Multiplication Movements in Southern India

Joshua Pillai is the Director of DAWN South India. I met him in the coffee shop in the lobby of the Nakshatra Hotel in Secunderabad, India. When I arrived at the airport that morning, I discovered that my flight had been changed and wouldn’t depart until after midnight. I headed back to the hotel to connect with BGU classmates and get some rest until it was time to return to the airport. While enjoying a cup of coffee with Viju Abraham and Jim & Sara Caldwell, Joshua Pillai entered the lobby. Viju introduced me to him and after just a brief conversation, I sensed that this was a divine appointment. In fact, upon further reflection I began to wonder if my flight was changed because God wanted me to meet Joshua and learn from his story.

Joshua had pioneered and pastored a church for seven years with the Assembly of God in India. He worked very hard, but after seven years the church had grown to “only 200 people.” In prayer, he confessed to God that he wanted to pastor a church of 5,000 people. God said to him, “My glory is to fill the earth with people from every tribe and tongue” (Revelation 5:9).

So Joshua left his church and began mobilizing others for saturation church planting. He researched the area of Karnataka and discovered there were 52 million people, 27,000 villages and only 600-700 churches. In the 175 sub-districts, 56 of them did not have a church. In the 3400 zip codes, 1800 had no churches. And yet in the city of Chennai where he lived, there were 2500 churches in one city.

Because of this burden to expand the church in Karnataka, he called a meeting of pastors in Bangalore (where 6-8% of the population was Christian). The response was pitiful. Having been born and raised in Karnataka, Joshua challenged his friends to join him. Only one did.

Yet God has been working to extend His kingdom. They have started 2000 house churches in Karnataka and another 1200 house churches in Andhra Pradesh. There are now over 32,000 believers!

Joshua told me, “I labored for seven years and there were 200 in my church. In the past five years, there are now 32,000 believers. The house church strategy works very well. This is the way to reach India. It is a high-speed model.”

This saturation church planting model is based on Luke 10. Going out two by two, they search for a person of peace. They sit and eat together and ask if they have any prayer requests. Invariably they have a need, and as they pray, there is a breakthrough. The neighbors in the village hear and they come to discover the God who answers prayer. That’s where they start a house church. As the work continues, they have full-time church planters that are visiting 20-30 villages (about 2-3 per day). Joshua has started training leaders regionally, every two months.

When I asked him about his vision, I wasn’t prepared for the answer. They are shooting for 1 Million churches in India by 2020. He recognizes that is “a very big target,” but he believes that this is the way to reach the people of India. They have developed a prototype model that is working in the conceptual stage. He wants to induct 500 denominations to partner together using this model to multiply churches all over the place.

Of the 6.5 billion people on earth, there are 1 billion Hindus. Of the 6,478 unreached people groups in the world, Joshua told me that 4,635 unreached people groups are in India. The way to reach these people is through saturation church planting. They currently have 85 church planters working throughout Southern India. The cost to support one church planter is only $100/month.

He explained the development of a house church like this:

  • Micro House Church = 3 baptized believers
  • Preliminary House Church = 7 baptized believers
  • Full-fledged House Church = 10 baptized believers

They are seeing lives transformed throughout Southern India. Invariably, when lives are touched, people ask why. Since they’ve tried their gods and other magic, now they are open to the message of the Gospel.

Pray for the expansion of their network of house churches! Pray for the ongoing training of pastors and leaders!


I asked Joshua why we don’t see church multiplication movements like this in the United States. He cautioned me to understand that the effectiveness they’ve experienced in India may not be possible in the United States. He described what is happening in India as a “power encounter.” Because these people are desperate, they are waiting for a miracle. They are expecting something to change when someone steps in to pray for them. He recognizes that this is not the expectation in North America.

In cities like Bangalore where there is a greater western influence, they have not seen the same results. They have discovered that groups of students and youth are less receptive to the Gospel in that context.

Joshua suggested two things to consider in our North American context:

  1. He has seen that when worship happens, it opens people’s hearts. Worship breaks through the demons of rationalization and humanism. He believes that large worship gatherings in America have the potential to open hearts to receive the truth of the Gospel.
  2. America will see more threats and economic crisis. As this increases, Joshua believes there will be an increase in receptivity to the Gospel. He told me, “That’s when there will be church multiplication movements.”

It seems to me like some of the barriers to multiplying disciples all over the United States are wrapped up in the way we do church. The need for buildings, paid professionally-trained pastors, and ministry programs for children, youth, and adults will prevent us for seeing the rapid and spontaneous expansion of Christianity.

Author

Dave DeVries

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Dr. Dave DeVries is a coach, trainer, author and founder of Missional Challenge. He is passionate about coaching and training church planters and missional leaders. With 30+ years of church planting and leadership development experience, Dave brings his passion and encouragement to those he trains and coaches.
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