There’s a validity of trying to discover what the apostle Paul did and how his strategy lines up with our own strategy today.
Allen goes on to assess the practice back in the days of English missions of first securing land, then a building, and there’s always the plea for more funds to finance these expensive endeavors. One of the key reasons for this is:
. . . the prevalence of the idea that the stability of the church in some way depends upon the permanence of its buildings. And of course, since we’re part of this heritage, we do the same thing. We think that the building makes the church plant secure, when in fact it does not. When we have secured a site and buildings we feel that the mission is firmly planted; we cannot then be easily driven away. A well-built church seems to imply a well-founded, stable society. Yet, we start mixing the metaphors and we assume that the building has something to do with the actual church, when it does not. So the externals of religion precede the inculcation of its principles. We must have the material establishment before we build the spiritual house.
Allen goes on to say, “Christianity is not an institution, but a principle of life. By importing an institution, we tend to obscure the truly spiritual character of our work. We take the externals first and so we make it easy for new converts to put the external in the place of the internal.”
My prayer is that God would raise up an army of church planters who want nothing else but God’s work in their midst. How we need a cell church planting movement that can rapidly expand and doesn’t have to be tied to one place or one building. We have to be so careful not to bind members to a building program or heaps of programmatic tasks in order to maintain the program. It’s all about life and reality rather than externals.