Research Details

Characteristics of Leaders Reproducing Churches in Japan

The purpose of this project will be to identify and describe the characteristics of leaders reproducing churches in Japan.

  • This major research project is personally conducted by John W. Mehn.
  • This research is endorsed by Japan Evangelical Missionary Association – Church Planting Institute (CPI).
  • This is part of doctoral level academic research in missiology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, School of World Mission and Evangelism

An interview with the researcher, John W. Mehn.

Why this research project?

The growth of the church in Japan has been relatively unchanged over the past thirty years. In the midst of these downward trends, there are a few churches, maybe exceptional churches, which have been birthing new churches on a regular basis and reproducing themselves in the Japanese culture. Some even consider these promising churches as possible small-scale church planting movements due to their rate of reproduction. This is extremely encouraging and gives many in ministry in Japan hope for the future.

John, why are you coordinating this research?

Well, church planting is a personal ministry passion and something as a pastor and a missionary I have been very involved in. Our mission Converge Worldwide/BGC is a mission committed to church planting with our Japanese partners the Rengo. CPI is also a big part of my ministry leadership. The information from this research could have long-lasting implication within the CPI movement and its various denominations and agencies.

Why the focus on leadership for church reproduction?

In these reproducing churches, there are certainly many contributing factors which could be investigated to explain why they have discovered means to reproduce and multiply. Several aspects of church growth such as spiritual vitality, church model, evangelism methodology, community outreach, aspects of public worship, discipleship systems, lay mobilization, fellowship groups, ministry context, and others could be researched. Some have suggested that one of the most important factors in the reproduction of these churches is undoubtedly the leader and the leadership community of the church.

Really, are there churches in Japan that reproduce?

Yes, in fact, many more than most people realize. I have a tentative list of over 15 churches that have reproduced at least 3 daughter churches in the last 20 years. Some have reproduced more churches and faster in a shorter time period.

Can I get information from this research when it is completed?

The research is just at the beginning stages. It is hoped that some information will be available by the fall of 2009.

What about studying missionaries reproducing churches?

The focus of the study is indigenous Japanese leadership and characteristics of leaders. Though some foreign missionaries have reproduced churches, this project will not focus on them. That would be great subject for another research project.

What about granddaughter churches?

Leadership for church multiplication of daughter churches into several granddaughter churches is also desirable for this project but will not be its focus. Research into the characteristics of leaders of these reproducing churches rather than the various factors of church reproduction is the emphasis of this research project. That is a great topic for another research project.

Why one church reproducing 3 daughter churches in 20 years?

Normally in Japan it takes between 6-12 years to plant and establish an independent church. For an established church to reproduce itself once every 6-12 years is – unfortunately not yet common – probably not difficult with the right resources. For one church to reproduce itself twice in a 12-15 year period is even more difficult and unusual. But a Japanese church which can reproduce itself a minimum of three or more times within a 20 year period is extremely unusual. Churches which can reproduce themselves over three times within 20 years must have a strong intentionality for church planting. It is desirable to determine which leaders have started far more than three churches. The more important factor for this leadership study is not the span of time for reproducing churches but how many churches have been started during that time span. Of course multiple reproductions in a shorter time span are desirable.

Will you be researching churches outside Japan?

The focus of this research will be churches in Japan. Maybe at a later time some reproducing churches outside of Japan can be researched.

Will this study include cell and house churches?

Of course, we want the broadest understanding of the church. This is a study of leadership not church models. Send me along examples and I will look into them.

How are you defining a church?

One of the key distinctions between more emerging church models like the cell and house model and more traditional church models is the determination of what exactly constitutes a local church. It would be most helpful to not limit this research to what constitutes a church based on a narrow definition founded on either an established standard model or an emerging church model. We want to celebrate reproducing churches in all its various expressions regardless of its context or church model. We would desire a broad evangelical definition that will both be inclusive and also applaud the distinctive contributions which would be consistent throughout all church models. A working definition of a local church for the purpose of this project will be a group of believers who identify themselves as followers of Christ (the people of God) in a given locality (or among a particular target group) who are endeavoring in faithfulness to follow the Scriptural requirements as a church, including the ministry of the Word, the ordinances, and church discipline.

How are you defining a leader?

It would be disadvantageous to eliminate any possible worthy leader from this project by a narrow or limiting definition of a leader based on either an established or emerging church model of church leadership. What is needed is a broad definition of a leader that would be flexible and inclusive enough that all would agree to as a minimum working basis for this research on church reproduction leadership. A working definition of a leader for the purpose of this study will be one who would be considered a “head pastor” of a local church appointed or recognized by their local congregation or by their denomination or church agency. They would function with spiritual authority in the role of pastor for the spiritual welfare of the congregation (or cell) and would be given the authority to minister such as the preaching the Word and performing the ordinances of the church.

What about reproduction of Bible studies and cell groups?

This would not be research into the reproduction of Bible studies or small groups but would permit the study of the reproduction of individual cells of a cell church if they define themselves functionally as a church. A cell leader in a cell church (and some leaders of branch and satellite churches) will possibly be considered only if the leader is given sufficient leadership freedom by the central church for autonomous church reproduction.

What about satellite churches?

Satellite or branch churches would only be considered if they have freedom for autonomous church reproduction.

How about church splits?

A church can relatively easily have an accidental birth by a church split; although it is unlikely that a church would split three or more times in relatively a few years.

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