Starting Diaspora Church Planting Movements (Part 1)

Photo by: Amelimeloo
Not long ago, I was asked to speak on the topic of “Starting Church Planting Movements among Diasporas”.  Oddly enough, though I have been well immersed in both the church planting and diaspora missions worlds for some time now, I have never considered this particular hybrid.  As far as I know, the concept of a “church planting movement” was rather popularized (if it is possible to popularize a topic of missiology) by David Garrison in his writings on the subject about a decade or so ago.  Diaspora missiology is a comparatively younger field of study – at least in the sense that relatively few people were talking much about it prior to Cape Town 2010.  Ralph Winter was certainly correct in his analysis that diaspora missiology “may well be the most important undigested reality in missions thinking today.”[i] So, when I was asked to look at this issue of “diaspora church planting movements”, I realized that my task was to “digest” church planting movements from the perspective of diaspora missiology. 

Today then, will be the first of what will likely be several installments on the subject.  I earnestly invite your interaction.  What I hope to do is to explore the issue with you using my own working presentation on the topic as an outline.  Eventually, I hope to arrive at some solid insights that could be put into a meaningful article or book chapter.  So, let’s dig in.

Understanding our Terms:

Now, we obviously must begin with some definitions.  For diaspora missiology, I will use the Seoul Declaration on Diaspora Missiology –

Diaspora missiology is a missiological framework for understanding and participating in God’s redemptive mission among people living outside their place of origin.[ii]

So, the definition of diaspora mission cannot be far off.  Diaspora refers to those individuals living outside their country of origin – the scattered peoples of the world who number some 215 million souls.[iii] So, diaspora mission is all about participating in God’s redemptive mission among them. 

So, what is a “church planting movement”?  For this definition, we must look to Garrison who has been perhaps the most influential missiologist on the subject.  Garrison defines the term as follows:

“A Church Planting Movement is a rapid and exponential increase of indigenous churches planting churches within a given people group or population segment.”[iv]

I've taken the liberty of breaking down Garrison's definition into its four component parts.  In the diagram below, we note the desired result or outcome, the primary agent, the central activity to be done, and the targeted field within which a church planting movement takes place:

And just like that, we've defined our terms and have a place to begin discussion.  So let me begin the discussion by asking you for your thoughts thus far.  Consider Garrison's definition of a church planting movement in light of what you know about diaspora mission/missiology.  Does anything stand out to you as being potentially difficult to "digest"?

[i] Winter, Ralph (2004). Personal email message to Sadiri Joy Tira.
[ii] Lausanne Diasporas Educators Consultation (2009).
[iii] Economist (19 Nov. 2011). “The Magic of Diasporas”. http://www.economist.com/node/21538742
[iv] Garrison, David (1999). Church Planting Movements.


  1. I understand these cp movements which Garrison describes as being within a relatively stabilized local context. By stable I mean that the local culture including language, family structure, communicstion presuppositions, and religious practises either do not change from generation to generation or change slowly in a managable, less threatening way. This stable environment can receive a cp movement and "launch" one going forward.

    A diaspora community is much less stable because it is largely disconnected from nearly all of the institutions that characterize a place where traditinal Cp movements grow. The issue of connectedness is key to creating cp movement within diaspora communities. Three cultures usually influence the issue of connectedness: the culture where the diaspora comes from, the culture that the diaspora creates in it's new home, and the dominant culture or cultures of the place where the diaspora settles. Over time, there will be people and families within a diaspora community that are culturally connected in one of these three ways. The reality of critical mass also influences the connectedness of a diaspora community. Eventua;lly, a critical mass of people live somewhere long enough that a steady stream of visa applications and spouses from "home" arrive in the diaspora community, refreshing the community with its culture of origin. The global economy also has created a large number of people who travel back and forth from the diaspora to home frequently, meaning that the melting pot idea may no longer exist. The diaspora community exists within a context of incredible cultural flux. I think that a centralized church can look into "missional communities" as the growth edge of a cp movement within a diaspora community.

  2. Good word, Tim! I've been thinking this as well.

  3. Typo: "I realized that my task was TO “digest” church planting movements..."

  4. I have grave doubts about diaspora mission, and, if anything, see diaspora as an obstacle to mission. I wrote an article about it nhere: Orthodox Diaspora and Mission in South Africa - Edinburgh University Press

    1. Thanks so much for your feedback, Steve. I would like to read your article, but will have to wait until I have a chance to go to the library. I think your concerns arise from a too narrow view on what is meant by diaspora mission. Enoch Wan's framework is receiving broad acceptance among diasopora missiologists (http://www.enochwan.com/english/articles/pdf/Diaspora%20Missiology%20in%2021st%20Century.pdf). According to this framework, diaspora mission is to be understood as mission "to, through, and beyond" diaspora. I share your concern about the ethnic enclaving that happens in some corners. However there is a tremendous amount of mission that is happening as well. The Nepali Christian diaspora put on their own global summit last year to pray, discuss and strategize toward becoming a truly missional people in diaspora. The Ghanaian diaspora is immensely missional and cross-cultural in focus. The Korean diaspora is actively pursuing greater mission mobilization and has recently published a book to that end (http://www.amazon.com/Korean-Diaspora-Christian-Mission-Studies/dp/1610972821). And this is only in consideration of mission through and beyond diaspora. We must say much more about mission to diasporas. When I was in South Africa, for example, my heart longed to know who was actively reaching out to the burgeoning Somali diaspora in the cities, the massive Hindu diapora, and the generations-old Malay diaspora. Without a doubt, the scattered people of the world are on the heart of the Lord.