A Two-Rail Model for Existing Churches to Reach the Unreached – Part 1
– by Trevor Larsen & a Fruitful Band of Brothers –
Our country is very diverse. Many areas have no believers in Christ. Yet some regions have established churches. Some of these churches have potential to reach Muslims. However, most churches in majority (90 to 99 percent) Muslim areas have not added Muslims as believers for years. They often fear a reaction if some were to believe. In many majority Muslim areas, churches hold on to Christian cultural traditions. They don’t connect with the unreached peoples in their communities. Cultural practices of the visible (“above-ground”) church, and reactions to it, make it difficult to connect with Muslims. The culture of above-ground (“first-rail”) churches differs greatly from the culture around them. This increases social obstacles for spiritually hungry Muslims. We propose a different model: a “second-rail” church. This underground church comes out of the same “station,” but meets in small groups and is not easily noticed by the community. Can a traditional church in a majority Muslim area start a “second-rail” (underground) church? Can they disciple Muslims in small groups, while also protecting the “first-rail” ministry of the church?
Many Pilot Projects Testing a “Two-Rail” Model
In nominal Muslim areas of the country, most denominational church growth has slowed or declined over the last ten years. In these same ten years, an underground model of multiplying small groups has grown rapidly among unreached people groups.
Some churches ask us to train them in small group multiplication to reach Muslims, yet they want to keep their existing “first-rail” church. We have piloted a “Two-Rail” model in twenty diverse types of churches in different regions. Four of these pilot projects have finished a four-year pilot project period. This chapter presents the first of four experiments with the “Two-Rail” model. Additional insight and the other three experiments can be found in the book Focus on Fruit! See end note for details.
Case Study: Our First Two-Rail Church
Zaul completed a four-year “Two-Rail” pilot project in a 90 percent Muslim area. This area has many nominal Muslims and also many fundamentalists. Zaul explains what they learned from this first “Two-Rail” model.
Careful Selection of Church and of Trainees
A good model requires selection. We wanted to start with churches likely to succeed, so we chose carefully. I selected Church A for a pilot project because the elderly pastor expressed great interest in bridging ministry to Muslims. Church A is part of a denomination from Europe but has included some features of local culture. They use local language for worship, but are otherwise very similar to churches in Europe. Fifty-one years after it started, this church had 25 families attending regularly.
I had known the pastor of Church A for many years. We had many small groups multiplying in the area around his church, started by workers from our local mission team. The pastor liked the fruit of our ministry, and wanted to learn from us how to reach Muslims.
Memo of Understanding
As this pastor showed interest, we began discussing the terms of our partnership. We wrote what we had agreed to into a Memo of Understanding. I felt that a letter of agreement would decrease misunderstandings and make success more likely. So we signed an MoU between our mission team and the church pastor, describing the roles of the two parties in the partnership.
First, the church agreed to provide ten trainees willing to be “sent” out to minister to Muslims in the community. We discussed the criteria they should use to select the trainees, so they would be more likely to succeed in ministry to Muslims. The church promised a training location, budget for food, and the full support of the pastor. The pastor also invited some other area pastors to the training.
Second, the church agreed that field direction would be done by our team. The pastor’s role with the trainees was limited to broad oversight. He agreed to not interfere in our mission team’s decisions about field ministry. He also agreed that the ministry patterns of the existing church did not need to be followed by his trainees in their ministry to Muslims. They agreed that the focus of the “second-rail” model would be on unbelieving Muslims outside the current church. The underground rail of the church would be free to operate with contextual patterns.
The church agreed that any fruit among Muslims that came from this partnership would be kept separate in small groups as a “second-rail” church. The new believers would not be mixed with the above-ground church. This was to protect the new believers from being westernized as well as to protect them from a backlash against the church from fundamentalists.
Third, we, the mission team, agreed to provide training for a period of one year. We promised to give training and mentoring to those active in ministry. I agreed to facilitate the training. We provided the budget for the training materials. We also agreed to provide coaching for a period of four years, for the most active trainees.
Fourth, we, the mission team, agreed to provide a percentage of funds for the underground rail of the church to do community development ministries during the first year. We integrate our community development work with our model of multiplying small believer groups. The church agreed to provide any living or travel expenses of the field workers, as well as a percentage of the community development budget.
Fifth, a report would be made every three months. This would include finance, ministry fruit, and character development of the trainees.
My long-term friendship with the pastor both allowed this partnership to begin and strengthened it. The two tracks were designed to produce two separate churches that would look very different, but have a common leadership. The church agreed that the trainees would provide data on their fruit to me as facilitator, and that they would not interfere. As facilitator, I agreed to provide a summary of fruit data to the church leaders. They, in turn, agreed that they would not publicize the data to the church nor report it in their community.
In Part 2 of this post we will share the fruit God brought in four years of applying the two-rail model, along with obstacles we faced and future vision.
Trevor Larsen is a teacher, coach, and researcher. He finds joy in finding apostolic agents God has chosen and helping them maximize their fruit through sharing fruitful practices in bands of brother-leaders. He has partnered with Asian apostolic agents for 20 years, resulting in multiple movements in Unreached People Groups.
Excerpted and condensed from the book Focus on Fruit! Movement Case Studies & Fruitful Practices. Available for purchase at www.focusonfruit.org.