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The Influence of Roland Allen on 21st Century Church Planting by J.D. Payne

It is essentially in its spontaneous growth and propagation that Christianity, or the Church, is revealed in its true character as indigenous in every country. If we want to know whether anything is indigenous anywhere, we must see it free; if we want to know what its character as indigenous is, we must see how it behaves when in a free condition. Only its spontaneous activity shows us whether it is indigenous, or what it is.
-- Roland Allen (1868-1947)1

In the fashion world trends repeat themselves every decade or so. The other evening my family and I were having supper with a couple when this very issue became a topic of discussion. They noted that recently while walking past a clothing store in a local mall, they were surprised at the cost of a pair of jeans that were torn and tattered while obviously being in-style. Hearing their story was a nostalgic moment for me. Though I am in my early thirties, I recall my high school days when “proper” fashion was deliberately to tear large holes in the legs of our jeans (Okay, so I grew up in the eighties; don’t blame me.).

Solomon once said that there was nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9). Though this statement is true, we are quick to forget that which has gone before us. Over the past few years, I have been impressed at the growing number of individuals who are speaking more and more about principles and practices of missions derived from the missiology of Roland Allen, yet having little knowledge of his influence on their ministries. This situation is most evident when we begin to speak of church planting movements.

Part of the problem is that the majority of Allen’s works are long out of print. The greater problem, however, is that many of us are so practically-orientated, after all disciple-making is highly practical, that we are quick to be apathetic to the past in light of finding out what is working in the present to plant churches.

Okay, then why write a historical article for such a practically-oriented audience? There are at least two reasons to pursue this endeavor. First, we must understand that our present realities are a continuation of the post-Pentecostal workings of the Spirit. Our stories are intimately connected with the stories of our brothers and sisters who have gone before us. We stand on the shoulders of the missiological giants of yesteryear. Our contemporary missionary practices never developed in a vacuum and we do not minister in a vacuum. We are a part of a 2000-year heritage. Second, I write so we will be encouraged and continue in doing good missionary work. It is a great blessing to hear of the rapid spread of the gospel and the multiplication of churches across the globe. So, I write to encourage and exhort us to continue in the desire and facilitation of church planting movements. An understanding of the historical elements of missionary work can stimulate us to good works. The purpose of this article is to show how Allen’s missiology has influenced 21st century church planters to reexamine their theologies, methodologies, and strategies.

By far one of the great classic texts in missiological writings is Allen’s work The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church and the Causes Which Hinder It. Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours?, though it has not been as popular as his famous it has been extremely influential in latter 20th and early 21st century missions. Though we do not use Allen’s phrase, “spontaneous expansion” as frequently as he did, we do speak and write often of “church planting movements.”

Allen's Spontaneous Expansion of the Church
As an Anglican bishop, Allen spent much of his life living, ministering, and writing in England, China, and Africa. He has been cited as stating that his views would probably not be widely accepted until a decade after his death.2 During his day, many received his missiology with frustration and irritation. Some saw him as a radical, while others understood him to be a prophet. In the early pages of The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church, he summarized his understanding of this type of church growth:

This then is what I mean by spontaneous expansion. I mean the expansion which follows the unexhorted and unorganized activity of individual members of the Church explaining to others the Gospel which they have found for themselves; I mean the expansion which follows the irresistible attraction of the Christian Church for men who see its ordered life, and are drawn to it by desire to discover the secret of a life which they instinctively desire to share; I mean also the expansion of the Church by the addition of new churches.3

To understand this concept in Allen's mind, it is necessary to briefly understand Allen's doctrine of the church and the Holy Spirit, and how he understood the role of the missionary. Like the threads of a tapestry, Allen's ecclesiology and pneumatology were tightly woven together. It is impossible to separate the two and correctly understand spontaneous expansion...

Read the remainder of this article as a PDF here


1 Roland Allen, “The Use of the Term ‘Indigenous,’” The International Review of Missions 16 (1927): 264.
2 Hubert J. B. Allen, Roland Allen: Pioneer, Priest, and Prophet (Cincinnati, OH: Forward Movement  Publications; Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995), vii.
3 Roland Allen, The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church: And the Causes Which Hinder It, American ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1962), 7.

About the Author:

J. D. Payne is a National Missionary with the North American Baptist Mission Board and serves as an Assistant Professor of Church Planting and Evangelism at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He also authored Missional House Churches. Find out more on his website at http://www.jdpayne.org

Also you can dowload this entire document a PDF here

Articles & Audio on Roland Allen
The Legacy of Roland Allen: Part One-His Life
The Legacy of Roland Allen: Part Two-His Philosophy of Missions
The Influence of Roland Allen on 21st Century Church Planting
Audio Presentation on Roland Allen by Dr. J.D. Payne
Top 20 Books that Shaped Church Multiplication Associates

Books by Roland Allen:
Spontaneous Expansion of the Church spontaneous cover
Missionary Methods: St. Paul's or Ours?missionary meth cover

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