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A megachurch that makes God smile
IF ANYONE LOVES THE WORLD THE LOVE OF THE FATHER IS NOT IN HIM

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A COUPLE of days after I got home from a recent trip to India I received Outreach Magazine’s annual list of the 100 largest churches in the United States. The entire issue was devoted to these churches and their pastors. I couldn’t help but notice that the largest was feel-good preacher Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church. Recently disgraced Ted Haggard’s New Life Church was number 37 on the list.

As I read through that issue, I thought about another kind of church, one whose pastors don’t fl y around the country in private planes and who don’t pay for their vacation retreats with book royalties. These were the churches I saw and the pastors I met on a recent trip to India with the Christian ministry, Gospel For Asia. One of them, in particular, sticks in my mind:

About 20 kilometres outside the emerging hightech city of Hyderabad, you are fully into the Indian countryside. The road turned to dirt in places. Ox drawn carts or foot travel were primary modes of transportation. It took almost two hours to cover the 20km distance from the city, but we eventually came to a small village, where we stopped in front of a small Believers Church, which is what Gospel For Asia calls all of the nearly 30,000 churches it has planted over the past 30 years. It is a small but sturdy building with a cross prominently reaching skyward from the peak of the building. The pastor of the church came out to greet us and invite us in.

We sat on plastic chairs as he told us, with the help of a translator, a remarkable story. When he fi rst came to this village to plant a church, he slept some nights out in the open as he went from house to house, distributing gospel literature provided by the Believers Church. He met with much resistance, and once was beaten severely by anti-Christian radicals in the town. During that beating he had teeth knocked out, and his ear was nearly ripped off. But the pastor persisted. And when the village began to experience a water shortage, the pastor prayed and drilled a well next to the road in front of the church.
”Everyone told us the well would not bring water”, he said. “But we prayed, and by God’s grace and for His glory the water came.” The pastor let it be known that it was Jesus who had brought the water, as it is God who brings all good gifts. He called the well the Jesus Well. He also let it be known that everyone in the village, even those who had beaten him, or who had been happy when he was beaten, could freely use the well.

”Seeing the water from the well changed the hearts of many people”, the pastor said. “Soon, a few were coming to the Believers Church for services, and before long 30 and then 40 and then 50 people came”. The pastor explained to these new churchgoers that attending church does not save them. Only by turning from their sins and accepting Jesus, becoming born again, could they be saved. Eventually, ten people made that decision, but because it was soon after the pastor had been beaten, he and others in the leadership of the Believers Church decided that it would be safer if they were baptized at the Bible college in Hyderabad. So they made the trip and were baptized.

Today, the pastor is almost fully healed. Only a scar remains to show where his ear was nearly ripped off his head during the brutal beating. The ten, who were baptized, were followed by more who made the same decision to turn from their sins and become Christians. Now, every Sunday, 65 people jam into this small Believers Church for worship. No, it’s not a mega-church in the sense that we think in the West. In fact, this is a typicalBelievers Church. On average, churches planted by Gospel For Asia have about 60 members. But when you consider that all of these 60 members are newly born-again and baptized believers, and when you remember that there are 30,000 such churches, and thatGospel For Asia is planting them at the rate of more than 1000 per year, you begin to realise the truth. The 1.7 million members in these churches represent more real growth in the Kingdom of God than all the mega-churches (a church with more than 2000 members) combined.

It makes you wonder if this method of church growth is not more biblical and more effective than the mega-church model touted in “Outreach” magazine and in Western evangelicalism.
At least I hope it makes you wonder.
As for me,I’m through wondering.
After seeing Ted Haggard on television, and comparing that image to my memory of those pastors in the remote villages in India, I no longer wonder.
My mind’s made up.


About the Author... WARREN SMITH is an awardwinning journalist, radio and television personality, who currently hosts the syndicated radio and local TV programmes Worldviews with Warren Smith. He is author of numerous secular and Christian articles and several books, the most recent of which is Voices That Carry, published in 2005. He and his wife Missy have four children. They live in Charlotte, North Carolina, USA. warren.smith@thecharlotteworld.com


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Appeared in Issue 13.1 CETF 39 MARCH 2007
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