By President for Vision LA, Austin Gardner

Why an indigenous church?
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Why an indigenous church?

I wrote the following in 1991 but still think that there are things you can glean from! How do we plant an indigenous church? What will be the PLAN to use in starting your first church? Obviously, each country will have its own peculiarities and each missionary will do things differently, but we will present at least an idea or plan to refer to, should you so desire. From beginning to end, all depends on PRAYER. Be sure to know the will of God in what you are doing.


Many people quit because they do not know what God’s will is for them when the discouraging times come. They begin to think that they are where they are because they decided to do so without the leadership of the Holy Spirit. Be sure he has called you and then ask his guidance, waiting on him for guidance on where you will work. Seek his power. Seek his direction as to where, when and who will help. Be careful to pray wisely. Drive around. Look at the folks and find out where the need is. Wait on him to show you just where to begin. You need not hide from other churches but it might be wiser not to start a church right next door to another church. What economic level will you work with? Be sure to find out where the best location is. Determine what was in the building before you and if you are close to a bar, etc. Starting the church is not something you will do lightly or quickly if you want God’s blessing on what you are doing. Be careful to start in a place that will leave open doors to carry the ministry forward.

Pray about the will of God as to who will help you start the work.

Will you work with a national or will you be alone?

Maybe you can get at least temporary help from another church in the area. They could go visiting with you, sing specials, give testimonies. Often times there is no one to help so you just go and start by yourself. Be careful to not jump in with out praying and planning, but neither should you waste time just because you are scared or nervous. I have personally known people in Peru that took months and one fellow years to get started because they where studying everything. He actually spent 4 years traveling the Amazon River before he started his first work. He knew where all the fishing holes were. He told me this himself. There is too much to do to be wasting our time like that. Work for the night is coming.

After much prayer and finding out who will help you it will be time to find a PLACE to meet. You need to be careful to get a good location where the people can find you. You need to study the area to see where the other churches are and where the people live. It is wise, especially in a third world country, to find a safe place because the people are often afraid to go out at night to certain areas.

Rent a place big enough for what you want to do.

You will need a place where at least 40 or 50 people can sit, a place with a bathroom, etc. Of course you will need to think of how the people of your country think and not what you are accustomed to here in the states. If you are able to do so you should put up a sign advertising the church and the services. Make it a good one. If you are in a country where you can not advertise a church, like Mexico, maybe you could use one of the portable signs that you can put up and down on service day. (Back in the day in Mexico many were afraid of losing their property to the government if they rented their place to someone to start a church! I do not think this is a problem today.)

Once you have your place you will need to get chairs, a pulpit and offering plates.

I always try to have Testaments or Bibles present until the people can buy their own.

I provide song sheets or hymn books, etc. I know what you are thinking. If it is an indigenous church, shouldn’t it be self supporting? Yes, it should and will be when you have been there long enough and done enough. Even in the states, when a man starts a church from scratch, he has to provide everything initially. There are folks who do not believe in providing anything. However, you will sure lose a lot of time getting folks saved and teaching them the Bible when they don’t have one and can’t see one. In Latin America, it is often very difficult to buy land in a city once you have started due to the fact that all the land is taken. At least in Peru there are very seldom any vacant lots. Try to rent where you will be able to stay long enough to raise the money to build and buy because it will not be easy.

There are still many PREPARATIONS to make even after you have gotten your place to work and found the place you will meet. It is good to print and use literally thousands of invitations, passing them out door to door, in the streets, market places, and public meeting places. Never give out an invitation without a tract because the majority of the people who receive the tract will not come. It would also be good to fix up some posters that you can put around in the public places so that people will know what you are doing. We even use a public address system to drive around inviting the people to come. I decided a long time ago that even though the majority will not come, I at least want everyone to know what we are doing.

I try to make a lot of “noise” about the opening of a new church.

The PROCEDURE then is to plan what you will do to get started. You might hold a week of meetings with gospel films followed by preaching or maybe just a regular service with Bible study. Which ever you do, you will need to go out and invite folks all around the area. I literally visit every house in the neighborhood with a gospel tract and an invitation. Many times we make plans to go back every day or every week with a new gospel tract. We do not stay long because our goal is to get folks out to the meeting. If you plan a week of meetings you might consider inviting other Christians from another area to come and give personal testimonies of what Jesus has done in their lives and what the Bible and the church mean to them. It is also good to have some special singing if you can. What we do is sing and have testimonies, then show the film, followed more testimonies.

We then preach on the same idea of the film, trying to get folks to stay afterwards to talk with us about salvation. Be sure to sing the same simple chorus over and over so that the people will learn them and remember them. Once you know what you will do and when then it is time to go visiting, be sure to visit much. When I knock on a door in Peru I ask for the man and teach the others to do the same. The church (at least in Latin countries) has too long been a thing of the women. I make my church a place for men. I do not use women much and when they are able to start making decisions I use the men of the church. By the way, I know missionaries that use women as deacons and song leaders, etc. I do not think that is scriptural nor wise in most cultures. Be sure to invite the world.

Be sure to go to the market and to all public meeting places with your invitations. You never know where God has someone that will come. Due to the amount of work necessary we usually visit and advertise a week of meetings up to a couple of week before it really gets started. Before leaving the idea of using the campaign, let me tell what the Christian Missionary Alliance is doing in Lima, Peru. They will plan a campaign of up to two weeks and then will visit and work for a month getting ready. Then after a campaign of two weeks they will have follow up for two weeks and then another campaign. They go this way for an entire year. Currently in Peru they have the largest and most powerful churches. This schedule is obviously very difficult, but it has worked.


The hardest part is getting your first group of people together.

Once you have some who will attend you can begin training them to win souls and to visit . They will bring their families. They will invite their friends if they have really made a decision. You must kill yourself to get those first ones. Use your people from the first day. Let them help with the visitation. As soon as someone shows some promise let him do something in the service that is not really important. He can welcome people or maybe later take up the offering. You need to do all you can to win them and then let them know that the church is theirs and for them. To be honest, it takes a miracle from God to get a church going but He will do it. We must be careful to go in his power and Spirit. Remember that the communists are using the young people to get their movements going. Don’t be afraid to use the older teens. Let them visit and invite also. The more involved they are, the better. They will not be what you want in a church member the first day, but if you can love them and teach them they will get to where they should be. Remember that it is all new to them.

About the Author

Austin Gardner is the founding Pastor of Vision Baptist Church and a veteran missionary to the country of Peru, South America for over 20 years. The Lord blessed his ministry and allowed him to train pastors and leaders in the ministry that have started 80+ churches all over the world. He is a sought-after speaker on missions and travels extensively as a part of his continuing ministry of training missionaries.
He has started multiple schools for ministry including the Peru Bible College and the Our Generation Training Centerwhich continues to train young men and women pursuing a life of full-time world missions.
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Austin Gardner