Elephant Churches & Rabbit Churches

Keith, one of our long-term workers in Burkina Faso, shares some insights into what he’s seen contribute to successful church-planting among Muslims over the past 30 years. 

There are two models of church. An elephant church would be the traditional model of church that we’re familiar with in the west.

Elephants are large and strong, they can do a lot of different things. That’s our western model. We get a big building that can fit a lot of people and we use it for a lot of activities.

However, while elephants can do a lot, they also eat a lot. Big churches consume a lot of resources. They require teams to maintain the building, lead worship, prepare events, and orchestrate services. All of that also requires a lot of money.

Beyond the resources required to sustain one large church, elephants take a long time to reproduce. An elephant’s gestation period is 22 months, then it takes 20 years for an elephant to reach sexual maturity. So it takes at least 22 years before you can get a second elephant. Reproducing a large church follows a similar timeline. You have to raise money for a building, construct a church, pay for a roof and windows, furnish the church with benches, maybe get a sound system, and then you have to have enough people to actually fill the building. It’s very expensive to start a new church that way. This is a model that has often been used throughout Africa.

In Burkina Faso, we’re trying a different model, the rabbit model.

Unlike elephants, rabbits eat very little and reproduce very quickly. Their gestation period is only 30 days and a rabbit can reach sexual maturity in six months. So, in the time it takes you to get two elephants, you could have millions of rabbits.

The rabbit church model involves training believers to lead house churches in their homes. These churches are easy to replicate because if one home fills up, you simply train other believers and send half of the group off to start a church in another home.

Rabbit churches also work well in this particular cultural context. We’re working among primarily Muslim peoples and, while it may be odd or intimidating for them to visit a large church, they will happily visit a friend’s home, drink tea, and talk about God.

We’ve been amazed by how open people are to the gospel when church is structured according to a rabbit model. It’s a very adaptive, inexpensive way to do church. Now we’re excited to be training local pastors to train others to plant churches in the same way, allowing them to reach villages and establish churches where the Gospel has never been made known.

Keith

Burkina Faso