Tilling Rocky Soil: Church Planting in Thailand
Why is Thailand such hard soil to till when missionaries have been in the country since the 1500s? Maybe it’s because Thailand is the only country in Southeast Asia that was never colonized by Europeans nor taken over by Communists. There is a unique nationalism among the Thai people who claim the world’s longest-living, reigning King.
In this country about the size of Texas, with a population of 67 million people, the overwhelming majority of Thais adhere to Theravada Buddhism (93%) and 5% are Muslim. However, over the past two decades, momentum among believers has been building. In Thailand (which means “land of the free”) the church is beginning to see some breakthroughs.
Things began to change in 1996 when Yongi Cho, the pastor of the world’s largest church in South Korea came to Thailand and said, “If you want to see God work in your nation, you must pray together.” Many Thai pastors and Christian leaders took this challenge to pray together seriously, and the Bless Thailand Prayer Network was formed. Now there are over 50 groups of pastors, leaders and missionaries nationwide that meet monthly to call out to God for an awakening.
As this vision to reach Thailand is cast nationally in a unified effort, business leaders, college professors and others have joined alongside traditional church planters to start new churches throughout the nation. Church planting is accelerating, and, with each successive decade, the number of churches that are being planted has doubled (see chart). For example, there are approximately 12 million people living in Bangkok, and currently there are just under 600 churches in the Bangkok metropolitan area, compared to the more than 1,400 places of prostitution in Bangkok.
Over the past four years, I have had the privilege of serving together with a couple of businessmen, a few doctors and a teacher to help plant a church targeting the Thai middle class families on the East side of Bangkok. Like many churches in Thailand we do not have a full-time pastor, rather we share the preaching and teaching and are reaching out to with the gospel to those in our area of the city. This Thai church was actually birthed from an international congregation where some English-speaking Thai believers began attending. As they worshipped together, God gave them the vision to start a Thai-speaking fellowship.
My role in the church plant is one of facilitation, which is a high value in United World Mission. This means that instead of moving in with my vision for a new church or a particular kind of ministry, we seek out nationals who have a vision and then come alongside them and help them see their vision become a reality. The nationals can always do ministry in their own context and culture better than the missionaries when they are encouraged, equipped and empowered.
It’s an exciting time in Thailand, and it’s a privilege for me to be able to serve on a national level with denominational leaders to see the comprehensive plan for the nation implemented. But it’s also exciting to be a part of a local church plant with Thais as we work together to see God build His Church in Bangkok. We now average around sixty each week in worship, and we continue to see people come to know Christ and grow as disciples. One person is a man named “Way” who owns a BMW repair shop. He attended our evangelistic Christmas service two years ago. At the service he prayed to receive Christ, and, over the past two years, he has continually grown in his faith, even though his wife and children have not become Christians. Just last month I walked into our church service and noticed that “Way” was playing guitar in our worship band. I could tell by the look on his face that “Way” had truly found “The Way” in Christ. Pray for Thailand, for Bangna Christian Fellowship and for Way and other believers like him.
By: Gregg Nicholson, Serving in Thailand