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NATIONAL REPORT: ASSESSING THE UNFINISHED TASK, ZIMBABWE

THE TARGET 2010 MOVEMENT

From Church Survival to Strategic Advance, Zimbabwe was emerging from near civil war in the mid-1980`s. Church leaders began asking questions about the state of the Great Commission in their nation. No one actually knew whether the Body of Christ was advancing or losing ground. Times were tough and most churches were struggling to get by in a survival mode. Pressed by the needs of the flock, church leaders felt they had little left over for outreach to un-reached communities.

With peace returning to the land, it became increasingly difficult to ignore the hundreds of villages and townships that remained virtually untouched by the Gospel. In 1986, a core of leaders from several denominations began to unite around the vision of saturating the nation with churches. Initially called Discipling Zimbabwe, this group launched a series of regional church planting envisioning consultations over the next two years to shed light on this great need. This was a match in God`s hands used to light a fire that was to spread across the country and later to other nations.

The task force made it a top priority to gain information on the specific areas and communities where new churches were most needed. Over a period of three years, research was carried out in every district, collecting information on virtually every church in the nation and noted un-churched areas.

Like the spies returning from Canaan, they gave a report on the land yet to be possessed for the Kingdom of God. The good news was that there were a total of 10,000 existing congregations throughout the country. Yet, to put a vibrant church within easy access of every community the researchers calculated that another 10,000 congregations would need to be planted. This total was based upon the goal of having one congregation for every 500 rural people and one for every 1000 urban people. That would mean doubling the total number of congregations!

The Discipling Zimbabwe task force convened the historic Target 2000 national congress in 1992 in which four hundred delegates from 60 denominations participated. The Great Commission challenge was simple. By God`s grace, 10,000 new churches must be planted by the year 2000. In order to achieve this massive goal, every denomination was encouraged to play a significant role by setting its own church planting goals, training its own church planters and targeting areas where churches were most needed. As a divine appointment with God, the Body of Christ came together in the spirit of Joshua and Caleb, proclaiming, “Yes, we can do it.” Therefore the challenging and ambitious goal of ten thousand churches to be planted before the year 2000 became a chorus of the task force.

TAKING A NEW GROUND

The Body of Christ in Zimbabwe took up the challenge. People began to pray for un-churched areas as never before, while every local church was encouraged to identify possible areas for church planting and to deliberately raise up lay leaders for this great challenge.

In order to fan the flames of multiplication during the 1990s, the Target 2000 national task force (as it came to be called) facilitated numerous regional and denominational training consultations where leaders were equipped in church planting, leadership, church health and spiritual warfare. Training was provided in how to identify priority communities for church planting. Participants were encouraged to target needy areas, and leaders were encouraged to look at their nation in terms of the remaining task of completing the Great Commission.

MULTIPLYING LIKE MUSHROOMS

The Church planting vision in Zimbabwe began to spread around the country like wild fire. This growth explosion was referred to by a newspaper journalist, as the “mushrooming of churches”. An army of church planters, intercessors and senders rallied behind the vision and began to deliberately plant churches in a way that they`d never done before. Key to this process was the mobilization of lay people for church planting. Local churches began to train their members internally and sent them out to unreached areas, since Bible colleges could not cope with the demand of high number of enrollment.

A new creativity was unleashed as people searched for effective ways to reach the lost. Churches were planted by means of church planting teams, the multiplication of branch churches, the Jesus Film, personal evangelism, local-church based crusades, open-air evangelistic meetings, healing and deliverance ministries and community development projects. Hundreds of churches were also planted by some church members who relocated (i.e. job transfer, retrenchments, etc.) to new areas, due to lack of a healthy church. They took a church planting vision as they went out.

With the flood of AIDS-related deaths, many pastors have made it a goal to win people to Christ at funerals and leave behind a new congregation. Things were tried that had never been done before. The Gweru Ministers` Fraternal formed a church planting team consisting of volunteers from five denominations. This Gweru-based teams were made available to local congregations in need of practical assistance, with the condition that the sponsoring church provides a pastor to care for the new congregation. Now that is vision driven unity!

God has used the most unlikely people to advance His purposes. A grandmother returning to her rural home to lend a hand in the fields managed to plant three churches during the rainy season. In Masvingo, a blind man successfully planted a new congregation. A converted drunk and thief planted over a dozen churches in the rural Nkayi area. God`s grace was available to those who responded in obedience to His call, regardless of their background or educational level.

NATIONAL VISION LEADS TO REMARKABLE GROWTH

The denominations that prioritized church planting experienced exceptional growth. In nine years, the Baptist Convention grew from 320 to 500 churches, the Full Gospel Church grew from 80 to 201 churches, Zimbabwe Christian Fellowship grew from 18 to 92 churches, the Methodist Church grew from 1355 to 1542 churches and the Apostolic Faith Mission grew from 975 to 2000 churches.
These are but a few examples of God`s blessings on denominations committed to church planting. With all of this activities, was the national goal achieved? In September, 2001, leaders gathered in Target 2000 national consultation to hear an progress update made throughout the country. There was great rejoicing when the report was shared that the goal of 10,000 new churches had been achieved. During this same period, 1186 churches had been planted by Zimbabweans in surrounding African countries and even to Europe and the USA. God had worked powerfully to advance His Kingdom.

