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What’s Faith Got To Do With It​

The Evangelical Church Planting Movement in the Philippines and the United States

While many civil society organizations and social movements have contracted in recent decades, certain faith communities, in particular Christian evangelical churches, have multiplied both in the United States and abroad. Church multiplication has historically been a tool used by Western imperialists to colonize non-western indigenous lands and peoples. Christianity’s center of gravity, however, has moved southward (Jenkins, 2006). As religious immigrants move from the Global South to cities in the Global North, they are planting evangelical churches in Western countries and shifting the politics, implications, and dynamics of church multiplication. In a globalizing world wherein the social significance of religion and beliefs are supposedly diminishing, faith communities are highly active in the public realm and faith-based social action continues to remain a social and political category (Dinham & Lowndes, 2009). The changing global trends, and the active participation of faith communities in the public realm magnifies the growing need for scholarship to examine how these faith communities form as well as the strategies and conditions that mobilizes faith communities to act collectively and engage in collective action.

 This study examines the social construction process of the church planting movement in the Philippines and through the Filipino diaspora in the United States and asks, why and how do churches form and multiply? I plan to examine the collective beliefs of church planting through the discourses and practices of Christian adherents to understand the ways faith is shared within churches and across different social networks that lead to the formation and multiplication of new churches. The study will investigate how faith as a cultural infrastructure mobilizes Christian communities to participate in church planting and the conditions and strategies that lead to the formation and multiplication of new churches in various political and cultural contexts. 

I hypothesize that faith shared by Christian adherents orients and propels church planting in various cultural and political contexts. To ground this hypothesis, I will conduct a comparative study of four church planting networks: two church planting networks in the Philippines and two church planting networks in the United States. These networks will be examined at both the individual and organizational level. First, I will conduct life history interviews with various church planters and other affiliated members to explore the discourses of faith that oriented their actions to plant churches and how they have come to understand and share the Christian faith with other members. Second, I will examine 11 native and Filipino immigrant churches: 1) three tribal churches that have been formed and planted in the highlands of Quezon and Rizal Province, Philippines by a church located within Metro-Manila; 2) three Filipino churches located in Cainta, Teresa, and Binangonan, major cities within Rizal Province; 2) one Filipino immigrant Baptist church that formed and planted another church in Anaheim, California; and 3) three Filipino immigrant Baptist churches in Taylor, Warren, and Belleville, Michigan. In each site, I will conduct focus group interviews and engage in participant observation to investigate the conditions to form and plant a new church, the strategies, and tactics through which new churches were planted, as well as the internal and external factors and processes that sustain the new church plant as its own autonomous entity. These cases will help us to understand how the Christian faith has been shared and adapted across different social, cultural, and political contexts.

This study situates church planting as a type of religious movement or a faith-oriented collective action. To examine the Christian faith which underpins this distinct collective action, I glean from religious studies to understand how religious scholars examine ‘religion’. Religious scholars suggest that religiosity can be analyzed through discourses and practices of a specific religious community wherein beliefs and faith manifest through the lived experiences of religious adherents. I adopt this approach to examine how the Christian faith motivates and mobilizes Christian adherents to engage in church planting. On the other hand, collective action has been studied by social movement scholars as an empirical outcome resulting, in part, from a culturally resonant frame. That is, individuals construct shared cultural meanings that then mobilize people to act collectively – to join demonstrations, engage in sit-ins, and protest. I build on social movement scholarship to analyze how faith, the formation of collective beliefs, and the mobilizing acts of Christian communities across a multiorganizational field result in church planting.