A Summary for Indian Leaders and Friends of India
D.R. David, D.Min., Ph.D.
June 28, 2011
India Research Project by D.R. David is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
1.0 The context for this report
Nearly twelve years ago a collaborative research project was launched, focusing on leadership development needs in India, known as the India Leadership Study. None of those who initiated that project had any idea of how influential it would become in shaping the thinking of leaders within India, nor in stimulating greater involvement by various friends of India.
A decade later, a new collaborative research effort was launched, with a broader focus, called the India Research Project. The primary goal was to provide an overview of the current situation in India related to evangelism, church planting, leadership development and social transformation. The desired outcomes included a better understanding of changes in India over the decade since the India Leadership Study, as well as current priorities for ministry in India.
This report is based on personal interviews with over 100 Indian leaders.
The majority of the interviews were one-on-one, but a good number included anywhere from two or three key colleagues to a couple of dozen staff members or field workers. The typical interview lasted at least two hours; a few were shorter, and some involved a full day or more. In addition to the face-to-face interviews there were several phone or Skype interviews. Detailed written responses to a set of open-ended interview questions were received from nearly 30 people. This report also builds on thousands of pages of reading of recently published books, periodicals, ministry newsletters, articles, web sites and e-mail correspondence related to India and to the leaders interviewed.
This summary is intended to provide an overview of key themes emerging from the research, based on the responses of Indian Christian leaders in answer to the questions:
- How has India been changing over the last decade?
- How has the church in India been changing?
- What should be the priorities for the church in India?
- What constructive role could friends of India play?
- Where do we go from here?
Day after day men came to help David…men of Issachar, who understood the times and knew what Israel should do. (I Chronicles 12:22,32)
2.0 How has India been changing over the last decade?
2.1 Coming up— economy, technology, health, education, youth, international influence
“You canʼt tell who the VIPʼs are anymore,” remarked one Indian leader. “So many people now drive cars and use cell phones.”
Indiaʼs shift to a market economy, combined with the phenomenal growth of its software industry, has fueled rapid economic advancement that is changing the external appearance of India, especially its cities, but which is also making profound alterations in the social fabric.
Ten years ago there were 20 million cell phones in use. Today the number is an astounding 800 million. Telephone towers are seen everywhere. People used to have to wait three to five years for a landline. Now even rural farmers can manage 1000 rupees ($23) for a cell phone. Young people routinely send a hundred or more SMS messages a day.
More Indians are traveling internationally. But Nike, Reebok and Adidas athletic shoes are no longer status symbols for those who have ventured abroad— these brands are sold in shopping malls on every corner of Indiaʼs cities. Use of credit cards, ATMʼs and electronic banking is mushrooming. A leader in Kolkata estimates that the frequency of eating out has increased five to ten times, for people of all classes. Materialism is spreading. Appetites are stoked by advertising. People make purchases, but donʼt take into account the costs of ownership, e.g. maintenance on a car.
People used to purchase their first home after retirement. Now many young adults expect to purchase a home as well as a car before getting married— and some are retiring by age 45 or even 35.
The economic liberalization policies have fostered the entrepreneurial spirit and the multiplication of small and medium sized businesses. Information technology parks, call centers and BPOʼs (business process outsourcing) have provided employment for thousands, not only in the major cities like Bangalore, Delhi, Chennai and Hyderabad, but increasingly in second and third tier cities as well.
India is a young nation, with 65% to 70% of its population under the age of 35, and nearly half under 20 years old. Todayʼs Indian youth are more career- oriented and confident. They have more self-esteem and more sense of power in their hands, living by their own rules. They are more open and honest. Increasing numbers live away from their families, earn good incomes, and desire their independence. Understandably, the majority of media are targeting young people. A pastor of a large urban church observes, “By 2020, one-quarter of the worldʼs work force will be Indian. Impacting India today is an aspect of impacting the world.”
The government five-year plans that used to focus on agriculture are now emphasizing infrastructure. New airports, both domestic and international, are springing up in all regions of the country to support the boom in air travel. Rapid transit systems are being been built within the major cities. Limited access toll roads and multi-lane freeways are connecting urban areas, while potholes, unfinished construction and choking traffic within those cities stretch what used to be a 10 minute drive into 45 minutes. Even Indiaʼs Northeast, which used to be sadly neglected by the central government, has seen an increase in spending on infrastructure in the last ten years. The politics of religion is being replaced by the politics of development in places like Bihar and Gujarat.
In the urban areas, Internet connections are readily accessible. Three hundred TV channels are available, 80% of them Indian.
Health consciousness has increased greatly. Personal hygiene and environmental sanitation are being improved. Children are immunized regularly against polio, tuberculosis, Hepatitis B, etc. Although diabetes has been growing fast in India, more people are taking precautious. Women as well as men are doing regular walking and exercising, as well as using modern gyms and fitness centers. As people become more beauty and skin conscious, the use of cosmetics is growing. Intake of bottled mineral water has increased significantly, even in the villages.
In the last decade, India has seen a growth in emphasis on education, including English education. Through the Right to Education Act, primary education has become compulsory, and as a result the school dropout rate is being reduced. Literacy is growing, especially in the rural areas, including literacy for adult women. Children are sometimes made to study from five in the morning until late at night, without any play or recreation. Muslim parents too are taking responsibility to send their children to school, even their daughters.
After some years of suppression in public schools, English has become increasingly popular as the medium of instruction, even though many cannot afford it. Yet English is a requirement for economic advancement. Someone with 10th grade and English skills gets a job ahead of a postgraduate who does not have English.
The Dalit community wants English as well, seeing it as a means to social and economic advancement. They are not satisfied with government schools that teach only in the vernacular. One Dalit activist, Chandra Bhan Prasad, started a private school and built a temple dedicated to a new deity— the “Dalit Goddess English!” The bronze image of the goddess has a pen in one hand and books on the other. The mantra chanted at her dedication ceremony was “A-B-C-D.”
Although education used to be in the hands of the government, or Christian missions, now it is being provided by corporations, and by Hindu groups. Private colleges are springing up in the outskirts of the cities, including community colleges for those who have not completed their schooling.
The colleges produce thousands of engineers, but there are not sufficient jobs for them after graduation, so they go to BPOʼs and call centers for employment. With computer education, and skills accompanied by government certificates, many can get jobs abroad— a privilege that used to be available only to elites like medical workers.
Yet in many of the skilled trades, India still cannot produce enough workers to keep up with the demand of its growing economy. India needs 150 million skilled workers, but at present can train only one million per year.
One Indian mission leader says, “Information and biological technologies are the twin engines pulling India’s economy. At a time when global corporations come courting Indian scientists and engineers not just for drudge work, but for advanced research and design as well, all this talk about India as a ʻscience superpowerʼ does make sense.” India is getting respect in Asia. Indians are seen as upwardly mobile, and are often assumed to be IT professionals or bankers.
There is a sense that India is overtaking China.
2.2 Coming together— urbanization, globalization and information
The last decade has brought rapid urbanization to India, especially to the states of Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat. The number of cities with population of one million or more has more than doubled, from 23 in 2001 to an estimated 48 in 2011. Although the detailed census figures for all categories from the 2011 census are not out yet, it is estimated that at least one third of India now lives in cities.
In the last year, the radius of Nagpur was increased by 25 kilometers. A similar expansion of the city limits has taken place in Hyderabad, such that property owners (including ministries) who used to be far on the outskirts now find themselves with higher taxes, and more difficulty in obtaining permissions to make improvements or additions to their facilities. Expansion of the cities has brought increased challenges in housing, transport, water supply, sanitation, water and air pollution, and provision for schools and hospitals. Chennai now has 2500 slums.
The rural poor come to the cities in search of jobs. Many are illiterate, with few or no skills, and are absorbed into the informal economy. Instead of segregation by caste in the village, various people groups find themselves living next to each other in the city. Caste barriers are beginning to come down, even in areas of intermarriage.
People are not only moving from the villages and towns to the cities within their region, but also between regions. Four hundred Manipuris are coming to Delhi every year, for education and increasingly for employment. There are thousands from the Northeast in Bangalore. People are moving from the north to the south. Large numbers of Biharis are found in Hyderabad. Twenty-five languages are spoken in Chennai, but the surprising new fact is that one million are Hindi speakers. In Bangalore, which has grown exponentially in the last decade, only 35% speak Kannada, the regional language; 65% are from outside. Even a third tier city like Nadiad in Gujarat is now described by a Christian leader there as “multiregional” though not multinational.
The pastor of a megachurch in Bangalore observes that in India, “Because of exposure to Western culture, Generation X and Y are more Western than previous generations. Typical urban teenagers are not significantly different from those in New York. They watch the same movies and have the same gadgets and are all connected through Facebook. They are the same in the way they dress and talk, and the language they use.” McDonalds and Pizza Hut have come to Shillong. With the influx of Western commodities comes also the flow of Western thought.
Not only the urban areas but also the rural areas have been impacted by globalization. The television, the Internet and the cell phone have brought the poor village populations closer to the developed world.
The growth in information technology and mass media, along with the Right to Information Act, have made Indians far more aware of what is happening in the world and in their own country. Their eyes have been opened to the choices that are possible, the rights that are theirs and the resources that are available to them. Although the growth in wealth has been accompanied by an increase in corruption, the media in India have been involved energetically in exposing scandals and self-serving leaders. The scrutiny of the media as well as the pervasive influence of the Internet have contributed to an atmosphere of greater openness, and greater willingness to raise questions.
Dalit groups are now fighting for equality and protection of their rights.
Almost every major people group has a union or association to protect their rights and their ethnic culture, language, song and music.
No longer are the young assuming that what the elders say goes. More young people are entering politics, confident that their involvement can make a difference. An experienced Indian leader notes, “Half a billion young people in India are growing up knowing both India and the developed nations through newspapers, televisions and increasingly, the Internet. They see clearly enough who has the power and who does not, and they will change India forever! The flood of information that will pour into the villages and streets of India will force transparency in all walks of administration, politics and governments and will eventually lead to prosperity.”
2.3 Coming apart— strains in the social fabric
The meteoric growth of the Indian economy has not benefited everyone.
The economic growth has been primarily in the cities. The rich are growing richer, while the poor are getting poorer. Mumbai has both a 27 story private residence for five people, and slums where 1,000 people use one toilet. A World Vision leader notes that 37% of India lives on less than 500 rupees ($11) per month, and that 250 million children are malnourished and have no access to education. According to a respected Indian scientist, the percentage below the poverty line has increased to 75% from 67-68% ten years ago; at Independence it was 37%.
Even though infrastructure development has been emphasized, implementation is lagging. The poor in rural areas have no electricity, no clean water, no septic tanks, bathrooms or toilets.
A prominent missions leader comments that urbanization happens because of rural unemployment; the land cannot support the people. But government attention has been given to the plight of the rural poor. According to the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, in force since 2005, every person must be guaranteed by the government 100 days of work per year. So 100 million people every day are put to work, in the worldʼs largest employment scheme and the most extensive ecological restructuring plan, including deepening lakes for flood prevention and water conservation.
A leader who works in the tribal belt of central India, observes:
Rural India remains the same. The modernization of India does not reach the rural areas… Tribal India has gone backward…Rural and tribal India still lives in utter poverty and without any basic needs…While only 8% of their men are literate, their women are almost totally illiterate. Their children do not have proper opportunities to go to school…In many cases the schools are only on the government records and in reality they do not exist…The medical care in the tribal pockets is almost nil but for some primary health centers here and there with inadequate qualified staff and with poor medical facilities.
In the cities, medical care has become a booming business, and medical tourism is growing. But common people canʼt afford medical care, and often find it unavailable. A premier government research medical institution has lost senior doctors because they canʼt compete with the salaries offered by private hospitals— 200,000 rupees per month versus 50,000 rupees per month at the government institution.
New wealth has brought new temptations. Internet fraud, cyber crime, property crimes, and financial scams have accelerated. Corruption is rampant— in business, in government, in charitable institutions and sadly, in the church too. In some of the scandals, the amounts involved are staggering.
Violence has subsided in some regions while increasing in others.
