Why does Jackson Wu state: “There are no Church Planting Movements in the Bible….” and how did David Garrison reply?


In the October 2014 issue of “Global Missiology” Jackson Wu who is a teacher of missiology and theology for Chinese church leaders in Asia uses a provocative title: “There Are No Church Planting Movements in the Bible: Why Biblical Exegesis Missiological Methods Cannot Be Separated.”

In the same issue he provided a sequel titled “The Influence of Culture On the Evolution of Mission Methods: Using ‘Church Planting Movements’ As A Case Study

In his first article Jackson Wu examined the Biblical justification for Church Planting Movements (CPMs) and especially those drawn from the book of Acts and finds that, according to advocates of CPMs, even the Apostle Paul did not make the grade.

Definition of a CPM:

Just for reference, David Garrison who is considered the most avid popularizer of Church Planting Movements (CPMs) defined them as: “A rapid and exponential increase of indigenous churches planting churches within a given people group or population segment.” This is a quotation from his 1999 Church Planting Movement book, which he slightly modified in 2004 to read “a rapid multiplication of indigenous churches planting churches that sweeps through a people group or population segment” 1 It is noteworthy that his later definition excluded the term “exponential.” Jim Slack of the Southern Baptist International Missionary Board preferred to define a CPM, however with these words, which do not include the “sweep through” phrase. He states that the IMB definition is: “a rapid multiplication of indigenous churches planting churches within a given people group or population segment.” 2

Accolades for CPMs:

Consider how much weight is given to such as strategy from two advocates within the International Missionary Board (IMB).

Jerry Rankin, then the president of the organization said:

“Church planting movements are the only way the gospel can spread spontaneously and provide all people access to the message of saving faith in Christ.” 3

Jim Slack, as the senior missiologist of the IMB, echoed the same and stated, “Second, a spiritually driven and generationally sustained Church Planting Movement is one of the few ways, if not the only way, the gospel will likely spread to reach, win, and bring into Christ’s kingdom and His churches a majority of the people in various ethnic people groups.” 4

David Garrison listed ten universal characteristics of CPMs as being:

  1. Prayer
  2. Abundant Gospel Sowing
  3. Intentional Church Planting
  4. Scriptural Authority
  5. Local Leadership
  6. Lay Leadership
  7. Cell or House Churches
  8. Churches Planting Churches
  9. Rapid Reproduction
  10. Healthy Churches

As a mirror to Garrison’s ten essential characteristics, Wu raises ten concerns, which have also been echoed in other literature produced by Southern Baptists, mostly around the idea that the “need for speed” and the motifs of rabbit-like multiplication might look good in the short term for those looking only for numerical growth, but do not bode well in the long term for those looking for deep discipleship in a solid church setting.

  1. They raise unrealistic expectations.
  2. They orient people to use the “whatever it takes” approach to get results.
  3. Disappointed missionaries leave the field when the promised CPM does not materialize.
  4. The results orientation of CPMs can predispose workers to inflate results.
  5. CPMs can reduce results only to “numerical faithfulness” and minimize other Biblical metric of success like the fruit of the Sprit
  6. CPMs selectively read Scripture and ignore the ministries of Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel.
  7. CPM theory imposes its read on the Scriptures
  8. CPMs unBiblically raise missionary strategists to a higher rank than faithful proclaimers
  9. CPMs favor more pragmatically oriented than theologically oriented mission workers
  10. CPMs have a “need for speed” and so can eliminate the slow but sure discipleship processes vital to a local church

Wu concludes his article as follows:

It appears that not even Paul would have passed a CPM assessment. Why? By the standards used by CPM theorists, we lack evidence. According to the criteria seen above, one cannot find a CPM in the Bible. These observations indicate a foundational problem with CPM missiology. Although we could agree with CPM practitioners on a number of biblical principles, we should not “reverse engineer” the process such that we put our “best practices” into the Bible (i.e. “eisegesis”).  

