For church leaders looking for inspirational role models, South African Alan Platt has offered a model of determination and fortitude in the face of Apartheid, widespread apathy and other steep challenges for over three decades.
Through his role in Pretoria-based Doxa Deo East, Platt took a bold approach to ministry during one of the most difficult times in South Africa’s history and turned it into an opportunity for inclusion and growth. Today, Doxa Deo serves 30,000 people in eleven different campuses functioning as one integrated church. Platt told his story at Movement Day Global Cities 2016.
“My wife and I had the privilege of taking leadership of a church in Pretoria, South Africa in 1992,” Platt told his audience. “We took over this church that had gone through consecutive leadership crises…a church with enormous promise, but one left with a small group of despondent people, confused, dazed.”
His story continues. “Within two years, a miracle took place.” Rev. Platt’s congregation had grown to 1,300 active members with four services on Sunday. “Everything was good.”
Pushing Boundaries Post Apartheid
At this point, rather than resting on his laurels for a bit, Platt had a vision for the city of Pretoria—to not just celebrate that people were coming to church, but to expand efforts beyond his comfort zone and that of his congregation. “I had a vision and shared it at a leadership meeting. ‘God is calling us to play a role to embrace the whole city,’” he said.
“We had no idea what it would mean to engage in a transformational engagement within our city and nation,” Platt said. “We asked God to give us understanding and knowledge.”
“God is calling us to play a role to embrace the whole city.”
He adds that this vision coincided with the South Africa’s post-Apartheid new democratic order. “At this stage, in 1994, our nation we were going through many changes,” Platt said, emphasizing that his church during Apartheid had been white, affluent, suburban. “And there was an anxiety in this particular group regarding the future and what was going to happen to the nation. For them it was a kind of crisis. The fact is, every time there’s a crisis, it’s an incredible opportunity for the church to shine. We should never waste a crisis. ”
“Every time there’s a crisis, it’s an incredible opportunity for the church to shine. We should never waste a crisis.”
Platt emphasizes primary areas of transformation. “We had to change the way we thought about our people,” he said. “That put us on a journey asking questions. If the people are the program, and they are the ones God wants to work through, what are we doing to not just minister to them but to equip them to make a difference in the world?”
He added, “We started asking ourselves, ‘How can we move from concern to compassion?’”
“Everything we do in the church needs to impact this outcome. And then we will commission people to make a difference within the context of their world. God must give us grace to have catalytic moments where we’re not just challenging people intellectually, but trust God to lease the body of Christ to be present in our world,” Platt said. “The second thing we recognized was that God wanted us to change how we viewed other churches in our city.”
“The second thing we recognized was the God wanted us to change how we viewed other churches in our city.”
So, during this socially fractious time, the realization of Platt’s vision led to a church movement that crossed Pretoria’s racial and income lines.
Move to Florida
Over the past few years, Rev. Platt has brought his united church approach to South Florida. Through an initiative called “Church United,” he’s bringing churches together from Miami to West Palm Beach. “About 400 churches are coming into this dialogue. The challenge for us is to perhaps not engage so fast in activity, (but to) build a small basis of unity to connect with one another. What can we make a difference in? What could have an outcome in this region if we did it together?”
To that end, his mission is focusing on shifting the needle spiritually and culturally across a largely secular region.
Platt called out a few key issues. With three percent of South Florida residents reporting that they have a “personal relationship with Jesus,” Platt worries that “We could double it and only be at six percent.”
He added, “What percentage of engagement would make a difference?”
Supporting Foster Care
While sweeping change looked difficult, Platt added that while “We might not have a grand plan, but we can break into small pieces. Many times grand schemes don’t reach fruition, but each piece makes a difference.”
“Many times grand schemes don’t reach fruition, but each piece makes a difference.”
They identified foster care and the waiting period children and families experienced. “400 families from different churches signed up to be a safe home for children,” Platt said.
“We have to understand this one thing, time is running out. We have great opportunities,” he said. “We can go make a difference.”