"The harvest is so plentiful, and the workers are so few." Luke 10:2
The words of Jesus to his disciples are so true of the spiritual state of things in Japan today. The harvest is truly abundant and stands in critical need of our attention! But where are the workers to respond to this crisis of opportunity? We look to God in prayer for his provision. But we also search our own hearts for possible action. What might God be calling upon us to do as his church? Let’s get ready. It’s harvest time in Japan!
"I have many people in this city." Acts 18:10
DID YOU KNOW? Japan is the second largest unreached people group in the world! It’s one BIG unfinished task for the church (that’s you and me). In Greater Tokyo alone, there are more than 39 million people. And 99.5% of them live apart from the hope and change that Christ gives.
Last year, over 26,000 Japanese took their own lives in despair. And the tsunami of 2011 claimed more than 19,500. Each day without Christ is a day too long. The Gospel is truly good news, but only when it gets to people on time. We’ve got a lot of work to do in Japan, church!
Bad news, Good news
FIRST, THE BAD NEWS. The gospel seed hasn’t penetrated the soil of Japan. Despite 500 years of Christian witness, only a fraction of Japanese (less than 0.5%) are believers. The mission work just hasn’t produced the fruit we expected in the time we desired.
Japan is the “missionary graveyard” of the east, notorious for afflicting discouragement burnout and abandonment of the task.
Japanese Christian novelist Shusako Endo said that the cross may never take root in the “swampy soil of Japan.” Is the soil too hard, too soft, too thorny, too thin? It’s all of the above! Social structure and family pressure, wealth and technology, cults and religious superstitions, hectic lifestyles and much more all team up to poison the soil of Japanese hearts.
It takes an average of 7 years for a non-Christian to make a decision of faith in Christ. It takes an average of 15 years for a tiny new church to be self sustaining. At this rate, we’ll never make a dent in the 99% that yet need Christ. And discouragement and fatigue will set in for workers long before.
The greying pastorate is Japan’s biggest Christian crisis. 71% of pastors are over 60 years of age. And the prospects for new generation leadership are bleak. Only 2% of pastors are under 40 years of age. New pastors are simply not being raised in time to replace workers in the churches that exist, let alone the ones we need to start for Japan’s evangelization.
Yes, new churches were started in Japan last year, but more churches closed their doors. Overall the growth of the church in Japan is pretty dismal. The net “gain” in 2017 was negative 14 churches. The Christian population shrank as well.
NOW, THE GOOD NEWS. The good news is the bad news is all wrong. Yes, that’s the way its been. But God is making a new a way in Japan.
Christianity does not carry the baggage of negative perception. Western “Christian” weddings and the current gospel music boom are leading indicators of a new openness. In fact, nearly 69% Japanese say they are interested in Christianity but do not know enough to do anything about it.
Churches have lots of visitors. In fact, 12% of Japanese, according to a 2009 Gallup survey, say that they have attended a church at least once in the past. In that same survey, 82% say that they have prayed to Creator God at least once. A great number (perhaps as many as 10% that go) of Japanese place faith in Christ while living overseas. Each year hundreds of these new converts return to Japan.
Japanese are seeking answers to meaning of suffering and other deep questions. Many sense that the 311 disaster “rebooted” Japan’s church growth potential. We saw a tremendous surge in baptisms and many new church starts. Who would have thought that 12,000 people would attend the “Celebration of Hope,” an evangelistic campaign in stubborn northern Japan, with 300 decisions for Christ!
God can make a new future for Japan. A future He is glorified in homes and hearts. Rest in Christ instead of exhaustion in work. Spiritual wealth instead of material wealth.
What follows is our vision for this spiritually transformed Japan. But first, we have an important confession to make…
Our Mission Confession
I. We recognize that God has given his church the responsibility and privilege of being a blessing to Japan, and pointing people to the cross of Christ.
II. We confess that we have not fully embraced this task with the resources and personal sacrifice required.
III. We ask for God’s forgiveness for our lack of true grief over the spiritually lost millions of Japan.
IV. We ask for God’s renewed empowerment for the big unfinished task in the days ahead.
May God be glorified through us in Japan!
"Ask me, and I will give the nations to you." Psalm 2:8
WHAT IF…some of us did a little “reckless” dreaming about massive spiritual transformation in Japan? Maybe God waits for those that trust him with dreams bigger than their capacities or sensibilities about “the way things work” in this land. More than dreaming is needed to make things a reality, but the dream needs to be there first. Here’s ours:
We envision the people of southwest Greater Tokyo forever transformed by the gospel, and gathered in countless, ever-multiplying local churches.
