Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
May 30, 1963
NUMBER 5, PAGE 5,12b-13a

Establishing An Indigenous Church

Carroll W. Puckett

By "indigenous" we mean "Produced, growing, or living naturally in a country or climate; not exotic; native; hence figuratively; inherent." By "indigenous church" we mean a church that is self-governing, self-supporting, and self-propagating in whatever country or locality it is established.

In studying about establishing a local church the only way this can be done scripturally is to let the New Testament direct in this respect, since this is God's inspired word and capable of guiding us into all the truth. The New Testament is "inspired of God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works." (2 Tim. 3:16, 17)

One can turn to the New Testament and learn how to establish an indigenous church in any locality in the world by observing the way the apostles did it, since they were the chosen inspired ambassadors of Christ.

Paul, an apostle, did more establishing of local churches than any other apostle, as far as inspiration records. Paul's work was simply and clearly recorded on the pages of the New Testament for the direction of those who would live after him. As Paul went about to establish local churches he established churches that were indigenous (self-governing, self-supporting, and self-propagating.)


When a local church was established, that church was from the very beginning, self-governing. Very soon after a work was begun that church developed qualified leadership to guide it unto all of its responsibilities. Elders, who met the qualifications laid down by the apostles by inspiration, were ordained in every local church.

Each congregation had a plurality of elders to oversee that church, to shepherd the flock. Also deacons were appointed to serve under the elders, they too having the necessary qualifications. (1 Tim. 3 and Titus 1) Paul addressed the church at Philippi with the bishops or elders "and deacons." (Phil. 1:1)

The responsibility of the elders of a local church was to that church and it alone. The elders were directed to "Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock." (1 Pet. 5:2,3)

One eldership never undertook a brotherhood project to oversee a work in which all churches were equally related as in the field of evangelism. Each eldership directed the affairs of the one church over which they were overseers. There was no organization larger or smaller than the local church with its elders, deacons, evangelists, teachers and saints. Paul set up no organization intermediate between his preaching and the establishment of a fully organized indigenous church. In a few years, Paul built the church on so firm basis that it could live and grow in faith and in practice, that it could work out its own problems, and overcome all dangers and hindrances both from within and without.


A reading of the Acts and the Epistles will convince anyone that the churches among the Gentiles were self-supporting. There seem to have been three rules which guided Paul's practice regarding finances:

1. He did not seek financial help for himself.

2. He took no financial help to those to whom he preached.

3. He did not administer local church funds.

Every church was financially independent. There is not a hint from beginning to end of the Acts and Epistles of any church depending upon another, with the single exception of collections for the poor saints. That collection had in the mind of Paul a very serious and important place, but it had nothing to do with church finance in the ordinary sense. Its importance lay in its demonstration of the unity of the church and in the influence which such proof of brotherly charity might have in maintaining unity. That one church should depend upon another for the supply of its ordinary expense as a church, or even for a part of them, would have seemed incredible in the first century. Many have the idea that the first thing that should be done when going into a new place to establish a local church is to secure land and build a church building. "We must have the material establishments before we build the spiritual house." With such brethren the externals of religion precede the inculcation of its principles. We learn from a study of Paul's work that the churches he established through preaching of the gospel were self-supporting from the very beginning. Today the New Testament plan will work. Many have felt that new churches are incapable of managing their own financial affairs as well as other of their affairs and. as a result of such thinking, have stunted the growth of new churches and made them paupers on charity One church or several churches sending to another church for the receiving church to build an impressive building or undertake vast financial obligations beyond its ability is unwise and detrimental to the establishment of an indigenous church.


Each local church from the beginning of its existence realized its responsibility to teach and baptize others that it might sustain itself and grow. Each body of believers realized its responsibility to those other than in their own community in that the gospel commissions all believers to go into all the world and preach the gospel to all of the creation. The church at Thessalonica is a New Testament example of a self-propagating church. Paul declared that "So that ye were ensamples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia, for from you sounded out the word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad; so that we need not to speak anything." (1 Thess. 1:7, 8) The Thessalonian church was able to do this work without operating through another organization or another church, or letting another organization or arrangement do its work. Within the framework of local church there at Thessalonica they evangelized much of the world. There is no New Testament example of any church ever turning its work of evangelism over to a missionary society, college, or sponsoring church. It was self-propagating. It was able to manage its own affairs without outside supervision or oversight. Each congregation did its own work of evangelism to the extent of its ability which is all that God requires and expects of any church.

"Indigenous church" principles recognize the local church unit as the best medium and the only scriptural organization for evangelism. When we have established a local church with all of its rightful and inherent vigor, we have followed God's own method for propagating the gospel.

The only thing that the apostolic church used to win people was the gospel of Christ. Some have used many other things to attract people to the church, such as entertainment, refreshments, gifts of one kind or another, secular education, medical treatment, camps, orphanages or other human institutions. To rely upon these things to attract people to the church and to the Lord, is to deny the all-sufficiency of the church and work of God. Paul did not convert or attempt to convert people by working miracles upon them. He did not attract people to Christianity by offering them healing. We know of no cases in which Christians desired to win, or actually did win adherents by means of the charities which they dispensed. But certain brethren today are promoters of a sort of "social gospel" as an inducement to people to submit themselves to Christ. This is precisely the same thing as paying people to follow Christ's teaching and practice, although it may appear to be in a less vicious form.

Each local church must have zeal in telling the truth to others that the church may grow and in order to carry out its responsibility. Each must recognize that it is a debtor to all men.


In order to establish an indigenous church, the gospel must be preached. The gospel of Christ is God's power to save. When people in a given community hear that gospel, believe that gospel, repent of their sins, confess their faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, and are baptized scripturally, they constitute a local church. Such a church, if it follows the New Testament pattern, will be self-governing, self-supporting, and self-propagating — an "indigenous church."

— 3024 Vaughn Rd., Montgomery 6, Alabama