It is not bad to establish goals and design strategies to reach the nations with the gospel. Likewise, there is nothing wrong with assessing our work. However, we must be careful about how we use the Bible to do these things. We must be willing to state the plain fact that the numerical criteria used to assess CPMs is arbitrary. Therefore, missionaries should not feel that they fall short of the biblical norm simply because their ministry resembles that of Jeremiah or Ezekiel.

Why, then, does Jackson Wu argue there are no church planting movements in the Bible? Because the basic premises and definition of what a CPM is, as currently advocated and accepted especially by David Garrison, even in his recent Wind in the House of Islam is not found or argued in the Scripture. While the Scripture provides a basis for and methodology for evangelism, church planting and church growth in a sense of quantity and quality of disciples never the less, it does not contain the clear teaching that is foundational and promoted by current CPM advocates.

Wu introduces his second article with the following:

This article highlights three specific ways that culture contributes to the evolution of a missionary strategy. As a case study, I will examine the cultural influences behind “church planting movements” (CPMs). This study first considers how CPM practitioners understand culture’s influence on Paul’s missionary efforts. The second section identifies a number of cultural assumptions affecting the application of the CPM paradigm. Third, I give one explanation why the model survives despite a lack of biblical precedent. There are strong forces within missionary subculture that have enabled CPM theory to evolve into a popular ministry model. Finally, I conclude by offering a few practical suggestions that will help us resist the rapid spread of syncretism within contemporary mission strategy.”

In short Wu argues as follows:

The West values speed, numerical growth, novelty (“if it is new it must be better”), independence from tradition, looking for “best practices” and developing “export markets.” All of these are used in CPMs and CPMs shop the Bible to find justification for them. He then compares CPMs to Darwin’s theory of evolution and with tongue in cheek says that CPMs foster the “survival of the fastest” and by extension the most successful. With all of the speed and superficiality, Wu worries that the logical result will be the mixture of the worst elements of Western business thinking, indigenous religions and a sprinkling of the Gospel. He looks for ways to avoid this practical trap.

David Garrison, the “grand-daddy” of CPMs replied in the following article in the same issue, “Church Planting Movements Are Consistent with the Teachings & Practices of the New Testament: A Response to Jackson Wu

David Garrison counters that just because a concept is not seen in the Bible, for instance Sunday School programs, does not mean that it does not have Biblical warrant. He thus tries to debunk Wu’s argument that CPMs are not in the Bible by taking each of the ten universal elements of a CPM and giving them “proof-texts.” He appears to miss the fact that Wu is stating that CPMs are more of a product of Western culture and managerial methods than Biblical ones. This will show up in Wu’s response which follows.

Finally, Jackson Wu gives some of his concluding thoughts on David Garrison’s comments in his blog of April 8/ 2015. His, “Thoughts on David Garrison’s reply to my article on CPMs” has some insightful comments. Here are three take-aways:

  • we must not confuse “the results seen in the Bible with the methodologies we suppose will bring about those outcomes.”
  • he is concerned that “church planting methods that, practically speaking, seem to define success almost exclusively in terms of rapid numerical growth above all else.”
  • he is concerned as he quotes David Platt that David Garrison’s commitment to his CPM “industry” might be problematic:

“We begin to discover our dangerous tendency to value our traditions over God’s truth, just as Jesus warned. We find ourselves defending a program because that’s what worked before, not because that’s what God has said to do now. We realize how prone we are to exalt our work over God’s will, our dreams over God’s desires and our plans over God’s priorities.” (David Platt, Radical Together, p. 14)


  1. p.21; cf. See Wu for a complete bibliography on Garrison.
  2. Jim Slack, “Church Planting Movements: Rationale, Research and Realities of Their Existence,” Journal of Evangelism and Missions 6 (Spring 2007), 31-32.
  3. Jerry Rankin. Empowering Kingdom Growth to the Ends of the Earth. (Richmond, VA: The
    International Mission Board, SBC, 2005), 95.
  4. Slack, 35

About Author

John Span has worked with his family in West Africa among an unreached 'Fulani' people group for the last ten years. His mentors have challenged him to think theologically, especially in the area of missions to Muslims and he desires to inspire others to do the same. In the last year he has been a frequent contributor to the St. Francis Magazine.

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