In assessing the dynamics of the Target 2000 and Beyond movement, it would be noteworthy to highlight some strengths and areas for improvement.

STRENGTHS INCLUDE THE FOLLOWING

  1. A clear national vision uniting the Body of Christ.
  2. A committed national taskforce of respected, representative leaders.
  3. Church planting goals set by denominations and local churches.
  4. A simple strategy of multiplying congregations into every small community.
  5. Research that clarifies the task and promotes effective models.
  6. Local church-based prayer and spiritual warfare unlocking communities held captive by demonic forces.
  7. Evangelistic fruit conserved by the gathering of converts into new churches.
    The provision of ongoing training through leadership consultations and written materials.

AREAS FOR IMPROVEMENT INCLUDE

  1. Least churched areas and peoples who need to be more deliberately identified and targeted. These communities are the most difficult to reach, including deep rural areas and immigrants.
  2. Church health needs to be emphasized alongside church planting in order to avoid the planting of weak churches. Sending churches should be encouraged to provide nurture and training until the church can stand on its own.
  3. The multiplication of leaders must be prioritized. Though there was a 98% increase in the number of pastors during the past nine years, the average full-time pastor remains responsible for five congregations. This ratio declines to one trained leader for every three churches when lay pastors are included. Every congregation deserves a trained, growing leader.
  4. Most new church pastors are not adequately prepared for ministry. Though 63% of denominations provide specific training for leaders in pioneering ministries, this has to be significantly strengthened through a variety of training opportunities.
  5. Leadership renewal is necessary within the national task force. It is critical that a steady flow of new, committed leaders be integrated into the national task force. Additional leaders bring needed energy, networking and creativity to ensure the expansion and implementation of the vision.
  6. Churches should be encouraged to work together for community transformation. Working together they can minister effectively to the hurts and needs of the communities in which they reside.

THE BATTLE CONTINUES

Zimbabwe has received a global press coverage due to the ongoing political turmoil sparked by the land issue, clearing slums (locally known as murambatsvina), and recent price blitz coupled with AIDS pandemic and looming food shortages and it is evident that society is reeling with pain. The major population shifts are underway as families and entire communities are resettled into new areas. The current environment poses a challenge for existing churches that aspire to be agents of transformation.

Yet, in the midst of such a crisis comes great opportunity. On the other hand, while the situation has been so tense, this has been a blessing in disguise, as there have been a lot of people moving out of the country to look for greener pastures as well as better living conditions. Like believers in the book of Acts who were scattered by persecution but despite that, preached the gospel and planted churches wherever they went, many more churches have been planted by Zimbabweans in the neighboring countries as well as abroad.

Within this demanding context, Target 2000 has revived itself. Like people, church planting movements pass through a life cycle. It must adjust to changing times and needs. What was relevant in the 1990s may no longer be what is necessary today. Therefore, over the past few years the national task force has undergone a restructuring process. New leaders are being empowered to develop new strategies and ministries to serve the Body of Christ.

The renewed movement has developed the following ministry priorities:

  1. Strategic church planting. The Body of Christ must continually be mobilized to reproduce itself where most needed (i.e. new communities, resettlement areas, overlooked groups, etc.).
  2. Leadership development. All available means must be marshalled to equip current and future church leaders. Bible schools, workshops, correspondence courses, mentoring and a multiplicity of training resources must be strengthened and utilized to train the number and quality of leaders that are needed.
  3. Church health. New and old churches need to be equipped to effectively disciple their members. Trained and mobilized members are the hands and feet of a vibrant, reproducing church.
  4. City outreach. God`s redemptive agenda for towns and cities can be effectively advanced when churches pray and work together. City outreach initiatives enable the city-church (the whole Body of Christ in a city) to transform communities through united prayer, emerging city leadership, saturation church planting, healthy church development and holistic ministries.
  5. Cross-cultural Missions mobilization. The Church in Zimbabwe is biblically compelled to participate in God`s global missions movement. Target 2010 is committed to encourage cross-cultural missions vision, training and deployment, challenging Zimbabweans to take the Gospel to neighboring countries and to the ends of the earth.

For healthy churches to transform communities there should be healthy and transformed pastors, who are equipped adequately so as to impact the churches to bring about transformation of their communities.

Behind the mushrooming of churches as mentioned above, there is also mushrooming of emerging young and inexperienced leaders that lack adequate equipping and mentoring. Zimbabwe continue to seek to fulfill the Great Commission through holding consultations or seminars for training, equipping and mentoring of emerging leadership on a country wide and interdenominational basis.

In addition to training, ZimNet also continues to seek to reach out to pockets of people groups that are less evangelized, such as the Gujarat, the Doma, the Tonga, etc., so as to reach them with the gospel by challenging and encouraging the body of Christ in Zimbabwe to reach out to them by planting healthy churches. The spirit of Zimbabwe mission may be summed up in an African proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.” There is no limit to what can be accomplished when the Body of Christ partners together. May the concerted manner in which we work bear testimony to the Kingdom and serve to effectively advance the discipling of our nations.

* Published with Permission from the Regional Coordinator for Southern Africa of MANI.
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P. F. Moyo


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