We dream of Japanese forever changed by knowing and living the gospel. We dream of filling southwest Greater Tokyo with disciples of Christ worshipping together. We dream of many people coming together for Japan’s transformation, here in Japan, back in the States, and around the world. We dream of Japanese churches starting churches everywhere.
Are all the resources on hand for this to happen? Hardly! Will it challenge every ounce of faith, boldness, and creativity we have? You bet! But love for God, love for Japan, and this dream compel us forward.
A vision for new churches
We are passionate about church planting. New churches are the jet engine of spiritual transformation. Churches are the primary context of discipling the nations. So, when we envision a transformed Japan, it is always with an eye for starting new churches.
We envision the people of southwest Greater Tokyo forever transformed by the gospel, and gathered in local churches.
IS THIS VISION POSSIBLE? If we look at our ourselves and our inadequacies, or Japan and its difficulties, we will despair. So we look upward. We remember the words of Jeremiah 32:27, “I am the LORD, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?” We recognize our smallness and powerlessness, but we also recognize His greatness and might. Perhaps God will be pleased to accomplish this vision through us together.
One plants, another waters, but God makes it grow. 1 Corinthians 3:6
VISION IS A START. It can propel the work. But we need strategy to shape and inform the work. Not just any strategy will do. We need one that addresses the unique challenges of urban church planting in Japan.
That means we have to grapple with very busy lifestyles, very few pastors and Christians workers, very limited space, shoestring budgets, and a high propensity toward burnout and social isolation.
What’s more, growing new churches is a LONG-haul effort in Japan. Our lives are short. We have to plan on how we will sustain the work
for the time it requires, while working to reduce the time-to-maturity component for the churches we plant. Time is limited!
In countering these challenges, a model of church reproduction envisioned by missionary Joseph Meeko in post-war Japan should be considered again. Strawberry “Dendo” (Evangelism) refers to a method of rapid and robust simultaneous church development.
It’s not about human strategy. It’s about God’s work. But there is human wisdom God has given us to consider, too. Read on!
“Potted plant” church planting? Sure, there’s value in focusing on the “completion” of one church at a time. But this linear method of one-by-one church planting is S-L-O-W in Japan. It’s taken 17 years to establish Denen Grace Chapel. At this rate, we’ll never reach the needs of greater Tokyo!
True, a church is hardly a strawberry plant, but some helpful parallels can be drawn: 1) Interdependence is healthier. 2) Simultaneous nurturing toward maturity is quicker. 3) Small anchor points add to robust fruit. Keep reading below on these distinctives.
Distinctives of this strategy
We believe that we can, and must, produce new churches and disciples of Christ in Japan more rapidly and robustly than we have in the past. To enable us to do so, here are a few things that are important to us in The Cross Project:
God gave the body of Christ a variety of parts. None of us individually have all the gifts needed for the all-encompassing work of church planting. But with teamwork, we can each contribute our small part, covering and filling in the gaps needed to be effective in this big work. And, because church planting in Japan is truly a marathon commitment, we need others to encourage, support, and help us avoid burnout.
Short distances make teamwork and collaboration possible. We want to be present in each other’s ministry and lives. That’s what a team is all about. We want to blanket a region whose context we all have gotten to know well.
Urban Japan is very expensive. A new church hasn’t the means to afford a dedicated facility for church work. But it needs something. A complete lack of space makes it difficult to sustain ministry, create relationships, and form a credible, stable organism. Dedicated meeting space as part of a house can answer this challenge.
A single church, particularly a new church, is unlikely to fully utilize a worker’s potential, time and speciality skills. But a network of churches can benefit and fill out the worker’s contribution.
Likewise, a fledging church is unlikely to be capable of supporting a pastor financially. What’s more, the current Christian leadership crisis in Japan makes the “pastor-for-every-church” ideal untenable. But several churches in a networked cluster supporting a pastor/staff workers resolves this financial and leadership shortage.
A church plant is in a vulnerable state early on. It needs to gather strength from the presence and close interaction of others. We want to be a networked church that is part of each other’s lives, with mature believers helping younger ones along.
What’s more, the small numbers in Japan mean it is a challenge for new churches to have access to resources, and grow past stages that would be helpful to their membership. For example, an outreach group to young moms or career men is more numerically feasible in a small cluster of multiple churches.
