In 1986, Dois Rosser realized he could build a church building in India for $5,000.
One church turned into a few churches, and today 91-year-old Rosser’s organization, International Cooperating Ministries (ICM), has built 4,400 churches in 65 countries, with 484 more under construction. Most of the churches are being built in the Global South–Africa, Asia, Central and South America–where Christianity is growing most rapidly and the demand for church buildings is high.
Church buildings are needed not only as a space to hold Sunday services, but also to act as clinics and orphanages, to train and send out disciples to reach out to the community, and to create a presence in the community that draws outsiders in.
Rosser’s experience with church expansion mirrors the findings of a recent study about Christianity’s rapid growth in the global south. The Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Seminary found that in 1910, Christians in the global north comprised 80 percent of all believers. Today they make up only 40 percent of Christians. In Africa, Christian affiliation has grown from 9 percent in 1910 to nearly 50 percent in 2010.
Each church ICM helps is required to plant at least five more daughter churches, which Rosser believes will naturally lead to the gospel reaching larger populations through local ministry partners, rather than foreign missionaries.
ICM also trains ministry leaders, an important component of outreach in areas where training resources are scarce: “If you don’t nurture [the leaders], you’ll never reach these countries,” Rosser said.
A former businessman, Rosser views this distribution of the gospel through churches and local believers with a business mindset, and wishes it would rival the way Coca-Cola spread its sugary drink to the ends of the earth.
“I’ve never been to a village where I can’t get a Coke,” Rosser said. “If they can do that with Coca-Cola, why can’t I do that with the gospel?”
Rather than just providing congregations with the money to build a church, ICM asks members to try to raise part of the money themselves. And the generosity of the local parishioners is often great: One man who belonged to a congregation in Vietnam sold his prized water buffalo to help build a church. ICM provides the money incrementally as benchmarks of the building process are met.
Rosser, who is now passing the organization down to his daughter, said that God is working through both Western donors and local pastors to reach nations, even in some cases changing laws to bring about greater religious freedom.
“We can replicate churches and put them in these cities where our partners are working not just on Sundays but 24 hours a day in these towns and cities,” Rosser said. “You and I need to think in terms of changing nations.”