June 22, 2015 — by Jeff Ritchie


Thinking Out of the Box: Church Planting in India

Note: Because of the possibility of persecution of the Indian Church mentioned here, specific names and locations will not be given.

What comes to mind when you think of India? Exotic cuisine? A population that will surpass that of China in the coming years? An emerging economic power?

Most of us think of India as a Hindu country. The fact is that there are 180,000,000 Muslims in India, which is roughly 1/10 of all Muslims worldwide. An even greater surprise is the growth of Christianity in this country. It’s time for us to do some thinking outside of the box.

Vital Church Planting Movements in the Sub-Continent

Since the early 1990s, church planting movements have multiplied in India. In spite of persecution, these movements have seen millions of Indians from all religious communities come to follow Jesus.

The Outreach Foundation learned of one of these budding church planting movements in Western India a couple of years ago. A denomination founded by American Presbyterian missionaries in the 1850s had struggled with decline as the 1990s began. One of their leaders came to the United States at that time and met leaders of Emmanuel Gospel Center located in Boston. This leader thought, “If this mission in the US can plant churches in a tough urban mission field like Boston, we can plant churches in India.”

Through a new partnership with Emmanuel Gospel Center, this Indian denomination has grown from 43 to 66 organized churches over the past eighteen years. Counting new core groups that are in the process of becoming churches, the total is over 300! More than numerical growth, the vision of the church has expanded. They have dared to dream that God has something more for them.

Vision 2020: From 300 to 1300 Churches by the Year 2020

The Indian church has now adopted the bold vision to plant 1000 new house fellowships by the year 2020! This vision requires the mobilization of the whole church, with every member a disciple-maker and potential church planter.

When The Outreach Foundation learned of a Presbyterian church in India that had such a bold vision, we began to go and see what God was doing. Our questions were many:

--What does it take to mobilize a whole church to make disciples and form them into new communities of Jesus followers?

--How does a church prepare leaders for explosive church growth when the traditional model is a 3-year, residential seminary/Bible School where only a few people can be trained at a time?

--How can global partners participate in—and learn from—this church’s mission vision without making money the primary means of partnership, on the one hand, and without exposing it to persecution from elements within the Indian society that oppose Christianity, on the other?

On our visits in 2013 and 2014, we saw new home fellowships started by lay leaders where Hindu families were studying the Bible and singing songs of praise to Jesus. We met the leaders who reiterated their commitment to this vision and asked us for a new kind of partnership based on people and the sharing of best practices. They asked us:

--Can you make it possible for a couple to live with us and be a bridge between the Indian Church and the US Church?

--Can you share your ideas with us on how we can grow our church better?

--Can you visit us, especially during our biannual mission conference where we renew our vision to plant 1000 new churches by 2020?

Connecting “Joints and Ligaments” in November                                         

The next step in this emerging partnership is to introduce more American friends to our new friends in India. Knowing the commitment of ECO from its inception to build a “DNA” of church planting into its warp and woof, The Outreach Foundation has invited several ECO leaders to join on a trip to India in November. Synod Executive Dana Allin, Director of Operations John Terech, and 4-5 other ECO pastors and leaders will join several hundred Indian participants in a time of worship, mission-oriented workshops, and fellowship, all of which will serve to develop our friendship in Christ and common commitment to God’s mission.

ECO’s mission is to build flourishing congregations that make disciples of Jesus Christ. Our Indian friends desire the same. Imagine the impact that can occur when kindred spirits come together!


Jeff Ritchie

Jeff Ritchie has served on staff of The Outreach Foundation since 1998. The mission of The Outreach Foundation is to engage Presbyterians and global partners in proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ. Jeff has connected Presbyterian congregations with global partners in China, Egypt, Brazil, Ghana, South Sudan, and is developing its emerging partnership with one of the historic Presbyterian churches in India.

See All Posts ›