Currently the Northeast is enjoying a fragile peace. Travel restrictions to places like Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram have been lifted for one year. But still there are freedom struggles spearheaded by Nagas, with private armies collecting money, and getting rich through the sale of drugs, with law enforcement involved as equal partners in the profits. Unauthorized immigration of an estimated 24 million Bangladeshis into Northeast India has fueled tensions in the region as well. Naxalite-Maoist movements are growing in Central and East India. These and other terrorist movements present a serious threat to Indiaʼs political stability.
In response to globalization, there is openness, but also reaction. Some embrace Western influences wholeheartedly, both the good and the bad. But others resist vehemently. Hindu fundamentalism is part of this nationalistic backlash, an assertion of traditional Indian culture. Christian mission is seen as an aspect of cultural imperialism.
The impact of globalization, the stresses of urban living and the dizzying speed of changes in the economy are seen most vividly in the young adults who work in the call centers, the BPO facilities and the IT sector.
They come out of the 12th standard or college to work in call centers, earning 15,000 to 17,000 rupees per month, more than their parents ever did, and donʼt know how to handle it. The majority are 18 to 25 years old. They are making good money but have no future. By age 25 many are burned out and want to go back to school, but find it difficult to get admission, or to afford the education.
The stress level in the workplace is very high, especially for the 18 to 30 year olds. The high performance expectations, irregular sleep patterns (round the clock working hours, with night shifts for those servicing clients in the West) and life in company dormitories away from the support and moral reinforcement of family take their toll. Attrition is high. Depression, use of drugs and alcohol abuse are all too common. Tamil Nadu has 550,000 wine shops. Obesity is on the rise, among parents as well as their children. Heart attacks are striking down 30 year olds. IT professionals are found to be the most lonely and suicidal. Bangalore holds the unhappy distinction as the suicide capital of India, with 38.1 suicides per 100,000 population, nearly four times the national average.
In the struggle to get ahead, people are working seven-day weeks. Many drive one and a half to two hours to new IT parks in outlying places. Work and leisure have started to blend. Because living in the city is so expensive, both husband and wife have to work. There are many “DINKs” (double income no kids). Many couples enjoy no intimacy, because they work opposite shifts. A new mother takes off for one or two months, and then is back to work.
The office has become like a second family with parties and picnics.
People often find a partner in the office, whether or not they are already married. Not surprisingly, marriage problems and divorces are on the rise. Delhi is now the divorce capital of India (as well as the capital for violence against women).
Bangalore has gone from one family court to six, handling 300 divorce petitions per week. Eighty percent of the petitioners are young people married less than eight months.
A Bengali leader observes, “There is a shift from a community-centered ethos to a self- or individual- centered ethos.” With the increasing trend toward individualism, the move of young people to the cities for education and employment, and the expenses and stresses of urban life, the traditional joint family is giving way increasingly to the nuclear family. But with that shift have come new stresses for aging parents, with increasing numbers looking for work or begging, since their children do not support them.
Because of the Internet world and the mobile world, children are asking different questions. The generation gap is widening. Children in the 3rd standard are talking about boyfriends, students in the 7th standard are viewing pornography, and young girls are smoking along with young boys.
A silent sexual revolution is underway. Thirty to forty percent of teenagers think sex outside of marriage is OK. Sexual permissiveness in the cities is even higher than in the West. Live-in relationships and promiscuity, as well as unplanned pregnancies and abortions, are increasingly common. Although women have more say in society, and are exercising more leadership at the village as well as the state level, and even though traditions of dowry are weakening in some quarters, the numbers of female-specific abortions and the incidents of female infanticide are increasing. The ratio of girls to boys in the 0-6 age group in the state of Haryana is 830 to 1000. Physical and sexual abuse of women is rising.
Though Bangalore has no “red light district,” college students from middle class families want to live like the upper middle class, so get involved as prostitutes; prostitution has been essentially legalized. The homosexual movement has become more vocal and public, reinforced by movies and gay parades (even in Chennai, a historically conservative city). Christians are resentfully seen as imposing morality on what some younger Indians claim is historically a more sexually permissive and diverse culture.
2.4 Coming toward— spirituality and religion
Yet in the midst of the new stresses resulting from rapid but uneven economic growth, the cultural collisions of globalization, the stresses of urbanization, and the disorientation of changing patterns of morality and family life, spirituality and religious practices on the whole are on the rise. At a national book fair in Chennai in January 2011, over 200,000 titles were on display. The top selling books were on yoga, management, and religion.
Although it is true that persecution against churches and Christian workers has increased in many places during the last decade, many of the leaders interviewed commented on more openness, more friendly and respectful attitudes, among the urban masses toward Christians and the Christian message. The leader of one of the largest mission organizations says, “The general population likes the ʻnew Christianity,ʼ that is, the empowering, transformational kind. Too many Christians donʼt know this and arenʼt equipped… Some Hindus themselves are ready to drop caste.” A leader from Delhi comments, “Urban young people more than ever have become spiritually minded, because at the end of the day there is a vacuum in your heart. Even young people are flocking to temples and gurdwaras. It used to be only the old, and the women.” Another notes, “Interest in idol worship is dropping. Caste pressure and feeling is much reduced.”
The pastor of a large church in Kolkata observes, “The spiritual hunger is more intense than ever, especially among the young. Kolkata is still the poorest city in India, but young people are getting the material things of life by age 21 or 22. They have eaten at the 5-star hotels, and traveled abroad. The existential questions of life are coming up earlier. That fuels the neo-Hindu gurus, and militant Islam. There has never been a time when people were more open and responsive…Thirty to fifty percent of those in cities are dissatisfied with tradition and caste. They believe in freedom and democratic values, but donʼt buy into Western permissiveness. That segment is fertile soil for the gospel.”
But the spiritual openness is not only to the Christian message. Due to the impact of the media, notes a leader from Hyderabad who is working among high caste Hindus as well as Muslims, all of the religions are having a revival. Cults are growing. Hindu gurus like Ramdev and others are hosting big crusades with TV and media, with 200,000 to 300,000 attending.
Active Hindu evangelists are using what used to be considered Christian tools— education and social projects— to spread their message. They make house calls, and give testimonies. A leader from Northeast India says of the resurgent Hindu movements, “Our schools are becoming more secular, while theirs are becoming more mission minded.” In Arunachal Pradesh, both Hindus and Buddhists put identifying flags on their houses. Even though the religious culture of Hinduism has been more individualistic, Hindus are acting more as a group.
The emerging forms of neo-Hinduism popular among Indian young people are similar to the New Age movement in the USA, such as the Art of Living and Deepak Chopra. These forms of Hinduism, which donʼt require going into temples, are influencing schools and corporations. A young leader from Maharashtra says, “People do yoga, talk about meditation. The idea of ʻyou are godʼ is prevalent, and relative thinking is very high. Morality is relative, which makes it very convenient for people.”
Religion connected with festivals has become a big industry. People are spending more money for religious gatherings. Significant amounts of money are flowing into India for the building of temples and mosques.
The interest in religion in general does not always translate into acceptance of the Christian message or respect for the Christian church. Even in the Northeast, where the church has been well established for decades, and where tribes like the Nagas and the Mizos have become nearly 100% Christian, the spiritual landscape is changing. In many places the church has become nominal. In Nagaland, the church used to be the moral voice, and no one dared to criticize it. But now people speak sarcastically about the church, and disparage it openly. Some Northeast Christian leaders discern systematic attempts to bring down the church.
A leader in Meghalaya warns, “The fundamentalism brought by the BJP has reached this region. They tried to inject the tribals and lower castes, giving them funds, inciting them to campaign against Christians, especially in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. People who were neutral before are being turned against Christians. The government is trying to popularize Hindi, and with that, Hinduism.”
College students in Shillong comment that in the Northeast, though there is freedom of religion, it is difficult to discuss religion on campus. People avoid the topic, because they want to fit in, and donʼt want dissension to come up.
A byproduct of the information age is that the checkered history of the church is also better known. A leader in Chennai says, “The Church no longer has the high moral ground.” A young Christian professional in Bangalore observes, “In Indian movies the villain or drunkard is a Christian, and wears a cross.”
In Kolkata, one leader observes that, “There is a greater level of suspicion.
Right wing fundamentalists have a done a great job of conscientizing people about the ʻdevicesʼ of Christians, such as public meetings and healings.” Much stricter reporting procedures have been introduced concerning the receipt of foreign funds.
In many areas the pressure from Hindu fundamentalists is constant and severe. A Christian worker from Madhya Pradesh reports, “The RSS sends people to beat you up and arrest you if you convert or are at work in converting. They keep meticulous records of conversions. Reconversions are celebrated and put on paper. If you are a Christian NGO you are assumed to be involved in converting.” There are movements in Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Gujarat to persuade Christians to return “home” to Hinduism. A seminary professor who has done graduate research on the persecutions in Orissa, says, “Since 2002 the RSS has become a missionary movement. The Sangh Parivar has a missionary center in every state, and in most cities.” Another scholar says, “The number of atrocities committed against Christians in this past decade is mind-boggling.”
Because of this pressure, it has become difficult to show films or to organize public meetings. Yet personal sharing of faith is still possible. Some companies have codes of conduct about not promoting religion in the office, citing the specific example of inviting someone to church. But there is no hindrance from sharing the gospel as long as you donʼt use official e-mail. One IT professional reports that when he left his position at Infosys to work for another company, he gave a copy of The Purpose Driven Life to 80 of his colleagues, and they received it very well. Infosys as well as other companies provide separate rooms on the campus for Hindu, Muslim and Christian prayer.
3.0 How has the church in India been changing?
3.1 Exploding growth
Leaders across India agree that God is doing something new. A national leader announces, “This is the most exciting time to be in India; God is turning things around everywhere!” The leader of a mission based in West Bengal observes, “This is the time when Indian society is very much open to the gospel, especially among the higher class people. For many decades Christians were branded as foreigners and Christianity as a foreign religion. Now slowly it is changing and people are open to enjoy a personal relationship with the Lord. I feel Indian Christians and Churches must seize every opportunity to make Him known as it is day now…but the darkness is approaching soon.” In Chennai, a prominent leader says, “The Spirit of God poured out on all flesh—that is happening! There is more power encounter evangelism, more anointing, God answering prayers. The North is becoming more spiritual; it was always considered barren.”
The interviews revealed a consistent theme, whether from individual grass roots church planters, or leaders of missions, or teachers at Bible colleges, or business owners or research professionals—growth everywhere, often geometric growth. Churches planted where there was no church. Church planters establishing multiple churches, at faster rates than ever before. Churches adding members, including first generation converts among Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs and Jains. Megachurches multiplying in the cities. Church planting movements starting where the church planter had not even gone yet. Churches multiplying to the point where area and regional coordinators have to be appointed within a few years.
Several remarked on the tremendous church growth in Punjab and Bihar. One leader reports from his personal travel to northwest India that nearly all the villages near the Pakistan border have churches. According to a leader in the national missions movement, the greatest response has been in Punjab, followed by Uttar Pradesh, then Maharashtra.
The director of a training center in North India states:
The most significant development of the last ten years in North India is that the church that was fragile, or not there, took root and is beginning to have a visible presence all over North India. The church has understood and adopted the idea of reproducing churches (missions and evangelism). I would guess that 10%-15% of the church in North India used to be mission minded. This is now across the board—Church of North India, Methodists, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Brethren, Pentecostal and charismatics. Now you rarely come across a church not involved in missions and evangelism. Churches just interested in missions and evangelism have wholeheartedly adopted taking care of the poor, the holistic agenda.
Breakthroughs are being reported from people groups where missionaries have worked for years without fruit. A leader from Maharashtra shares enthusiastically, “Ten years ago it took a lot of time and many visits to someoneʼs house, trying to get them to respond. But now they come to us!” Another from the same state says, “I think the church is going through a period of revival or is very near to it. There is a greater interest among non-Christians in attending church services; hence the number of non-Christian attendance is increasing in church services.”
An urban specialist comments on the growth of the churches in the cities:
We have seen quite a significant growth of the Christian church in most Indian cities. For example, Chennai now claims to have ten percent of its population to be Christian with over 2500 documented organized and established churches, whereas Mumbai with over seven percent of its population claiming to be Christian with over two thousand churches and Bangalore with six percent Christians and eleven hundred churches.
