Larger churches in Brazil tend to be very independent and isolated from the rest of the churches in their cities and vice-versa. The causes for such a phenomena are not very clear, but I would guess that there are two main reasons; internally, because larger churches seem to see themselves as the center of the Universe as well as the source of all missional innovation; externally, because many leaders of smaller churches think that both large and mega-churches only expand due to sheep stealing. On both sides there seem to be exaggerations, but as a pastor of the Igreja Cidade Viva (Living City Church), a twelve-year old Baptist mega-church of about seven thousand people in João Pessoa, Northeast Brazil, I have been trying to change that perspective and build new paths. (See the English version of our story as of 2014 here: http://cidadeviva.org/en/conheca/)
Over the last four years we have planted three daughter churches. One in a slum, one in a nearby city and a third one in a rural area of the countryside that now has about 800 people attending out of the 1,300 people in the neighborhood. We are also about to start a church planting movement in other rural areas of our State, taking into consideration the rural culture and training local bi-vocational Christian leaders to be church planters. In the decision to invest in bi-vocational leaders to plant churches in the rural villages (Sítios) of the Brazilian Northeast we are taking into consideration some major factors: the lack of financial resources to support full-time church planters in a country that is immersed in a complex economic crises and the natural bridges that already connect the Christian professionals to their own people in the small rural villages. Not to mention that my own experience as a bi-vocational leader has been very useful in a country where pastors are not well respected due to the bad reputation of some prosperity gospel preachers.
Our church-planting strategy for the rural areas of the Brazilian Northeast is represented in the following acrostic:
P – Pregnant Churches Planting
L – Lay and Local Leadership
A – Abundant Prayer, Evangelism and Social Good
N – Natural Multiplication
T – The Full Authority of the Bible
I – Informal On-The-Job Training
N – Network of Autonomous House Churches
G – Guidance and Power of the Holy Spirit
When we started to invest in planting new churches, we realized that we are not an “end in itself”.
When we started to invest in planting new churches, we realized that we are not an “end in itself”. We also exist to plant other churches, not only to grow our membership. In fact, when self-centered churches go back to the foundations of the book of Acts, they rediscover a common pattern for the church expansion (Acts 1:8) that happens through the planting of new churches. Not to mention that in Paul’s perspective and missionary practice, church planting is seen as a central task (Romans 15:19-20, 1 Corinthians 3:5-6). Moreover, when larger churches engage in church planting to reach a different ethnic group or even an “urban tribe”, they contribute to the second coming of Jesus Christ. (Matthew 24:14)
Furthermore, when larger churches both plant churches and get connected with smaller ones to help them grow and plant other churches, they demonstrate that they love Jesus and his Kingdom more than their personal projects of church growth. So, in order to tear down the walls of separation between our church and other smaller churches, we started an informal network of churches in our region, to learn from them, to help them grow and to build partnerships to plant other missional and gospel-centered churches.
In 2014, after attending an Acts 29 Pastor’s retreat in Miami, with my wife Samara, we were very impressed with the movement and decided to apply to become full-members of the network. I would say that being part of Acts 29 as a Brazilian mega-church has been a privilege, not only to keep kindling the fire within our hearts for the expansion of God’s Kingdom, as we plant church-planting churches, but also to learn from other church planters how to serve the Lord and his purposes with all the resources he has given us. It’s been very cool and life changing!
All in all, based on my personal experience, I testify that Acts 29 can be a great source of inspiration and wise advice for the larger churches that want to share missional experiences and humbly contribute to the expansion of God’s Kingdom through church planting, as they share God’s love for the world and demonstrate passion for Christ’s fame.