The smallest churches in the world are worship driven; often worship is their only significant program.

This entry is part 83 of 118 in the series Diagnosis, Dialogue, Decision: A DMin Project

The smallest churches in the world are worship driven; often worship is their only significant program. If these churches were unable to provide worship, they would disappear overnight. Worship is all that links the people, and they function more like an audience than a congregation.[1] In times of persecution when large public worship services cannot be held, discipleship systems continue to function. Believers of the Ethiopian Meserete Kristos movement grew tenfold, from five thousand to fifty thousand during nine years of persecution without public worship that ended in 1991.[2] Growth also occurred under similar conditions in China.[3] The discipleship system practiced in homes continued to produce believers in the absence of open, public worship.[4] When public worship resumes, the world is astonished at the growth of these churches during a time of persecution and without the pulpit ministry Americans deem necessary. The discipleship system continues to function and make disciples whether or not there is public, Christian worship.[5] This continuing growth when persecution prevents public preaching suggests that, with an effective discipleship system in place, the form worship takes is irrelevant to disciple-making. The New Testament record indicates that a particular form of worship is not necessary to build a thriving, growing, disciple-making church based on the example of the early church described in the book of Acts.[6]





[1] The quote is a selection from David O. Kueker’s Fuller Seminary Doctor of Ministry project submitted in September, 2007, entitled Diagnosis, Dialogue, and Decision: A Threefold Process of Revitalization For the Illinois Great Rivers Conference.
It is shared here in recognition of its 12th Anniversary along with comments to update and provide perspective on the material. The original project was a Training Manual/Study Guide of three Seminars supported by three chapters of research and an Introduction. The material is available for download at In 2009 it was provided for purchase as a softcover book entitled Designing Discipleship Systems: Christian Disciple Making For Any Size Church, Any Theology through

[2][3] [4][5] [6][7] [8]

All Scripture quotations are from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1946, 1952, and 1971 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Please review the page How and Why We Use Quotes.

[1]Rodney Stark and Charles Y. Glock, American Piety: The Nature of Religious Commitment (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968), 173, 221.

[2]For growth in the Sudan Interior Mission in Ethiopia, 1938-1943, see Bethel University, Ethiopian Protestantism: The “Pente” Churches in Ethiopia, Protestantism.html (accessed June 13, 2007). Cf. Jeremy Wells, “Ethiopia: ‘The Country Blessed of God’,” Christianity Today, July 1, 2005.

[3]For current restrictions on worship in China, see U.S. Department of State, International Religious Freedom Report 2006, (accessed June 18, 2007). The church multiplication movement strategy is rapidly planting indigenous churches in China without flashy public worship considered a requirement for growth in the United States. David Garrison, Chapter 2: CPMs Up Close; A Region in China, David Garrison, Church Planting Movements: How God Is Redeeming a Lost World (Midlothian, VA: WIGTake Resources, 2004), 49-64. Cf. David Yongii Cho, Successful Home Cell Groups (Gainesville, FL: Bridge-Logos, 1981), 82-84.

[4]Persecution also frees the discipleship system from the negative influence of an institutional church worldview and stranger evangelism. During persecution, no energy is invested in maintaining an institutional church; it all goes to disciple-making.

[5]For a historical example of “secret evangelism” in the Protestant Reformation, cf. Rodney Stark, For the Glory of God: How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witch-hunts, and the End of Slavery (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003), 95-100, 119.

[6]The Great Commission does not command us to worship. Jesus does not conduct worship (as we would define it) in the New Testament, nor do the disciples. The church of Acts attends Jewish, not Christian, worship in the temple where Jesus Christ is neither named or honored in liturgy. Neither Jesus nor the disciples have any leadership role or control in the worship that takes place in the temple. Temple liturgy was not Christian and did not express Christian belief or theology. The disciple-making work of the Church of Acts occurs without the disciples having the slightest influence on the worship forms of the Temple until Acts 6:7. (Presumably an attempt to influence temple worship results in their immediate ejection via persecution by the balancing process of the Temple system.) Nor does it seem that they sought to influence worship forms at all; they seem perfectly content to attend the temple and worship as they always had prior to the resurrection of Jesus. There is no New Testament correlation to contemporary or traditional worship in Acts 1-6.

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