Similar stories are repeated in many Indian cities where a sizable presence of Christian population is reported. Although much of this growth is through migration and/or transfer of Christians from rural India, indications are that a sizable number of people in urban churches are first generation new converts.
Many of the training programs, both formal and non-formal, report how their students are planting churches even while they are still in training. Missions that used to work with established denominations have become involved in direct church planting themselves, appointing their own elders, pastors and bishops.
Much of the real work is being done by lay people, such as a distinguished doctor, a Hindu convert who joined a mission hospital, started a nursing school and a grade school, and whose work has yielded 500 baptized believers.
Independent leaders are multiplying. According to a mission leader in Nagpur there are more than 500 independent pastors with 10-15 people each in that city. An urban researcher says that most of the growth in the number of documented churches in Bangalore city from 750 to 1100 in the last decade is among the independent churches and much less among the traditional denominational churches. In Gujarat, the independent church leaders include some first generation converts, but are primarily people who started in a denominational church.
The greatest proportion of the growth is among Scheduled Castes (SC), Scheduled Tribes (ST), and Other Backward Castes (OBC). The growth is not primarily the fruit of cross-cultural workers, but the result of converts from a people group reaching others of their own people. Chaudharis are reaching Chaudharis. Brahmins are reaching Brahmins. Sindhis are reaching Sindhis.
More ministries and individuals are including a special emphasis on Muslims, and are seeing Muslims meet the Lord. A focus area for one of the largest church planting movements is work with Muslim priests. According to one national leader, “Muslims in Assam are coming to Christ in a big way.” There are currently 2600 jamaats (gatherings) and more than 7000 believers, but those involved in these movements donʼt want to publicize them too much.
One of the repeated themes in nearly all the interviews is the report of people from higher castes and social classes coming to the Lord. Brahmins are coming to faith in the Lord from Rajasthan to West Bengal. One church planting movement has seen 4,000 to 5,000 Hindu priests come to the Lord. Another mission is focusing on Sindhis, through young people getting together over coffee. Doctors, journalists and business people, including CEOʼs and finance directors, are coming to faith. A mission researcher in Hyderabad reports that Christian women in political leadersʼ homes are trying to win their husbands and children. One ministry is quietly networking among elite first generation converts to empower promising young people. Film stars are coming to the Lord and composing songs about their new faith. A large mission in North India grounds part of its strategy in the assertion that if you reach the higher castes then automatically the lower castes will come to the Lord. A leader in Delhi reports very significant Hindu converts, such as engineers, professors, scientists, government advisors, hospital administrators and fashion designers.
A new phenomenon in several major cities is the planting of English speaking churches—for the urban middle classes and professionals who prefer to speak English, for those who are married to spouses from other regions so that their common language is English, and/or for those who have placed their children in English medium schools. A leader in Chennai estimates that in his city at least one million of the population are English oriented.
As the largest city in a Tamil speaking state that used to demonstrate considerable resistance to the use of Hindi, Chennai now has a sizable and growing Hindi speaking population as well, nearing one million, because of IT recruiting from the north, and its abundance of engineering colleges. Retired and retiring missions workers are being called into action for the planting of Hindi speaking churches, because of their experience in North India and their fluency in Hindi.
Christians from the Northeast (particularly Nagaland, Mizoram and Manipur) are flocking to Delhi in such numbers that churches have filled up and there arenʼt enough places to worship. A long-term leader in Delhi estimates that 15 years ago there were only 15,000 non-Roman Catholic Christians in his city, but now there are at least 300,000, with 15,000 just in his own housing colony.
This widespread growth in numbers has prompted bigger dreams, visions and goals. For Pentecost of 2010, one of the larger church planting networks set the goal of one million baptisms. And though they have some questions about some of the precise numbers, they are confident that the goal of one million was comfortably exceeded.
Although many baptisms are done openly, and with appropriate official permissions as required in states that have anti-conversion laws, many others are done secretly, without permission. Some ministries have family members do the baptizing, so that the risk of exposure is lower. Also, those newly baptized converts do not change their names, unlike converts who choose to take a Christian name upon baptism, thus making official the break with their former community.
In their planning for church planting, some ministries prefer to focus on geographical divisions like postal pin code areas, or number of villages, while others concentrate on people groups. For others, language groups are the emphasis; Scripture translation associated with church planting is growing. Some church planting movements are focusing on cities, sometimes in partnership with churches from outside India. One unfortunate result of the multiplication of churches in the urban centers, as noted by an IT professional in Bangalore, is the greater ease of church hopping by Christians.
The multiplication of churches, and the growth in number of believers, is nourished and undergirded by growing movements of prayer. Many locations have Houses of Prayer, prayer mountains and regular prayer walking. One leader has noted decreased impact of idols and witchcraft after the prayer movement has increased. The interviews reveal reports of all night fasting prayer, 24/7 prayer, healing prayer, and multiplication of prayer cells in neighborhoods, on campuses and in workplaces. Christians across India have seen the fruit of their united prayer in the election of a Christian Chief Minister twice in Andhra Pradesh, and the election of secular governments at the state and national level.
In answer to such prayers, God is using a variety of means to bring people to faith in Jesus Christ. But one of the most common is the demonstration of Godʼs miraculous power. A leader in Hyderabad comments:
India, a nation steeped in occult power for thousands of generations, is witnessing the power of the Lord—very similar to what happened in Exodus when God sent Moses to deliver His children, also similar to the Book of Acts… I can tell you many non-Christians are experiencing healings, seeing visions and dreams… The biggest critic of this move of God is the traditional mainline churches and Bible colleges, not realizing that this move of God is being orchestrated by God himself. I can tell you many testimonies of people in India who are extremely simple folks who have had direct visitations by Christ and have started churches. What astounds me is the traditional denominations are not even aware of their testimonies.
A leader in Nagpur adds, “The Spirit of God is moving, with healing of diseases like AIDS and tuberculosis. Ten to fifteen years ago, healing took place in big crusades. Now it occurs in home groups, with new believers praying.”
Although many of the leaders attest similarly to the reality of the release of Godʼs power in the name of Jesus Christ, some are concerned about the emphasis on faith healing where it is not accompanied by biblical training and equipping. The leader of a Bible school cautions,
A trend being seen strongly is charismatic church growth in which everyone is attempting to be a faith healer. It is a damaging trend that people have taken the route of faith healing rather than getting training and equipping themselves. This is especially seen in Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Punjab and Orissa, where there are hordes of faith healers like sadhus, hoping to start churches on the back of that… I cannot tell the number of Baptist, Presbyterian and Methodist pastors all taking that route of growing their churches. I see this as a major impediment to the growth of the church.
On the other hand, an experienced leader from Maharashtra observes, “Earlier, in the sphere of evangelism, deliverance from sickness and demons was the priority but now deliverance from bad social and personal habits is given equal if not more importance.”
Some are drawn to Christ not so much by the demonstration of miraculous power as by seeing him as the one who gives dignity to the downtrodden, who empowers and liberates them from the bondage and degradation of the religiously sanctioned caste system. A leader in Delhi says,
The entire Dalit (scheduled caste) society is moving more and more towards the Bible. The Dalit leaders say, ʻThe Bible was the first book in the world to say that all men are equal before God, and the Rig Veda is the first book to say that God created all men unequal—the Brahmins, the Kshatriyas, the Vaishyas and the Shudras.ʼ A concept of Manu held for centuries is losing ground in Indiaʼs Vaishyas and the Shudras… The blood of the High Caste is boiling as the otherwise Backward Class (OBC) and the Scheduled Caste (SC) lean towards Christ.
Due to the recession, as well as increased persecution, big events, rallies and crusades with outside speakers have stopped in many places. Open-air meetings and tract distribution are generally less effective than they used to be. However, a church in Delhi does free gospel concerts together with a strong gospel message in a university area, with good response.
Increasingly Christian ministries are making use of television in addition to radio in the vernacular languages. They are distributing CDʼs and producing DVDʼs that can be viewed in homes and other more private settings, as well as employing the “Proclaimers” developed by Faith Comes by Hearing. Story telling models are being used more and more in the rural areas. One large mission has found literacy programs to be very effective, with 40% of those who complete these programs coming to faith in Christ, and 20% receiving baptism. Web sites, social networks, chat rooms, e-mail and text messaging are being developed as tools for evangelism.
The emerging churches and Christian organizations have shown interest in childrenʼs ministry, resulting in accelerated growth of the Church. Children are coming to the Lord through Childrenʼs Bible Clubs, After School Clubs, Sunday Schools and Vacation Bible Clubs, and are leading their entire families to Christ.
Youth camps are effective means for attracting young people of other faiths, in addition to skits, dramas and musical nights. Sports ministries are coming up as well. One leader in Chennai remarked, “Ten years ago people asked ʻWhy sports?ʼ Today they ask, ʻHow?ʼ” There is a church consisting of a soccer coach meeting with 25 or 30 players who cannot meet on Sunday.
Even though youth attendance is dropping in traditional churches, and the pool of new recruits for established missions has been drying up, youth are flocking to the churches that offer creative ministries tailored for their generation. Youth-oriented missions mobilization conferences combined with evangelism training are meeting with strong positive response. A leader in Gujarat reports that seven out of ten in his large urban church are less than 30 years of age.
Some congregations in Hyderabad and Kolkata attract hundreds of young people.
But too often older leaders are not willing to invest personally in the young. Churches are not prepared to change their worship patterns, and pastors are not willing to “face the music” with the elders in order to reach the youth more effectively. Parents do not understand the pressures and temptations their children are facing through exposure to media and the Internet. Many denominations have no childrenʼs or youth specialists.
The interviews included testimonies from several dozen first generation converts (FGCʼs), many of whom have come to faith in the last ten or fifteen years and are now involved actively in a variety of ministries, both part-time and full-time. The reasons they cite for coming to Christ are numerous. Many recount experiences of healing, deliverance, dreams and visions, including visions of Jesus. Others point to Bible correspondence courses and personal reading of the Scripture, or exposure to the Jesus Film. Some have been drawn by the caring Christian community, or by the changes they have observed in believers, including greater generosity, or giving up domestic violence, drugs, smoking, swearing or manufacturing alcohol. Some were troubled by family problems, hopelessness, despair or addiction, and sought help from a pastor or a Christian friend.
A notable trend evident from the interviews is an increasing emphasis on the central role of the local church in evangelism, church planting, ministries of compassion and leadership development. Another trend is greater emphasis on church ministry roles that extend to groups of churches—in particular the “five- fold ministries” of apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher (or pastor- teacher) as described in Ephesians 4. Though different groups understand the specific operation of these ministry roles differently, many church planting movements are identifying and cultivating gifted leaders who are inspiring and equipping believers across a large number of local churches.
Some seminaries and Bible schools are becoming more deliberate and strategic in linking their training to the needs and realities of the local church. One leader says, “I am seeing the focus shifting, to local church based evangelism and church planting initiatives.” A practical consequence of this awakening focus on the church, some leaders observe, is that people are giving to the church, rather than to the mission agency or parachurch organization. However, this does not seem to be everyoneʼs experience, as one leader says, “The capacity of giving has definitely increased, but the traditional mold of giving has not changed. Individuals prefer to give to organizations. Churches also would rather give to organizations than utilize the same money or generate more money to get the church directly involved in ministry.”
3.2 Role of the house church
As in the early centuries of the Christian church, much of the growth is taking place through groups gathering in homes. In some cases these groups are organized as prayer cells or home groups connected to a main church that gathers as a larger, combined group for worship on a Sunday. But far more of these home groups are constituted as house churches, which may or may not be part of a larger network, but which are not seen as dependent on any other church.
Such house churches are multiplying rapidly, with as few as two or three participants, or as many as can be stuffed into a home or apartment. The traditional missions and denominations are becoming increasingly open to this model.
In general the individual house church tends to be comprised of individuals from the same people group, as followers of Jesus invite family members and friends to join them. As people from different castes in a locality begin to meet the Lord, the house church approach sometimes comes under pressure. One mission leader says, “People donʼt prefer to go to a house to worship, because of caste issues, or tension over someone being favored over another. Now everyone is saying we need a building as a common place to come together.” Another leader observes that, “Absence of a designated shepherd makes it complicated in times of baptism, marriage and funeral.” But he also notes that “Secret believers who cannot openly make themselves visible are comfortable and growing in house groups,” that “Indian young people feel more comfortable in small groups and interactive fellowships,” and that because of persecution, “One day house churches may become a necessity.”