Together in this strategy, we believe God could work through us to simultaneously establish new interdependent churches N, S, E, and W of Denen Grace Chapel along the Nanbu line and Denentoshi line corridors over the next ten years. See our target locations below.
"I chose you....so that you might go and bear fruit" John 15:16
IT’S NOT ABOUT US. We’re just minor players trying to point people to the importance of Jesus Christ. But let us introduce ourselves to you, because — thankfully — God has chosen us for this task of his kingdom building in Japan. We’ve each felt the tug of God on our heart to come and serve in Japan as missionaries, not because we’re giddy about Japanese culture, anime (what’s that?), or sushi and rice (it’s pretty good, though), but because we love Jesus and Japanese.
We’re convicted of the spiritual need of this country. We believe in the potential for great spiritual change in Japanese lives. And we believe that it starts by the offering of our lives in personal sacrifice and faith. Our identity has been shaped into Christ’s ambassadors for Japan.
God might be pleased to empower little bit players like us to make a big impact in this country.
Guys with grit
Gals with grace
It’s strange the way that God brings people together. But here we are standing (sometimes sitting) together for Japan.
The secret behind a great guy missionary is a powerhouse gal. Here are a few of the best missionaries you’ll meet.
“Other than my wife, my two loves have been Jesus & Japan. Maybe a good cup of coffee, too. And a fall mountain hike.”
“Ask me to show you a picture of my three little kids, the last born in Japan. Or ask me a sports question. I love both.”
“I was born in Taiwan, raised in New Zealand, immigrated to the USA, and sent to Japan. Any questions?”
“I thought church music was my life purpose. But then God turned it around to serve my own people in church planting.”
“Some call me ‘Mama Bear.’ I’ve had a baby in Japan while raising two toddlers. Easy. What’s your adventure?”
“My Chinese name is Hsin Hui, but my two kids (boy & girl) just call me mama. We Changs have been a part of the Japan journey together.”
Be a part of the team
“Come over and help us!” begged the Macedonian man in Paul’s dream (Acts 16:9). Paul went. And what a difference it made! Our appeal to you for Japan is the same. Come!
Our group is far from complete. It’s going to take a lot of people contributing all kinds of talent and time if we are to reap all the harvest in Japan. If you — yes, you! — have thought of doing something in Japan for God some day in some way, why not do it now?
Don't Wait for Your Phone to Ring
(Your call from God could sound a lot like this website)
What could you do? We recognize that not everyone is called to be a lead church planter, but your unique skills can be an essential part of a team starting a church together:
Conversational English, music, sports, crafts, cooking, Bible studies, preaching, testimonies, prayerwalking, or just canvas the neighborhood with our flyers. See here for more ideas and details of how to serve with us.
"You will be my witnesses...to the ends of the earth."
WHERE ARE WE? We’re in the hand of God, of course! He’s transplanted us from our homelands into southwest Greater Tokyo as his witnesses. We have about 39 million neighbors across the Kanto Plain, here in the center of Japan. Yes, it gets a little crowded in these parts at times, but what a great location to make a big impact for Christ.
We’re living in close proximity (within a 15-minute train ride) to each other to maximize our effectiveness as a team and to build a strong network between our church plants.
Here are a few places we are starting or planning new churches:
Denentoshi & Nanbu Lines
Nanbu, Tokyuu, Shonan Lines
Denentoshi & Shiei Lines
Southwest Greater Tokyo
“Boys (and ladies), be ambitious for Christ!” were the words of Dr. William Clark, famous educator in Japan. We intend to be ambitious together in church planting in many new places in the coming years. Why? Church planting is the most effective way of reaching people for Christ and growing new believers. It revitalizes existing churches in their mission passion and commitment. Where new churches are birthed, people are forever transformed!
Our unique area
Southwest Greater Tokyo is a bit different than the rest of the Kanto Plain. We think it’s a great blend of both city and country with a great future. Here are a few distinguishing features that factor into the impact of The Cross Project:
We’re just a short train ride from the city hubs of Shibuya, Shinjuku, Ikebukuro and Tokyo. Great access to Narita or Haneda airports, too! Train lines and expressways criss-cross the area, but so do rivers, parks and trees. We’ve got plenty of green space and recreational spots. Look at the Kawasaki City and Yokohama City websites to get an idea of the area we live and serve.
Partner with Us
"Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work." Ecclesiastes 4:9
Need more information?
We may be in faraway Japan, but we’re always just an email away. Please reach out to us with any questions you have.