Over the past 2,000 years, there have been more than 2,000 plans to evangelize the world. These plans, cataloged in research books from "788 plans to evangelize the world" to the World Christian Encyclopedia, have ranged from "ideas" to "highly centralized plans." Though many have helped us make progress toward the goal, none have massively succeeded, and many had budgets they spectacularly exceeded and deadlines which they spectacularly failed to meet.

"We" (by which I mean mostly Westerners) love big global plans, and deadlines, and charts, and resources, and budgets, and things we control. But we don't need them. Not really. Not for this.

Ants don't need a master plan, yet they can grow to fill whole areas, and span large regions. Although we don't operate by instinct, complex problems can be tamed with simple algorithms and processes done at scale. We can do what ants do, by acting "swarmishly" with four simple rules:

  1. every ekklesia to engage all of the same-culture people in their geographic area (E-1, "nearby") in such a way that all have the opportunity to hear/follow. This will undoubtedly require both planting new ekklesias and cooperating with existing ekklesias. This can be done without regard for however many other ekklesias or churches are in the area. At the E-1 level, we aim for maximum saturation even incurring significant duplication. Duplication, while somewhat wasteful, is a useful redundancy--a safety check.
  2. every ekklesia maps, understands all of the segments (places and peoples) in their "next-nearby" (E-2, crossing geographic and cultural boundaries) and ensures at least one ekklesia of some form (church, house group, believer-owned-business, something) is planted within the community, such that #1 above can be achieved in that segment. (That is, an E-2 presence is established so that an E-1 presence can eventually be established as well.) Ants send out queens to start new colonies. Ekklesias should do the same. At this level, the "planting" church supports the "next-nearby" region, investing in it, but wants to let the local (E-1) presence take the prime role.
  3. every ekklesia to raise up and send bands-of-believers ("apostolic teams", church planters, witnesses, proclaimers, disciple-makers) to the nearest "distant" place that lacks a Christian presence of any kind (E-3, "far", crossing cultures), even if that place is across national or geographic borders (e.g. oceans). Two sub-rules: (a) if for a given "distant" place there is a "next-nearby" ekklesia (E-2), then the ekklesia should strive to work with the next-nearby to reach the distant. (b) But if there is no next-nearby ekklesia willing to do that work, the place should not go untouched, even if an ekklesia must do the difficult work of sending distant.
  4. every ekklesia should develop behaviors of intentionality, rapid growth, and open cooperation with as many other ekklesias as possible. We don't need to know everything before we grow, but we should always be learning and discovering who else the Spirit has drawn to the place we find ourselves in, and looking to charitably cooperate in the task of making disciples.

If these four actions were done on a yearly basis - e.g. the understandings of the segments were updated yearly, and new workers commenced, rather than once every 10 or 20 years - it wouldn't take long to have presence in every place that Christians can access. This leaves the challenge of places that we cannot easily access - places and peoples within Afghanistan, North Korea, Yemen, Somalia, and even Pakistan and India and China that outsiders just can't get to. That's a reality we face.

The goal of this pattern is to go everywhere we can, trusting that the nearer we get to a place we can't get to, the more likely it is we'll find someone who can get to the places we can't.

A word about ekklesia

I have intentionally used "ekklesia" because "planting a church" often leads to a confused image of what a church is. For myself, I count both churches and agencies as uniquely different instances of ekklesia. Others differ with me on that, but even if only "churches" are "ekklesias," there are still more than enough churches to do this task if they actually did it. (I think agencies are a special form of ekklesia--and not all agencies are, I suppose--that are uniquely gifted to cross cultural boundaries, and some agency forms have arisen because church forms have not risen to the challenge of mission (and others are created by churches to undertake the job).

For more on the definitions of church and agency, see discussion at:

  • Waterman, L. D. "What is church." EMQ. Waterman gives a thorough review of the Biblical references to churches as well as some of the way recent missiologists have defined it.
  • Winter, Ralph. "The two structures of God's redemptive mission." Winter explores the history of agencies and ends with a plea to not just plant "modalities" (=congregations) but also "sodalities" (=mission structures).
  • Smith, Steve. "The bare essentials of helping groups become churches." Explores how groups self-identify themselves, and move to a commitment to be a church, and how missionaries can help.

The approach described above does not require a global plan, budget, or much in the way of a coordinating body! All that is required to "start" is for any single individual ekklesia to have (1) a knowledge of its immediate surroundings, (2) a knowledge of it's greater context (e.g. neighborhood vs total city), (3) the desire to pick a near-distant place and send workers, and (4) the willingness to collaborate with other like-minded workers.

... but some coordination and collaboration will infinitely improve this process. Many plans have failed because they either have (1) not enough structure or (2) too much. Centralization of control can lead to rigid structures that strangle or move far too slow to respond to threats. Not enough structure means too little information flow: lessons learned and threats observed go unshared, and eventually we are killed by something that surprises us. Getting the right level of collaboration is therefore important.

Ants (and bees, another great model) operate by instinct, but they do have a certain amount of collaboration in their members. For example, when an ant discovers a source of food, it will carry it back to the nest, leaving a scent-trail along the way to mark the path. Other ants, detecting the scent trail, understand it means "this leads to food" and automatically turn and follow it. Each ant likewise leaves a scent trail. The more ants on a trail, the stronger the scent, which is an indicator of how much food remains. When once an ant arrives at the end of the trail and finds no food there (because it has already been processed), he goes back to foraging, and the scent trail slowly disintegrates. Collaboration with others, by way of very simple communication systems, makes it possible to accomplish big tasks.

Ants (fortunately) can't collaborate at a global scale, but humans can. The Rules imply successively greater degrees of collaboration as we move from the global to the local. The global level needs to know a little about a great many places ("these are the places that have no workers; let's send people there; what are the barriers to our doing so; what lessons have we learned that suggest how we might overcome them"): enough to know where major threats and opportunities are, and where we should encourage workers to be sent. The local level needs far more collaboration - all the "how do we survive daily," "how do we find food," "there are threats," "there are opportunities," etc. The global level need not concern itself with the daily local operations in individual places.

For another example of how to use simple scales to track information globally, see "Globally mapping churches: I think I have a better way."

Global, regional and national coordination are made possible through curated lists and maps that can be, in some cases, open-sourced and crowd-shared. The Internet is perfect for this. We have a number of good lists of places already, and good mapping tools; these need not be "perfect," nor do we need "one master database" to rule all. Simple search-and-discovery algorithms can uncover relational connections. Requiring obedience to a plan can eliminate a lot of locally perceived possibilities; the offer of collaboration and communication can reveal more opportunities and shared resources while leaving local sites flexible.

That's my "master plan." It can be sustained over generations, with little or no major budgets, and can withstand persecution. The beauty is, budgets are small and localized: we spend billions (trillions?) on the Internet globally, but there is no single master budget or centrally planned body. That's why the Internet works. It's the way mission to the end of the task will work, too: if each of us takes responsibility for our part.