3.3 Concerns for discipleship
One consequence of the emergence of hundreds and thousands of independent pastors, missionaries and churches, is a growing need in the area of biblical discipleship. Many of the leaders and their congregations have very little knowledge of the Word of God, and little guidance in developing a biblical perspective for the various spheres of daily life, including marriage, family, work, education, management of finances, personal conduct, social engagement, community building, politics, justice issues, and so forth.
Many established churches are steeped in nominalism. They have not progressed very far in discipleship themselves, and are in no position to assist others on their spiritual journey. And even those congregations that are spiritually alive may be reluctant or ill equipped to guide a new believer from another faith.
Often the young converts from other faiths are kicked out of their homes. One leader who has a deep burden for this challenge concerning the assimilation and discipling of first generation Christians says:
[Christians are] very enthusiastic in leading people to Christ but very poor in standing with those who have accepted Christ from a non-Christian background, especially when it comes to persecution, baptism and marriage. A huge need is there for a support group for these people… at least to stand with them and provide them the needed emotional and prayer support. Young people who have come from a Hindu background are finding it very difficult when it comes to marriage, especially in the cases of girls. They cannot marry a person from a Hindu background nor are there many Christian families who are open to welcome these people into their homes as their daughters-in-law. Church leadership is doing very little about this.
“Making disciples is the great omission,” observes a mission leader from Hyderabad. Yet many organizations are waking up to this need. Some groups have become aware of the attrition amidst their movement of planting churches, and are now focusing on appointing and equipping elders for each local fellowship.
A pastor in Bangalore admits the challenges of disciple-making in an urban culture where people work long hours and have little time for midweek meetings. His church has organized midweek groups in homes for the relational aspects of the Christian life, but has been able to involve only 20% of those who attend the weekend services. The congregation has tried to develop a strong mentoring culture; the pastor himself spends time one on one with several young people.
He also takes consolation in the availability of good Christian resources worldwide on the Internet, including live sermons and written materials, so that believers do not have to depend solely on the local pastor to nurture them.
3.4 Focus on leadership development
The last decade in India has seen a much greater emphasis on leadership development. The typology of five types of leaders used in the India Leadership Study1, though defined and applied a little differently by different groups, has become surprisingly pervasive, and has been taught to literally thousands of leaders, in all parts of the country.
Much of the emphasis early in the decade was on training the “grassroots leaders,” and on multiplying greatly the number of short-term, non-formal training programs available for them. But increasingly it is being recognized that leaders cannot be mass-produced, and that leadership development must rest on a foundation of solid biblical discipleship and character development in the context of a community with mutual accountability.
However, there is an understandable sense of urgency arising from the exploding number of prayer cells, house groups and churches, and the desire to provide sufficient numbers of adequately trained leaders to guide these groups. This pressure has contributed to a willingness to look more closely at non-formal and informal training processes, since it is clear that there is not even all the Bible colleges and seminaries together can provide enough leaders for the multiplying churches. A leader from Hyderabad notes an additional looming challenge in the provision of sufficient leaders for the churches: “More job opportunities and exposure to the West has meant that many young people are becoming very ambitious and materialistic and are not very keen to get into full time ministries.”
Beyond that, penetrating questions have been raised about the effectiveness of formal, lengthy, residential, classroom-oriented training in preparing leaders for the emerging churches, or for the changing realities of modern India.
Some seminaries and Bible schools have overhauled their curricula to relate their courses more closely to the needs of the churches, to retrain their faculty in context-based learning approaches, and to require longer and more intense experiences of practical ministry during the training period, whether on weekends, or during summers, or during internship years.
Some church planting organizations have abandoned the formal education approach altogether, and have opted for various forms of non-formal, in-service training. Some of these programs encourage and even require those who have received the training to impart the same training to others in their own ministry context. Still others have attempted to combine both the formal and the non- formal streams of training, building “on-ramps” from the non-formal training to various degree programs, and through various distance learning methods making it possible for students to continue with their workplace or ministry responsibilities during their studies. Many Bible colleges now do their own extension courses.
One leader of an influential training center notes with satisfaction that both informal and non-formal education are being recognized as forms of education.
Another leader adds, “The awareness towards developing leadership has increased, but there is a need to be liberated from seeing ʻseminary stamped leadershipʼ as the only form of leadership. Hence church based leadership development programs are finding acceptance.” Another leader of a training organization says, “Training at the grassroots level is impacting the church more than training at the top level (though that is important). [Our organization] has the M.Th. and the Ph.D., but the impact is at the certificate level. More of time and investment needs to be there.”
Several leaders commented on the special training required for leaders who are converts from other faiths, and who need targeted equipping to reach others from their own religious background.
More training opportunities are available for women than existed a decade ago, and gender sensitivity is increasing. One leader from Central India says that their missionary wives are all pursuing higher studies. A training program in Hyderabad has women graduates from all the states, and is also training husbands and wives together in one of their programs.
Increasingly the distinctions between “clergy” and “laity,” and between “part-time” and “full-time” are becoming blurred. Owners of businesses and various professionals are starting churches. Pastors are launching income- producing businesses. One of the larger church planting movements has been making a transition from paid to unpaid workers, encouraging all of their church leaders to be self-supporting and/or bi-vocational, not as a means of cost reduction or avoidance of persecution, but as a matter of contextualized ministry strategy and community involvement.
Another change in the shape of leadership is the move from one-man leadership to team leadership, as seen in a number of the urban churches. However, the “team spirit” is not always evident between leaders of different churches and ministries. A leader in Hyderabad observes, “Due to the rapid rise in membership, the feeling of superiority, ownership and jealously has crept into the body of Christ. Ministries, Bible colleges, churches all have become very competitive and inward looking… In fact it is very rare to see a church talk good about another church.”
Recent changes in visa regulations have forced some expatriates who were involved in leadership development within India to move away. But a younger leader in Delhi comments, “Dependence on certain nations for leadership or funding was unhealthy,” and concludes that the changes have proved beneficial in fostering local ownership of the ministry.
 Leadership is a process of influence, and as used in the India Leadership Study this classification describes increasing spheres of influence: (1) Type 1—small group leaders (2) Type 2—part-time volunteer leaders who oversee other volunteer leaders (3) Type 3—full-time local leaders (4) Type 4—regional leaders (5) Type 5—national leaders.
3.5 Practice of integral mission
Another notable change in recent years has been the embrace of a more holistic and interconnected perspective of ministry. Evangelism, church planting, biblical teaching, discipleship training and leadership development are combined with ministries of compassion, education, economic development, justice and advocacy in one “integral mission.” All spheres of life are brought into submission to Jesus Christ as Lord. The Kingdom of God is seen as having practical implications for every dimension of present existence.
More and more local churches are seeing mercy ministries not as secondary, but as a vital priority of the work of the church. Community development activities are not viewed as a special focus for parachurch agencies, or secular NGOʼs, but as opportunities for partnerships involving the local church as a full member of the community.
Evangelistic outreach is now approached holistically through a great variety of initiatives, such as vocational training, including sewing, tailoring, computing, beautician skills, welding, chicken incubation, organic gardening and advanced agricultural techniques. English teaching and tutoring units are expanding. Self-help groups, microloan and microenterprise programs are multiplying. Christian leaders are guiding people in how to avail themselves of government funds.
Other examples of holistic ministry include literacy programs, starting schools and adding grades, launching Christian higher education, digging wells and deploying community health workers. Ministries of mercy include establishment of orphanages, old age homes, assistance for widows, prison ministries, relief for cyclone victims, and care for people with HIV/AIDS. Rehabilitation programs serve commercial sex workers and drug addicts. Some are washing the feet of castes that have been marginalized and despised, and working toward reconciliation as an alternative to court cases.
Cautions have been raised by some leaders, out of concern that holistic projects are being inspired by pressures from Western donors or the passions of Western churches rather than by the true calling of the individual ministry. One leader of a large church planting movement has tried to bring forward questions of biblical theology. To what extent should Christians expect to see the full expression of the kingdom of God within this present world? To what extent do the biblical instructions concerning helping the poor pertain to assisting fellow believers versus the world in general? What proportion of church resources in particular (in contrast to individual benevolence) is appropriate to allot to addressing social and economic issues, versus reaching those who are still ignorant of the message of Jesus?
Some ministries are seeking to change the worldview of entire segments of the population, focusing on the Other Backward Castes (OBC), who comprise at least 30% of the Indian population (there is considerable debate about the precise figures and definitions).
Christians in India are becoming more willing to be visible and to let their voices be heard in the public square. Some ministries have rented billboard spaces with appealing messages of goodwill and peace. Others have been actively involved in advocacy for Christians who are being persecuted, and have launched initiatives focusing on politics, health, poverty, identity and human dignity.
One ministry is creating a one-hour, issue-based TV program, dealing with topics like modern day slavery, abortion, bonded labor, and Dalits. It will be shown on an established channel, in order to create a public debate about the Christian worldview. The leader of that ministry observes that government leaders are eager for assistance in moral education.
Christians are participating in politics and policy making, and are getting active in training future politicians. In several places Christian leaders are cultivating personal relationships with political leaders in order to acquaint them with issues of importance to Christians, and to introduce them to the biblical message.
3.6 The Christian in the workplace
Another evidence of the growing willingness of Christians in India to engage boldly with the world around them is the increasing emphasis on marketplace ministries, on the Christianʼs role in the workplace.
For some, the focus is on evangelistic outreach, stemming from the recognition that working Christians have constant daily access to people and places that full-time pastors, evangelists and missionaries never will. Others are primarily concerned about the spiritual encouragement of fellow-believers found in the workplace, some of whom are unwilling to identify openly with Christ when at home with their families, some of whom have such demanding work schedules that they cannot attend midweek meetings for Bible study or fellowship at their church, and some of whom cannot find a church where they feel culturally at home. For such people, a small group meeting in the workplace for Bible study, prayer and discussion can meet an urgent discipleship need. For yet others, the emphasis on marketplace ministries is an opportunity to move the Indian church toward greater economic self-sufficiency, to engage in “economic discipleship,” in the spirit of John Wesley who taught his followers to “Earn all you can, save all you can, give all you can.”
Prayer groups are springing up in factories, railroads and banks, meeting at meal breaks for prayer, sharing of the Word and witnessing. Fellowships are being established in IT complexes and call centers, where people work around the clock. Sometimes the meetings are held at 2am on the corporate campus, or late afternoon at a church building across the street. One IT professional in Bangalore who could not find an appropriate discipleship curriculum for his workplace small group compiled his own from the Internet. Some companies have separate meetings for men and women. Some workplace fellowship groups include people from different companies.
Networks connecting these fellowships are coming up, run by people who are professionals in the workplace themselves. In Hyderabad there is a monthly marketplace ministry gathering that draws three to four hundred. A ministry recently established for working professionals who want to make a difference in the workplace, sponsors conferences where topics include stress in the workplace, how to become an entrepreneur, how to manage finances, how to be an effective employee, how to build effective teams, contagious Christianity in the workplace and how to be engaged in church planting movements.
An urban church leader has launched a ministry for marketplace women, with seminars on domestic violence, rights of women, parenting, marriage, and discrimination against dark-skinned women, which then lead to a variety of seeker-sensitive Bible studies.
Some who have started a business, then later launched a church, have chosen to maintain their business in order to keep the connection. Some professionals are working half time in the corporate sector, and half time in Christian leadership development. Some pastors have become certified as personal coaches and management trainers.
Through such ministry initiatives and emphases, people are growing into a more biblical understanding of their identity in Christ, and the call of every Christian to be an ambassador and witness for Jesus. As one leader expresses it, “We are changing the mindset of the people to ʻWe are the church, wherever we meet…you are the ministry wherever you go.ʼ”
Sometimes this holistic perspective toward work and ministry is misunderstood. One professional in Central India who teaches organic farming to church planters, found himself criticized by those who thought he was moving away from church planting, whereas he is motivated by a strong passion to see people come to faith in Jesus Christ. But he is also helping the young people he is equipping to break the mental barriers that have kept them trapped in a “poverty mentality.” He uses Scripture to teach them about the God of the harvest, who can show them how to reap plentiful crops, based on biblical principles as well as scientific agricultural techniques. He introduces them to the one who said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).
