Pastor Omar* returned to his homeland of Kazakhstan to plant a church in the nation’s capital of Astana. He and his family had immigrated to Canada in 1999, but several years ago, Omar clearly sensed God’s call to return home. With the help of another Kazakhstani couple, they helped plant a new church in Astana, a city of over 1 million people, but with only 20 native missionaries. The church went from zero to 40 members in just nine months. Given the Muslim and government context, this growth is quite extraordinary.
Suddenly, the other couple pulled out and left Astana, leaving Omar in a difficult situation. Then, by God’s grace, he met ANM’s native missionary partner, Pastor Arman, from Almaty, the largest city in Kazakhstan. Arman provided counsel, guidance, spiritual and financial support, and a network of churches with which Omar could connect. With Arman’s help, the church continued to grow.
Interview Reveals Unique Strategy for Church Planting
I spoke with Pastor Omar during a brief visit this year to Astana with Arman. Omar shared his unique strategy for church planting in the nation’s capital. The culture of Astana is government-focused, sophisticated, and significantly more Islamic than Almaty. Omar’s approach is to envision a typical government employee and shape the church planting around the person he calls “Azamat,” a Kazak name that means “glory.”
Azamat is a 29-year-old government employee, culturally Muslim, married with two young children. He works hard and identifies as a Muslim but has questions about religion. Street evangelism is prohibited in Kazakhstan, and Azamat will not accept an invitation to attend a Christian church service. If he is seen entering a recognizable church building, he will be fired from his government job.
Fellowship Leads to Worship
Omar’s strategy is to make friends with the Azamats in Astana and invite them to a meal at the house where he lives and the church worships. Offering and accepting a meal invitation is culturally appropriate, relational, and effective. Following the meal and conversation about religion, the guests are further invited to remain for the service if they are curious about Jesus and wish to stay.
Omar has found this approach quite successful, and the church has grown. There are now 40 believers meeting in two locations. Twenty of these members are being trained to lead worship and to preach from the Bible. The leaders of both groups meet on Saturday evenings to share their sermon notes and coordinate their messages so that both locations receive the same message on Sunday.
Evangelical to the Core
Most of Omar’s members are from atheistic/agnostic or Muslim backgrounds. Christians are welcome, but the focus is always on Azamat. If Christians do attend, Omar has four rules for new members. First, they must commit to being a member of only one church (no church hopping). Omar encourages Christians to stay in their present churches because those churches need their members. Second, for the same reason, members may only serve in one church. Third, they are to pray for the church they attend. And fourth, they should tithe to the church they have chosen.
By focusing on the Azamat profile, God has empowered Omar to plant an indigenous church successfully in the challenging cultural and religious context of Astana, Kazakhstan.
*Name has been changed for security reasons
Photo by Eric Vess