We can give thanks to God for the way in which he has grown CESA in Southern Africa. New generations don’t always appreciate the desperate situation in which the denomination found itself in the 1960’s and early 70’s. The subsequent two decades saw remarkable growth in the number of CESA Churches, especially across KZN and the Western Cape.
All of this happened without any specific strategy or process. So why do we need one now?
A few reasons:
Planting and growth has slowed down: We’re just not planting as many churches as we used to. According to some church growth models our “real” rate of growth as a denomination is negative.
There are many areas that we don’t reach or have a very limited evangelical presence: We have little presence in many large, densely populated areas of our major urban centres.
Our country has changed and it’s wise to plan a strategy in response: Just consider the radical change to urban living in South Africa over the past twenty years:
The end of apartheid has led to changing demographics in many communities and the emergence of new, racially mixed communities.
Dying or struggling CBD’s (especially in Johannesburg and Durban) have led to new business areas springing up in suburban areas (e.g. Sandton, Umhlangha, Claremont) and a concentration of residential developments around those areas.
Population movement has lead to rapid growth in the size of our cities. Within our borders there has been significant movement out of the Eastern Cape into other urban centres. Immigration from other African states has also had a huge impact.
Infrastructure has therefore not been able to keep up and there has been a rapid growth in informal settlements. For example, Diepsloot in Johannesburg (population: 200 000 +) and Masiphumelele in Cape Town (population: 35 000 +) did not exist 25 years ago.
Concerns over rising crime rates have led to massive growth in the number of security complexes. These have transformed the make-up of many middle-upper class communities.
It is therefore no surprise that many of our churches find themselves operating in totally different contexts from twenty years ago. Even those who have been less directly affected may now find it very difficult to envision a plan to initiate church planting into their surrounding communities.
These challenges were confirmed by responses to the 2011 CESA National Church Planting Survey (NCPS). All the respondents expressed support for the notion of church planting. Most of them had identified vague opportunities for church planting in their community. And yet, for a host of reasons, there was very little certainty as to how it would be possible to make those new plants happen.
Most respondents called on the denomination to co-ordinate some kind of strategic thinking and planning on this issue. For this reason, the following motion was presented to Synod, 2011:
“This Synod recognizes that planting and developing new churches is an effective way to reach our nation with the Gospel and asks the Presiding Bishop respectfully to set up a working party to prepare for the next Synod a report on research into the practice and experience of church planting in South Africa and overseas and in the light of that research present a draft denominational strategy for evangelistic church planting. This report should particularly include examination of research into and recommendations for evangelistic church planting in different cultural groups, in South Africa.
The report would look to provide insight in the following areas (amongst others): Identification and training potential church planters; Targeting relatively unreached communities and people groups; Providing resources for church planting; Assessment of current denominational structures vis-à-vis church planting; Preparing existing churches for church planting.”
Of course we acknowledge that all of this will take place under God and through the powerful work of his Holy Spirit. Indeed, we need to be clear, up front, about our understanding of human strategy in the context of God’s plan for the world:
We trust that God is busy bringing about his purpose – “to bring all things in heaven and on earth under one head, even Christ” (Eph 1:10). This is his great strategy for the world and he achieves it through the work of his Holy Spirit as the gospel is communicated.
Amazingly though, he involves us in this plan. It’s clear in Scripture (and throughout church history) that he will inspire different types of Christians to dedicate themselves to a myriad of different gospel ministries which will bring about this plan: evangelistic campaigns in sports stadia and tents; Christian crèches and Christian high schools; theological colleges and house churches; evangelistic short courses and one-to-one discipling programs; campus ministries and funeral services; Christian broadcasting and Christian blogging; the faithful building up of existing churches and the planting of new ones.
We believe that multiplying the number of CESA congregations in multiple communities across South Africa could play an especially important role in the furtherance of the gospel. Our chief aim is not to sustain or grow a denomination, per se, but to reach more people with the gospel. But we link this closely to the work of CESA because, by the grace of God, the doctrines and traditions of this denomination have been effective in advancing the cause of the gospel in South Africa, up to now.