This integrated kingdom mindset, applied to the workplace and to every sphere of life, is spreading in the Indian church.
3.7 Networks and partnerships
One positive outcome of the persecution of Christians that accelerated as Hindu nationalist governments came to power at the state and national level in the mid to late 1990ʼs, and that intensified especially in states that passed anti- conversion laws, has been a greater movement toward networking, partnerships and other expressions of unity and common ground by various Christian groups.
Here are some examples from the interviews. New partnerships between Christian organizations and groups of tribal churches have been formed in Nagaland. Last year a Bengali Christian Network was formed, focusing on ministry to Bengali speakers in West Bengal. Forty thousand Pentecostal churches in Tamil Nadu are forming a federation. An Evangelical Theological Society for India was launched in 2009. The National United Christian Forum has been providing opportunity for regular and fruitful meetings between evangelicals, ecumenical and Roman Catholics. NITA (North India Transformation Alliance) has been formed as a federation for emerging churches. Youth workers across the country are starting to share resources and creative ideas with one another.
On the personal level as well, many of the walls that used to separate the denominations from one another are coming down. A leader from Hyderabad observes: “People used to get married only with others from the same church [denomination]. Now marriages are more flexible.”
But the ongoing, healthy existence of any network is not to be taken for granted. Larger networks have a tendency to fissure. “You cannot run anything big in India,” insists a mission leader in Bangalore. “It will bifurcate. There is so much complexity.” And even when there is cooperation at the top level, the reality can be very different at the grassroots, warns a pastor from Assam.
4.0 What should be the priorities for the church in India?
In this section of the report, the two areas of priority, going wider as well as going deeper, have been summarized from the interviews with the Indian leaders. These emphases arise from the themes emerging from the interviews and the questionnaires.
4.1 Going wider
4.1.1 The still unengaged and unreached people groups
Since the decade of the 1990ʼs, considerable focus has been put on identifying the people groups of India, and defining ministry targets in terms of particular people groups. Harvest field research has been presented in terms of people groups as well as geographical and linguistic focus. Many ministries report their field results in terms of the people groups from which the new believers come, or among which churches are being planted. Several church planting initiatives have been established focusing on particular people groups, or on clusters of related groups (like the Sikhs, or the Banjaras, or the OBCʼs). In the last decade, progress has been made in establishing churches among people groups where previously there had been none.
The great majority of the church planting focus has continued to be among the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (together called the Dalits), who comprise 25% of the Indian population. In general, these have been the most responsive to the gospel. Many of the missions organizations in India have adopted the principle of “win the winnable,” feeling the best strategy is to pour as many resources as possible into reaching these groups while there remains such evident openness. The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes are also the groups that suffer the greatest economic and social needs. It is not difficult to understand why the churches in India have been drawn strongly to this emphasis. The formation of the All India Christian Council in 1998 to advocate human rights and freedom of religion for the Dalits has also heightened the awareness of Christians around the world about the needs represented by these people groups, and has fostered an international focus on work among the Dalits.
However, in this emphasis on the ministry to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, two other important blocks of unengaged and unreached people groups have often been overlooked. First are the OBCʼs, the Other Backward Castes, who comprise anywhere from 27% to 52% of the population, depending on how they are defined and who is doing the counting. It is becoming apparent that a number of very large OBC groups are becoming increasingly disillusioned with Hinduism, and more and more interested in the message of Jesus. The momentum is building. Several million OBCʼs could leave Hinduism and become followers of Jesus in the coming few years. The implications for the religious landscape in India could be enormous. More and more Indian leaders are recognizing the possibilities, and seeing the need to invest more resources in reaching out to the OBCʼs.
The other important block of unengaged and unreached people groups are the Forward Castes, including the Brahmins (priestly castes), the Kshatriyas (warrior castes) and the Vaishyas (business castes). Again, definitions vary, and some castes are considered forward in one state but backward in other states.
The Forward Castes are also defined as those for whom no government reservations have been provided, because of their existing degree of development. But different people groups are taken on and off the government lists from time to time, and there is no official government list of Forward Castes. But the Forward Castes include the groups most influential and powerful in Indian society, including government, education, culture, the media, the military, business and the professions.
Since the great majority of Indian Christians come from the Scheduled Tribes and the Scheduled Castes, the church has often lacked confidence and/or insight in reaching out to the Forward Castes. Yet, during the last decade, there has been a noticeable acceleration in the number of people from the Forward Castes coming to faith in Christ, as noted already. Increasingly Indian leaders are seeing the importance of devoting more effort and resources to reaching these people, who can be so influential in many arenas of society if they become committed followers of Jesus.
Some people groups are in danger of being overlooked because of the significant population shifts accompanying the migration from the villages to the cities, and from one region of India to another. Churches in the cities need to engage in continual research to see which people groups are represented in their areas, and to assess whether church planting efforts are underway among these groups. Geographic data about the location of churches is not sufficient, unless accompanied by information about the people groups represented in those churches, and unless mapped against the locations of people groups in the city.
A few Indian leaders drew attention not only to the diaspora within India (e.g. Hindi speakers from North India migrating in large numbers to Chennai), but also to the Indian diaspora found in other cities around the world. In particular, the Indians found in Western countries have been some of the most fervent and generous supporters of resurgent Hindu movements back in India. If more of these overseas Indians were reached with the gospel, their influence could be wide reaching, not only in their new countries of residence, but also in their support of gospel outreach in India.
Another very large set of people groups often overlooked or neglected are the Muslims, who number over 170 million. But even though they constitute nearly 15% of the population, and for the most part are readily accessible to Christians, only about one percent of Christian workers or Christian resources are being devoted to this outreach. Thankfully, this is beginning to change. And those who are focusing on this area of outreach are seeing the fruit.
One mission leader in Maharashtra puts a strong emphasis on reaching entire groups. He has been urging other Indian leaders to stop baptizing just five to ten families in a village, but to take more time, not to be in a hurry, to take one or two years sharing the truth without baptizing, and then to baptize the entire village. He says, “We Christians create the wall: we isolate the 10, and 90 get away.”
A leader in Kolkata also stresses the importance of encouraging new believers to remain in their social contexts as much as possible, and not to erect unnecessary barriers. He shares this example:
A leader in the Sindhi community was baptized a few years ago. I urged him to call himself a Christ-following Sindhi, to stay in his community, and to practice whatever part of his culture he could, such as during Diwali. He was removed as secretary of the Sindhi association, but he still volunteered and helped people. Now he is received by them, and invited to pray for them. The kingdom of God should grow in India as the mustard seed—not silent or deceptive, but being a participant in the mother community, while remaining unapologetic about oneʼs witness.
Different people groups face different costs in following Jesus. For people of lower castes, the risk includes loss of government benefits. For people from forward castes, the risk includes loss of status, intense opposition from their family, and the possibility of being ejected from their homes. The same is true for those who turn to Christ from Islam. A leader from Delhi expressed concern that the intensified persecution in recent years has dampened the willingness of Christians to share their faith boldly and regularly. Without the reinforcement and opportunity of large public meetings, without openly evangelistic messages and calls for public response, it is easy for Christians to retreat into cautious silence, and to be content to share only through their lives, and not also through their words. He says, “The biggest casualty of persecution has been evangelism… We need concentrated, intentional evangelism in churches and workplaces. As with the major thrust on leadership and church planting, we need evangelism.”
Amidst the growing emphasis on building up believers in their knowledge of the Word of God, and building bridges to the community through acts of compassionate service and advocacy for justice, the church in India must not neglect the equipping of individual believers to share the gospel story with clarity and boldness whenever they have opportunity.
4.1.2 The urban middle classes and influencers
A consistent theme running through the interviews with the Indian leaders was the need to devote concentrated attention in the next several years to Indiaʼs cities, and in particular, to the urban middle classes and the cultural influencers. One leader asserts,
In the previous 10-20 years there was a huge emphasis on Unreached People Groups, on the ʻfrontiers.ʼ That doesnʼt need to be neglected. But growing cities are now the most neglected, and largely in North India.
Cities are places where the global engages the local, where culture is shaped, where the destination of the nation is shaped. People who influence the future are in the cities. India is still a ʻlayeredʼ society, thought not exactly a caste system. People who will come to leadership are people who migrate to the city. Whoever captures the cities in India in the next 10 years will impact the future of India and the world. The decisive line of engagement is the cities.
Many of the ministry approaches developed by churches and missions in past decades were designed for people who needed help with basic necessities of life— food, shelter, clothing, primary medical care, clean water, basic literacy and primary education. But the middle classes donʼt have these needs. In order to reach them, different approaches must be found.
Some ministries have found bridges into middle class and forward caste families through computer training and conversational English. Urban youth are responding to contemporary Christian music concerts and coffee house type conversational settings. Christian counseling services are avenues of ministry to couples, families and individuals who are struggling to cope with the stresses and changes of life in Indiaʼs cities. A ministry in Chennai sponsors conferences for young couples.
For years Christians have been involved in primary and secondary education, but a growing number of leaders in India are exploring the possibilities for launching Christian institutions of higher education.
“The real battle is for media, government, education, economics: who will occupy that civic space?” asks one leader, and adds, “Christians need to go into the public square as thinkers, connectors, influencers— not just to make money.” Another prominent missions leader says,
We need to get into Rotary and Lions clubs. That will open up sympathizers like Cornelius. We need to get Indian Christians or expats who live in housing colonies where influencers live to think missionally. We need to place Christians within the eight mind-molders [arts, business, church, distribution/dissemination of media, education, families, government, humanitarian work (social ministries)]. We must put Christians in government (like Joseph, Daniel, Nehemiah), to influence the thought patterns of the country.
Christians need to get involved in politics, insists a younger leader. Tools are needed to reach politicians, asserts another leader.
In the churchʼs broadening outreach to the urban middle classes, and especially to the young adults, the use of technology and the Internet is critically important. One pastor of a fast-growing congregation in Bangalore sees the new technology as a great opportunity. He says, “The change we are trying to avoid is to dilute the content. The young generation needs a lot of creative stimuli— sound, lights, music— to communicate to them. But at the end of the day it is the depth of the Word of God and dependence on the Holy Spirit that will change lives.”
4.1.3 Indiaʼs global leadership
For years India has been seen as a mission field. But now the Indian church is increasingly looking outward as a missionary force. Over the last ten years, one training center in Northeast India has been equipping workers with cross-cultural insights and ESL (English as a Second Language) skills for service in other states of India, including several outside the Northeast, but also in several countries of Asia and Africa.
As the India Missions Association has gained more and more stature, and has become a model for missions associations in other countries, and as the Evangelical Fellowship of India has been strengthening its internal networks, as well as connecting with more and more leaders outside India, Indian leaders have been contributing increasingly to a variety of global discussions and strategic initiatives. One national leader has proposed that to the typology of five types of leaders a sixth should be added: Type 6, a Global Leader whose influence in the Body of Christ extends beyond India. He also proposes that the Indian church should be cultivating, encouraging and resourcing such leaders, so that the rich insights God is giving to the church in India can be increasingly available to the global Body of Christ.
4.2 Going deeper
4.2.1 Integral discipleship
In the next several years, according to the leaders interviewed, not only does the Indian church need to go wider— to the still unreached and unengaged people groups, to the urban middle classes and influencers, to the unreached fields beyond the borders of India and to the global church— but also to go deeper. The first call is to go deeper in integral discipleship, a term which combines the spiritual depth and commitment of “discipleship” with the holistic breadth of “integral mission.”
On the one hand, places in India where the church has been established for decades, or even centuries, have been plagued with traditionalism and nominalism. Young people are disillusioned about the handling of money, the endless court cases, and the open corruption in elections for church leadership. Even some of the most prominent evangelical congregations have lost their cutting edge in the area of outreach, and have not planted any new churches in the last 25 years, out of fear of splitting the church, or losing offerings. One leader observes sadly, “Most traditional churches, especially in the North, are half empty and undesirable. People are leaving the institutional church, in most cases, not because of losing faith, but to preserve their faith.” In such conditions, many believers are praying fervently for revival.
