“It was an impressive and talented group — the leader of the largest house church network in Beijing, the leaders of the largest city transformation initiative in Europe, our friend Higgins from New Zealand. Each leader came to the group with his passion for cities and a passion for living. One morning we asked Layo Lieva from San Salvador to lead us in the Word.
“That morning, Layo had some good news to share with us. After thirty years of ministry, between 32 and 38 percent of El Salvadorans were now believers. Today there is one evangelical church for every seven hundred El Salvadorans. El Salvador boasts five Christian newspapers, five Christian television stations, and nineteen Christian radio stations. There are two evangelical hospitals and numerous Christian mayors and government officials.
“As we listened, we sat there smiling at the good news Layo was sharing with us. But Layo wasn’t smiling. He concluded his glowing report with these words: “Our country has never been worse off!” We were shocked. Worse off? How could that be?
“Layo has been in ministry in San Salvador for over thirty years and has the long view of doing ministry in one country. He understands the theology of place. He told us how, when he was a student and his country was a mere 3 to 5 percent professing evangelicals, he and his friends would dream of what their country could be like if just one-third of the people in El Salvador knew Christ. “What if…?” grew legs as they began strategizing about how to best reach their country. That morning, Layo had some good news to share with us. After thirty years of ministry, between 32 and 38 percent of El Salvadorans were now believers. Today there is one evangelical church for every seven hundred El Salvadorans. El Salvador boasts five Christian newspapers, five Christian television stations, and nineteen Christian radio stations. There are two evangelical hospitals and numerous Christian mayors and government officials.
“Layo went on to tell us that despite these outward signs of religious growth and the apparent penetration of Christianity into the social institutions of the country, the mental and moral infrastructure of the country had been destroyed. Nine people a day died by violent crimes. Drug use was out of control. Thirty-five percent of people were unemployed. Gangs were prolific and violent. One study showed that 32 percent of gang members came from evangelical homes. The most common complaint to the polic was “evangelical noise” — preachers who drive through the streets blaring their message from speakers mounted atop their cars. Why the disconnected? What went wrong?
“Layo gave us his personal assessment. ‘We settled for conversion rather than transformation. We don’t need to do it better, we need to do it different. I’m not sure if we need any more church plants, if they are like the ones we have now. What we need is a different kind of church.’
“Darren Miller’s insights help explain why places like El Salvador may be converted but not transformed: ‘Evangelizing and planting churches is essential to, but not adequate for, Kingdom transformation. They are means to an end — not ends in themselves… Being converted doesn’t automatically entail a complete shift in beliefs… Here is precisely where many missionaries fail. Too often, their vision ends with numbers of decisions, numbers of churches planted, or the size of church growth. When this is the case, there is little motivation for discipleship. There is little or no vision to see these precious new churches operate as engines of Kingdom transformation.”
Swanson and Williams, To Transform a City, 66-68.