Looking back at a Defintion of Church from Jim Montgomery

Missionary strategist Jim Montgomery challenged us to plant 7 million more churches over a decade ago. In his passionate work, he had to take some time to define what he meant by church. These words ring true for many now, but in their first delivery they were revolutionary!

An understanding of how DAWN  [the ministry acronym for Discipling A Whole Nation ] defines “church” is fundamental to any challenge to plant 5 to 7 million more churches. If by “church” is meant a solidly built edifice with plenty of parking space, a full-time, seminary trained pastoral staff and a fully-orbed program of ministries for every age group and every interest, the goal will be a bit out of range.

I’m impressed with how a group of Christians faced this most fundamental question in China:

Concerning [this] question, many older Christians said that they could not predict the future form of Chinese churches. So they turned to the Bible for an answer. They found in the Bible that the house-church form was a legitimate church.Paul mentions a house church in I Cor. 16:19: “Aquila and Priscilla greet you warmly in the Lord, and so does the church in their house” (NIV); also in Col. 4:15 “give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church at her house.”

Later, we found a book by Wang Ming-dao [perhaps the most highly respected believer in China who languished in jail for more than 20 years] on the institution of the church. He held that where there were Christians, there was a church. We were happy about this. We assumed that, although our group consisted of only a few people, we actually were a church, and our head was Jesus.

“Where there are Christians, there is a church,” is a profound definition, coming as it does from a Church growing rapidly and laboring under the most difficult of circumstances.whatischurch

The DAWN idea is to see Jesus Christ become incarnate in every small group of mankind. How many believers does it take to incarnate our risen Lord? Jesus said that “. . . where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Mt. 18:20).

The goal set in 1966 and reported by Ed Dayton that I mentioned previously suggests we ought to work toward “ten witnessing Christians in every town of more than 500 people.”

Two or three committed believers could possibly impact 50 or 100 others. Ten witnessing Christians in time could perhaps reach out effectively to 500. To call such groups of two or three or of ten a “church” might be stretching it a bit. In our thinking, by minimum definition there is a church when at least a small group of believers led by an elder meets on a regular basis for worship, instruction, the basic New Testament sacraments and for witness and service. Where they meet, whether or not they pay their pastor and like questions are not of particular concern for our definition.

Denominations, however, tend to have a few more requirements. Most would include a minimum number of active adult believers that might range anywhere from five – as is the case of the rapidly growing Southern Baptists in Southern India – to 50. Some distinguish between “chapels” or “meeting places” and “churches” with the type of meeting place being a determining factor. Some draw the line based on whether or not the pastor is ordained and others have various combinations of these.

DAWN does not try to bring uniformity or impose any definition on the Church of a country. However, so as not to end up comparing oranges with apples, we suggest for statistical purposes the inclusion of all congregations of whatever definition. This would not include evangelistic Bible study groups or home groups that meet for fellowship as an additional activity to church attendance.

But it is some such definition of “church” as this that we have in mind when we suggest 7 million more are needed in the world.


This excerpt is taken directly from DAWN 2000: 7 Million Churches to Go by Jim Montgomery

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