On the other hand, although there is rapid growth in many of the newly established independent churches, there is often a scarcity of biblical teaching. Services may consist of three hours of singing and prayers, with only ten minutes of instruction. Believers have not been introduced in depth to biblical truth, either in telling of biblical stories or in reading of the Scriptures, nor are they being guided in developing biblical perspective for the matters of family, or workplace, or life together in the Christian community. Issues of dowry, divorce, sex outside of marriage, abuse of women, domestic violence, corruption, ethical behavior in the workplace, justice for the lower castes, involvement in local panchayat decisions, stewardship of the environment, and so forth, are not being addressed in a biblical context. The church is silent, and the individual believer receives no guidance. In addition, some church planting structures give new congregations to mainline churches where there is no teaching of the Word, and thus the new believers do not mature.
In both settings— the traditional, nominal church and the fervent but shallow emerging church— the need is the same: for solid grounding in biblical truth and in practical, Christ-centered, Spirit-filled living in every arena of personal life and social engagement— that is, integral discipleship. A leader from Hyderabad says, “The call to holiness and righteousness should exceed that of the new Hindus, who insist that spiritually they are already so much better.” A leader from Delhi adds, “The church should be described by its character, not its numbers.” Or as a leader from Nagpur made the point forcefully in his conversation with leaders of a large church planting movement, “Donʼt talk numbers, and I will respect you. All the focus is on numbers. We need to look for transformation. Counterfeit growth will kill the Holy Spirit movement.”
Some churches and mission organizations are trying to address this discipleship need through the development of curriculum and training programs for seekers, for new believers and for established church members. And there is certainly an important place for these approaches. But a very important emphasis given by several of the Indian leaders is the role of personal mentoring and coaching, the spiritual formation that happens not in a formal study group but in walking together in the context of daily life and practical ministry, spending time in one anotherʼs homes, “doing life together.” This type of disciple-making takes time, and not all leaders are willing to open their lives to that extent, or to invest that much personally in a new believer, following the example of Jesus in his interaction with the Twelve.
There is an important place for formal training, and for the structures of non-formal training. But foundational to both, and prior to both, is the life-on-life spiritual formation, the informal training, such as that which happens in a family, or within a small fellowship group where the “one another” commands of Scripture are practiced. The advantage of the house church is that this type of rich interpersonal context is present from the very beginning of a personʼs introduction to the Christian journey.
This sort of relationship-oriented and life-sharing discipleship is increasingly difficult in urban contexts where believers work such long hours, and under conditions of such stress. Even on the weekends, church services must not run longer than two hours, and additional meetings have to take place in the half hour afterward, according to one church leader in Bangalore. The leadership team at that church is trying to produce materials for spiritual growth that people can read online, and to concentrate teaching in intensive weekends of instruction that happen quarterly. Many people who work in Bangalore come from other states, and go back every other weekend to their home place, so cannot participate regularly in a church even on the weekends.
Two of the most important areas for greater emphasis and better tools are discipleship related to life in the home, and life in the workplace. As sexual practices and family patterns are changing so rapidly in Indian society, many Christians are bewildered, and welcome resources that will help them to answer the questions of their children as well as the challenges from their colleagues.
Discipleship materials for Christians in the workplace are also scarce. One mission is launching a new initiative to provide biblical equipping for people in specific vocations, like police officers and doctors.
In addition, Christians need help in thinking about how they and their churches can make a difference through personal action in relationship to economic and social challenges. For example, some of the leaders proposed that if churches encouraged each Christian family to consider taking in a homeless child, the need for orphanages would be eliminated. Several of the leaders urged the providing of training in personal financial management, vocational skills and/or how to start a business, along with a “marketplace ministry” perspective, as aspects of integral discipleship.
Integral discipleship training is not for adults only, but also for children and youth. Luis Bush, who introduced the “10/40 Window” terminology in 1990 to describe the latitudes where the greatest number of unreached people were located (and in which India had a central place), has more recently introduced the term “4/14 Window” to highlight the age group of 4 years to 14 years, which is so important for personal and spiritual formation. A number of ministries in India have picked up this terminology, and are focusing on the critical need to reach and disciple children of school age. Several leaders commented on how neglected this area is in the churches. One example—as yet there is no national youth magazine.
4.2.2 Comprehensive leadership development
Biblically grounded integral discipleship is a prerequisite for comprehensive leadership development, because leadership begins with character. An experienced leader from Northeast India says, “When we develop leaders, it is not so much the skills and knowledge that are important. The most important is the transformed heart of a leader. We have suffered so much from leaders who want position, power and privileges. We need servant leaders.” A leader from Andhra Pradesh expands on this theme:
I have a personal reservation against the use of this term ʻleadership,ʼ in view of what is happening in India. Over the years I have found that those who get trained in ʻleadershipʼ get wrong ideas into their heads and take advantage of fellow workers, assuming that they are the ʻbossesʼ who can order others about. The spirit of servanthood is somehow missing in a great many organizations. Therefore, there should be more emphasis on the servant content of leadership, on fellowship, and mutual regard and respect among co-workers. The ʻleaderʼ should just be first among equals, all field-laborers alike. Instead of ʻleadershipʼ courses I would conduct ʻfellowshipʼ courses and put leadership and authority structure where they belong, as important aspects of fellowship life. Moreover such courses should not be conducted by the lecture method but through the non- formal, participatory, interactive mode.
Servant leadership and good modeling are rare, remarks a leader from West Bengal. “When people have led an organization for a while, they start to act like a maharajah,” says another. A retired bishop says, “No Christian leaders are able to command respect because now money is the most important thing in the world. If there are no funds available work stops and faith dwindles.” Another leader, whose father was a saintly man and one of the first Indians to be appointed a bishop, has more to say on the self-promoting attitudes he is seeing among church leaders:
Every second or third pastor is called ʻReverend Doctor.ʼ Within the last few years they must also be called ʻBishop.ʼ ʻBishopʼ is more than ʻDoctor.ʼ The trouble begins in the Bible colleges. They just teach theology, but what about personal life?
Theological education has become a business, with the reputation of attracting students that could not succeed anywhere else. In Dimapur alone, a city in Nagaland of only 165,000 (small by Indian standards) there are 30 Bible colleges.
Jesus says in Luke 6:40 says, “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.” Those we train become like us, or as one discipleship specialist used to say, “People become what we are, not what we tell them to be.” Several of the Indian leaders underscored the importance of personal mentoring and modeling, of the informal rather than non- formal or formal means of leadership development. A young technology professional who leads a worship group in his workplace observes, “All the good Indian Christian leaders have learned their skills on-the-job and under mentorship, but not at formal training programs.” A leader from Shillong states, “The distance between the churches and the theological colleges is getting wider and wider. Leaders are produced in the churches, not the theological colleges.”
The leader of a church planting movement in Gujarat describes how in the early years of the movement he took the young men one by one, by having them come to be with him six months, without providing them food or finances. He never invited them to apprentice themselves in this way, but they came asking for the opportunity to follow him around. He says, “True leadership is shown in people coming and asking.” Another leader remarks similarly, I want to see leadership in the Indian context, like a guru with disciples. The disciples plead with the guru to teach them. If this happens, there will be 100% success. Someone without hands on experience should not do any teaching. It is not, ʻI am the leader, so I come to teach you.ʼ Rather, the participants say, ʻI want to learn from you.ʼ That is the Indian system: ʻPlease tell us how you did it.ʼ I tell my staff, ʻGet out and get experience. Donʼt just do office work.ʼ
Formal biblical and theological training need to be linked with practical ministry and church planting skills. A pastor from Guwahati asserts, “Graduates of seminaries are failures when they come back to the churches.” Many seminaries have found it necessary to seek alternate means of accreditation in order to design programs that are relevant to the needs of the churches.
For urban leaders, training delivered through short, four-hour modules, for example, is more practical than weeks or months in residence at a training facility. One leader proposes monthly podcasts to link emerging leaders with their mentors and trainers.
Leadership development programs must be tailored to the needs of the student, and implemented in ways that can keep pace with a growing church that sometimes doubles in a few years or less. One training specialist says, “Nontraditional methods need to be developed to train Type 3, 4 and 5 leadership on a large scale basis with appropriate validation.” Another leader says, “Training needs to be simplified so that more can attain to it, not just high school graduates.” Yet another says, “Empower the indigenous people. Lower the bar so that everyone can be equipped and encouraged for the Lordʼs work, not just Type 2 and 3 leaders.”
For those who have already been through basic training, or a Bible School or seminary education, leadership refresher courses are needed. A leader from Andhra Pradesh observes sadly, “Leaders are unaware of the need of their development. They are not willing to grow and allow others to grow.” Husbands and wives in ministry need encouragement to pray together. Training in management and not just in leadership is needed, along with training in how to handle money, and how to put in place structures for good governance and accountability. Pastors and evangelists need a good working knowledge of the religions of India, which many lack, especially those raised in the Christian community. There is need for continuing education for women theological graduates, and for encouragement for them to use their gifts outside the home.
Urban pastors need places to talk about creative ideas for urban ministry. Type 5 leaders (leaders of national influence) need places to come together to identify needs and success stories.
Leaders need to be equipped with a sufficiently broad perspective. “The Indian church lacks leaders who speak about the whole nation, rather than just their region or organization,” remarks one national leader. In the same vein, another national leader says, “At the top level, we need leaders of very long range perspective and wide vision, people who know how to be an elder brother, lifting up smaller ministries while pursuing their own mission. That sort of leadership is diminishing.”
A continuing theme, sounded ten years ago in the India Leadership Study, but reinforced strongly by many of the current leaders, is the need to develop and truly empower second and third line leadership, and in particular, indigenous leadership. A leader from Orissa notes, “There is a tendency to support only the old Christian leaders and ignore the emerging leaders… Modern indigenous leaders who are capable must be recognized and given freedom to develop their ministry rather than making the ministry as a monarchical system of heredity.”
A leader from Central India says, “We must have locals, sons of the soil, to have depth.” North Indian leaders continue to express frustration that there are organizations functioning in North India where the entire first and second tier of leaders are South Indians, or in which even though titles may be given to leaders from the region, they are given less say in decision making and no authority to spend money. Others urge that the trainers in the leadership development programs themselves should reflect the face of India in its regional variety, and not just the states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala; and furthermore, that the training not be dominated by church and mission leaders and evangelists, but include people from professional backgrounds. One leader notes that leadership development is done mostly with trainers and resources from the West.
There is a growing interest in the local church as the locus for leadership development as well as biblical and theological training. Several Indian leaders, have pursued their doctoral studies in church-based theological education, and have written thought-provoking dissertations that deserve to be distributed and read widely.
4.2.3 Contextualized approaches, materials and tools
To Bengali-speaking Christian leaders who live in Kolkata, the capital of West Bengal, and whose language is the sixth largest in the world, whose Bible was translated by William Carey and was the first book to be published in India, it seems strange to find a dearth of Bengali services and Bengali leaders in their city. The main services in most of the larger churches are in English. In the shopping districts, business people conduct conversations in Hindi, and look down on those who speak Bengali. Although Bengali songs are being written in the churches, they are not being distributed. Yet throughout the history of India, Bengal has been known for its writers, its poets, its singers, its philosophers, its leaders of thought and culture. But the church has not tapped into this spring, nor deeply touched the heart of Bengali culture. One woman has started a Christian magazine for Bengali women, composing her own crossword puzzles in Bengali, because none of the other Christian magazines fit the needs of Bengali culture.
Over dinner a group of young professionals in Bangalore discuss the worship patterns in the churches they have attended. They say, “There is nothing Indian about the church services. They are blindly borrowing models from the West. Pastors speak with an American accent, and stop listening to Indian music. You go into an OM bookstore and find that Bill Gaither lives there… There is no place in the church for musicians and artists.” Another young professional in Bangalore observes, “There are a lot of church people in the arts, media and writing, but the church has ignored them. How can we impact and change the culture through the arts? Christians make bad art. We sing songs only from Don Moen. We are not writing our own songs, we are not creating music.”
These examples underscore the need for contextualized approaches, materials and tools. Many of the leaders interviewed raised this as a critical priority. Christian leaders in the Northeast report that there is no Christian radio or TV based there, and no Christian journals focused on the Northeast. Leaders from other regions too have noted the need for Christian journals in the vernacular. Yet there are signs of hope. The owner of a printing business is publishing a Christian magazine in a language of North India through his own efforts, and mainly at his own expense. A ministry in Maharashtra is recording worship CDʼs in regional languages, in the familiar bhajan style of Indian devotional music. A church in Chennai is producing its own CDʼs.
One leader teaches workshops to encourage Christian writers to produce materials for secular publications, and to publish their own blogs. A seminary professor observes that more evangelical Christians are starting to write: “It is often observed that the Evangelicals are practitioners more than thinkers and articulate writers. This is changing and some younger Evangelical theologians, pastors and mission thinkers have begun to articulate their theology in the changing context of India.” A national leader says that in assessing training programs, “The most important priority is to find a service provider whose focus is grooming and mentoring servant leaders and willing to give freedom to Indians to adopt, contextualize, test and ultimately model and trail blaze by writing their own curriculum one day.”
Other contextualized resources mentioned as needs include apologetics materials for IT workers and thinkers, novels and dramas that would present the gospel for the secular reading audience, Christian web sites and follow-up materials in vernacular languages, materials for semi-literates, a revised hymnbook with songs by contemporary Indian songwriters, curriculum for how to run a panchayat (village council), and tools for audio Scriptures for illiterates and oral learners.
Christians from the Northeast face a huge cultural gap when they go for training to Bible colleges or seminaries in other parts of India. They are often mistaken as foreigners, and the training they receive is not appropriate to their own cultural context. For that reason new training centers have been established to equip missionaries from the Northeast.
Many Indian leaders express gratitude for the sacrificial service of people in the past several decades who have come from South India to work as pioneers in the North, but the cross-cultural tensions and limitations are still keenly felt.
One respected leader says it was the 1997 mass persecution in Gujarat that started to reveal the limitations of relying on cross-cultural workers from other parts of India to do direct evangelism and church planting, and that highlighted the need to prepare mono-cultural workers. Another widely regarded leader says, “Locals planting churches among locals is the most effective; the cross-cultural is fading away.” And even within the same state, there are more results for church planters working in the heart languages (people group focus) than state languages (geographical focus). A church planting leader, himself a cross- cultural worker for many years, observes, “Big missions are still doing the work, but cross-cultural missionaries are working with local people. Old-fashioned cross-cultural missionaries are almost gone.”
A Northeast Indian leader recalls meeting a couple from the USA who had come to his region to work with human trafficking. His advice to them was, “Go to the locals and learn from them.” The basic meaning of the word “disciple,” after all, is learner. Such an attitude is fundamental to growth in discipleship, effectiveness as a leader, and success in identifying contextually appropriate avenues of ministry.
5.0 What constructive role could friends of India play?
In light of the changes in India and in the Indian church during the last decade, and in view of the most critical priorities for the church and its mission as identified by the Indian leaders interviewed, what constructive role could friends of India play? Before addressing that question, we will take a closer look at some of the economic factors and assumptions shaping the Indian churches, the progress being made toward self-support, and some of the consequences of the India Leadership Study.
5.1 The church and the economy
In general the city churches are prospering. Middle class Christians in particular have been lifted by the same rising tide experienced by the whole Indian economy. Many of the churches have benefited from the migration of people from the towns and villages, or from other parts of India. And as already noted, a growing number of the new believers are from higher castes and better economic status. More Christians are launching businesses or professional services, or are climbing the corporate ladder in the IT industry. Some of the urban churches have benefited from the reverse migration of professional and managerial people returning from the West, with good jobs and healthy incomes. Some churches receive contributions from members who have gotten jobs in the Gulf countries, or in North America or Europe. One leader reports that some Christians have done so well financially in the Gulf countries that, after completing their theological training through extension while in the Gulf, they have returned to India to become pastors, with enough resources to be self- supporting. Some of the larger ministries have taken advantage of the new technologies for online banking and electronic data processing, though most of their partners, small ministries working in the outlying areas, do not yet have bank accounts.
However, the high inflation that has accompanied the Indian economic boom has been especially difficult for those serving in missions, and particularly for those whose offices are in the cities. In January 2011, the price of onions, a staple in Indian cooking, was double the price of a year earlier. The annual rate of inflation rose in May 2011 to over 9%. Christian salaries havenʼt kept pace with the new economic realities. Christian organizations are unable to pay according to todayʼs standards. Pastors and evangelists struggle to educate their children; the government schools are notoriously inadequate, and the cost of private Christian schools, even if available, is out of reach. In addition to the rising costs, the global recession has hit hardest those who are most dependent on outside funds.
A persistent problem, mentioned by many leaders, is the practice of some of the larger, more prosperous missions of hiring workers from other ministries, with the allurement of higher salaries, and the promise of a motorbike. Such offers are hard to resist. One leader of a mission organization says,
We live in a world of competition. There are many mission organizations that claim to be involved in church planting ministry, who entice these simple native missionaries and even students with heavy salaries to join them along with the already planted churches. Since these missionaries are local people, if any such thing happens we become helpless to control that particular field, native missionaries and the newly planted churches.
Some ministries refuse to recruit workers from other missions, as a matter of principle. And some will provide at most a small monthly stipend to workers in the field.
Another concern among many of the Indian leaders is the need for better systems for financial accountability. Christian Institute of Management has been working for years toward acceptance of a set of financial standards and “best practices” for Christian organizations. In a welcome development, in cooperation with CIM, the Evangelical Fellowship of India has launched the Evangelical Financial Accountability Council (EFAC), similar to the ECFA in the USA.
One younger leader sounds a note of caution about leaders who, in the name of accountability, slip into a kind of control style that quenches the work of the Spirit.
In India, churches go into a control mode when it comes to financial [matters]. In the name of accountability, the committee defines all the checklist parameters even before the launch of the ministry and thereby kills all future opportunity of expansion and creativity. Yes, we need to be good stewards of the Lordʼs finances, and yes, we need to be honest and accountable. But imposing a control system kills the creativity of the mission worker. We need to realize the Lord always births movements to impact generations and thus too much control will not work. The control spirit tends to keep the finances raised to itself (or within its walls) without investing in outsiders who are also part of the Kingdom.
5.2 Growth in Indian stewardship
“It is easier to convince an American than an Indian to give,” says the owner of a consulting firm in Bangalore. “Indian churches are not trained to give,” observes an educator in Nagpur. Similar comments are made again and again, even though certain regions, such as Mizoram, and portions of Tamil Nadu and Kerala have been known for generations for their strong traditions of giving. A leader from Delhi explains:
Indians come from a survival culture. It is more difficult for them to give. Every family has seen poverty, so it is harder for them to trust that God will meet their needs. When Western friends admonished them about giving, it was seen as a threat, a form of arm-twisting, a way to control them. Now the Indian church is beginning to understand it is crucial for the viability of the Indian church.
The topic of self-support is becoming increasingly prominent among Indian leaders, if for no other reason than the recent economic downturn illustrated how quickly funds from the West could dry up, as individuals, churches and foundations found it necessary to tighten their belts, sometimes drastically. The crisis that came to many missions when the outside funds were curtailed prompted some of them to re-examine their assumptions and to question their ministry models. As one leader has said, “Church planting with foreign subsidy stops when the money stops whereas church planting with indigenous funding endures.”
Christian leaders have been exploring new approaches to income generation and self-support, not just for individuals as good stewards, but also for Christian organizations. Some ministries have been planning buildings that will help generate ongoing income for the ministry. The leader of a church planting movement says, “The last six months we have been educating the house churches about the importance of giving. We donʼt want to rely on outside help forever.”
Other ministries too have recognized the importance of teaching principles of income generation and good financial management, as a matter of Christian stewardship and biblical faithfulness. One leader says that “economic discipleship” as an important aspect of the overall vision of his organization, and that “the goal is to be self-sustaining sooner than later.” Another leader of a church planting movement is determined to help Christians escape the “poverty mentality.” He says, “A weakness in the Indian church is the ʻpoverty mentality,ʼ which says that Christians should be simple, poor, dependent. I had this mentality when I started, even though I had a successful business. God taught me, ʻProsper, and teach your people to prosper.ʼ Prosperity is holistic, not just money. It includes health, society, culture, mindset, every area of life.” He teaches that the tithe is a mark of ownership, that we are returning to God what is not ours, and that that is why we “return,” not “give” the tithe. The churches in this movement range in size from 50 to 5,000, and are all self-supporting. The leader claims that all the members of the movement tithe (10%) as well as give offerings, and that in most cases the offerings total even more than the tithes. The movement has sent offerings to Asia, Africa, Europe and even the USA.
A prominent leader in Northeast India asserts that in the last decade churches have become more self-supporting. The pastor of a megachurch in Bangalore reports that his church has been self-supporting from Day One (though he notes that his church is in the city). They have even refused money from two big churches that wanted to help. He says, “The Body of Christ in India can become self-supporting because there is enough wealth in India. People assume that if you are doing well it is foreign money.” Another leader advises, “We need to generate wealth within India, not only to support the church and mission, but also to impact the world for Christ.”
This new emphasis on Indiaʼs wealth, and exploration of Indiaʼs benevolent capacity, is not confined to the church. According to a leader in Hyderabad, “Philanthropy is now being discussed both in media and at corporate levels like never before.” The path toward a culture of generosity will not be easy. But there are definite signs of progress, and a generally optimistic spirit expressed by the Indian leaders. A leader in Delhi predicts, “In 10 years you will see the Indian church take a much bigger responsibility. The city churches will take the lead… We are beginning to see the early signs of sacrificial giving.” A leader in Chennai sees great potential in self-help groups and micro-credit. He says, “Missions need to utilize what is available, rather than looking outside. This is empowering people where they are, as they are. When Christian missions get into this, the self-help group can be a church.” A young professional in Bangalore reports, “I know of some mission hospitals in South India that have refused any donations and raised funds from their own hospital work. This has resulted in leaders developing who then opened other mission hospitals in backward areas. Low-budget, locally run discipleship programs are run by these leaders that have impacted many thousands of Christians across India.”
5.3 Impact of the India Leadership Study
Overall, leaders who participated in the India Research Project interviews expressed gratitude and support for another collaborative research project that would provide an overview of the status of the church in India, and guidance for the years ahead. Much of this enthusiasm reflected the ongoing positive impact, as they saw it, of the India Leadership Study (ILS). Here are some representative comments.
One leader said, “I was amazed when I saw the Indian Leadership Study, because it described the realities of India so accurately.” Another reflected, “The India Leadership Study was really helpful for the nation to see the areas needed.”
Yet another said, “The India Leadership Study communicates what I have wanted to say.”
On the other hand, there were several leaders who expressed concern, not about the content of the India Leadership Study itself, but how it has been applied, both by Indian leaders and, as they see it, by friends of India who read it, and who made adjustments in their giving based on the findings. One leader felt that the India Leadership Study got misused, such that all the emphasis was placed on the grassroots and on the poor. He feels that the ILS was interpreted as saying that there was no place for seminaries, even though research and development take place there. One national leader made a similar point, when he said, “From the ILS the emphasis on Types 1, 2 and 3 leaders picked up well, and was made visible. Now people need to see where are the imbalances in Types 4 and 5.”
Most of the critical comments stemmed from the impact of the significant amounts of money that began to flow into India in the last decade for Christian ministries, with large sums going to certain strategies and certain organizations, and little if any going to some of the purposes and/or organizations that some of the leaders considered most worthy of help. Some of these issues will be elaborated in the next section. The focus of their concern was the impact of a wave of outside funding washing over the Indian church, much of which was very helpful, but some of which created unintended negative side effects and problems that are still impacting them today.
5.4 Reflections from Indian leaders
5.4.1. Principles for giving
The first principle arising from the interviews is “Determine the real need.” A concern expressed again and again was whether the strategy truly addressed the real needs of the situation, or whether it reflected primarily the priorities and passions of the donor. Too many ministries are aligning strategies with the donors, they said. They know how to follow the money. As one leader expresses it, “Many ministries are shaped to an American paradigm that is easy for Americans to understand,” and so the leader faces the dilemma: “Should I present what resonates with the donor, or the real need on the field?”
A second principle stressed by the Indian leaders was, “Investigate before giving.” Take time, and donʼt be rushed to make a decision. One leader, who was trained in market research before going into theology, warns that people tell you what they think you want to hear, so it is necessary to go on site and observe. A leader from Orissa agrees, saying, “Foreign supporters should not rely only on the reports, but also should personally see how the fund is utilized.”
Several leaders repeated the same caution— that there are leaders who have a ministry but no money, and others that have money, but no ministry.
A third principle for giving is “Give in ways that encourage self-support and sustainability.” A seminary professor says, “Uncontrolled inflow of money continues to make the national church dependent on the West. It creates a sense of rivalry, greed and competition. It often robs the national church of its natural potential. When the easy money from the West is available, very few want to explore indigenous ways of fund raising.” To avoid long-term dependency, a leader from Andhra Pradesh recommends one-time start-up gifts, capital expenditures, projects that can be self-sustaining and investments in income generating strategies. A pastor from Bangalore uses the familiar metaphor, “Teach people to fish,” and urges that the question always be asked, “Will this be self-supporting in five to ten years?” He cites as examples microenterprise loans in village areas, self-supporting businesses in urban areas, and multi-use buildings that can generate income.
A fourth principle, similar to the third, could be expressed as “Give in ways that help ministries to plan for the future.” Some of the leaders expressed frustration with short-term funds, or committed funds that donʼt come through, so that plans have been set in motion, and people have been put in place, and then the funds donʼt come to complete the implementation. A leader from Delhi recommends that organizations be taught how to manage their cash flow and to stabilize their funding through ongoing fundraising. He believes that donors often assume too much about the abilities of the Indian organizations in these areas. He says, “One-time grants are more misunderstood than understood, since there is no undergirding church [supporting the ministry consistently]. So ministries keep swinging like pendulums between money and no money… It is better not to give, than to cripple them, and force organizations into dependency and blackmailing.”
A fifth principle is “Give in ways that respect local leadership and invite their creative participation.” Several leaders expressed irritation with ministries that insist you come to their headquarters or have senior leaders sit through their full training in order to use their materials, or that guard their intellectual property closely, rather than freely welcoming knowledge transfer and interaction. They desire a more relational, less business-like approach. “Western leaders do the planning, we do the implementing,” a leader from the Northeast protests. “Let the methodologies be home grown,” recommends a missions leader from Hyderabad.
A sixth principle is “Give in ways that foster partnership and collaboration between Indian leaders and organizations.” The impression is that money goes to a few big names that corner the funding, and that, as in India as a whole, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. “Encourage and lead partnerships among organizations,” a national leader advises. “It is better not to give in isolation. If a ministry doesnʼt care for others or relate to others you further consolidate their non-interdependence. Financial capital should not destroy social capital. Ultimately missions must say, ʻAll are my brothers.ʼ” One leader suggests that the donors deal directly with regional networks. Another leader suggested working through city-based pastorsʼ networks.
A seventh principle is, “Be realistic about the fund-raising capacity of the ministry.” Sometimes because of lack of access to Western donors or to major donors within India, or because of lack of fund-raising experience, ministries are unable to accomplish the matching portions of challenge grants, except, perhaps, by making the rounds of the same handful of donors.
Another limitation faced by several ministries is the lack of FCRA approval (the ability to receive foreign funds), which is becoming increasingly difficult for Christian organizations to obtain. In addition, the government mandated reporting requirements have recently become much more strict, and much more detailed. This may create some new challenges for organizations that have previously received funds through other organizations that have already obtained their FCRA. Legal and ethical issues arise in the attempt to assist such non-FCRA ministries.
An eighth principle, very important to the leaders, and mentioned repeatedly, is “Reporting and accountability should be based on a relationship of trust.” A pastor from Haryana says Indian leaders desire genuine partnership coming out of friendship, including being able to talk as equals, not in an atmosphere of “the one who has the money takes the upper hand.” He notes that body language and approach reveal so much of the true attitude. “It helps when there is a face to the funding agency,” a ministry leader from Bangalore remarks. A leader from Orissa pleads, “Understand us.” A leader from Mizoram shares, “Trust begets trust—we agree to take your word as truth. We are all part of this together. We are ʻpartners,ʼ ʻfamily.ʼ We want to be worthy of this trust.”
A ninth principle is “Reports should measure the right things, and in the right spirit.” Many leaders expressed unease about the forms required for reporting, which ask for information they donʼt have, or which place so much emphasis on numbers. Several made essentially the same recommendation: “Break the link between dollars and numbers.” A leader from Delhi says, “It is very easy for someone to collect a lot of data, but to us these statistics [on the charts] are not data; these are people we know, the harvest of our toiling; these are faces, our family, the fruit of our labors.”
Several leaders expressed frustration about the expectation of precision in numbers. The leader of a church planting movement observes, “If you can count them, they are established churches, and not a true movement.”
Some leaders protested the unrealistic expectations fostered by the emphasis on big numbers, especially as related to genuine leadership development, with spiritual formation and on-the-job ministry skill growth. Even Jesus took three years developing twelve. A leader from the Northeast admitted, “Sometimes we are tempted to tell lies to fulfill their expectations. Sometimes things [donors] demand are not applicable to the situation.”
A leader from Bangalore notes, “Proper accountability structures are being developed and in some cases being insisted on. This is a good sign. However the clash between a cold, purely financial accountability system and the need for a genuine pastorally and culturally aware system that values friendship and mutuality in service is yet to be understood and worked at.”
Another common complaint came from ministry leaders who said that they donʼt have time for a lot of reporting, with different details to different funders, in view of their limited staff and their own focus on accomplishing the ministry. Their conclusion was not that there was no need for reporting or accountability, but rather that there should be greater alignment of expectations.
A tenth principle is that “Applications for grants should be simpler.” They should help the ministries to express themselves about the need they are trying to address, and about the visions and plans they have to address those needs. Some of the leaders find the process for application writing cumbersome, and long drawn out. One leader suggests the use of a Skype interview, saying, “You could get more answers in 30-60 minutes. That would ease the pain, and the burden of pressure, and a clearer picture would emerge.” In that India is such an oral culture, and in that so many leaders struggle to express themselves adequately in writing, and especially writing in English, which is not their first language, this suggestion deserves consideration, especially for those who are unable to write effectively.
5.4.2 Recommendations for grants
The leaders were asked for specific examples of projects for which grants from friends of India could be helpful— grants that would align with the priorities the Indian leaders identified, and which could be given in ways consistent with the principles they recommended. The suggestions cluster in eight categories.
(1) Investments in people with unusual potential for strategic influence
Provide a block scholarship grant, to be administered by a national body, providing ten scholarships per year for advanced study by outstanding candidates in areas where a Christian voice is needed, or where Indian Christian scholarship needs to be deepened. Invest in developing leaders who have the vision and capabilities to take the challenge of reaching Indiaʼs emerging influential urban populations. Provide sabbatical assistance for senior ministry innovators and thought leaders, especially to give them an opportunity to write.
(2) Investments in movements and networks
Identify small, upcoming movements and build them up. Assist networks that serve many ministries, and whose partner organizations are really impacting people at the grassroots level. Work through those who can build bridges between the existing churches and the emerging churches. Consider endowment investments at the national level, to assist organizations that are serving inter- denominationally the evangelical church.
(3) Investments in creating tables for discussion
Provide resources to convene constructive discussions between theological seminaries and leaders of church planting movements. Facilitate a group to focus on leadership development, parallel to the orality network. Enable Indian leaders to network with South East Asian leaders, and with leaders from Brazil, Russia, China and South Africa, to share stories and insights.
(4) Investments in non-formal and church-based training models
Strengthen movements that are innovating and building contextually appropriate models of non-formal and informal education. Influence the accrediting agencies and the leading formal education institutions to recognize the validity and equal status of non-formal education.
(5) Investments in income-generation and self-support
Invest in Indian businesses that have missional objectives. Provide training and expert assistance for Indian leaders in starting businesses.
(6) Investments in top-level research centers and think tanks
Develop a national-level, world-class center for centralized information and research, as well as major regional research centers, serving as think tanks.
Train Indian leaders in 10 or 20 cities how to conduct, manage and interpret research on the harvest field, the harvest force and the harvest foes, and to generate prayer guides based on the research. Select strategic schools and really develop their library, faculty and students.
(7) Investments in tools that benefit the whole church
Invest in translation and publication of proven tools, resources and training materials into vernacular languages, including materials that communicate to children and youth. Provide resources to produce a new hymnal and CD for India, as well as resources to launch recordings by Indian composers.
(8) Investments in infrastructure that can multiply ministry
Assist with the construction of multi-use buildings that can provide central training and gathering sites in strategic locations, especially urban areas, and that can be used to assist with income-generation.
6.0 Where do we go from here?
6.1 Areas for research
Many possible areas for further research, by Indian researchers as well as others, are implied in the reflections and recommendation of the leaders interviewed. But four specific needs came up again and again. First, many leaders are looking for way to reach professional, middle class and urban youth and young adults. Successful models and/or useful curricula need to be identified, discussed and adapted.
Second, many ministries are looking for effective income-generation and self-support strategies. A number of promising approaches are being developed. It may be helpful to develop a collection of case studies of ministries that have moved, or are moving, successfully from dependency to self-support, and that are breaking the “poverty mentality” without falling into the aberrations of the “prosperity gospel.”
A third area of research needed is a nationwide systematic survey of the emergence and growth of the house church movement, and how it relates, or can relate, to the other churches. What dynamics are contributing to their growth?
How are their leaders being trained? This research should include analysis of the biblical, theological and historical perspectives undergirding and being fostered within the house church movements.
A fourth ongoing need for research is a means for continually updating people group information as well as geographic data related to both where the church is, and where the church is not, in light of current migrations and urbanization patterns. Such research can help the church not to lose focus on the unengaged, unreached and/or under-resourced people groups that live around them and/or which may be accessible to them.
In the course of the interviews, a number of Indian leaders expressed interest in helping personally with such research, or recommended others whom they felt could contribute.
The limitations of the India Research Project are evident— one researcher, approximately 100 interviews, 30 questionnaires, visits to ten cities. There are still many key leaders who have not been interviewed, and many states and major cities that have not been visited.
Some things change rapidly and need to be measured continually, like temperature and barometric pressure. Other things change only slowly, and trends cannot be identified as easily, as illustrated by discussions about global warming. Some things can be quantified in numbers, such as the cost of a kilogram of onions. Other things can be described, but not expressed as easily in numbers, such as the health of a leaderʼs marriage, or the characteristics of a generation. As we consider needs for research, we must consider both short- range and long-range possibilities, and both quantitative and qualitative aspects.
6.2 Possibilities for collaboration
The India Leadership Study demonstrated a decade ago many of the values of collaborative research and coordinated action, one of which is the benefit of learning in community, illustrating the truth that no part of the Body of Christ can say to any other part, “I don’t need you” (1 Corinthians 12:21). The value of this shared approach to learning has been experienced again in the cooperative planning and implementation of the India Research Project.
As we consider the question of “Where do we go from here?” there are several possibilities for ongoing collaboration, within India as well as beyond, first in the sponsorship of additional phases of research— by individuals or teams of researchers, and/or by academic research departments in seminaries with missiology departments.
There are possibilities for collaboration in sponsorship of round-table discussions, both related to the findings of the research, and related to further exploration of topics raised by the research, such as the relationship between theological training and church planting movements.
Another possibility is collaboration in making this research more widely available, through publication of this report, or initiating gatherings where the findings are presented and discussed.
There are also opportunities for collaboration in further developing and resourcing some of the initiatives already recommended by the Indian leaders, such as investment in non-formal education initiatives, or establishment of a multi-year scholarship fund, or building of a world-class Indian research capability.
In view of this critically important time in the life of the Indian church, in terms of opportunities as well as challenges, it is time to work together.
Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work. (Ecclesiastes 4:9)