Three-self formula

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The three-self formula or three-self principle is a missiological strategy to establish indigenous churches. It was first coined in the late-19th century by various missions theorists, and is still used today in certain contexts such as in the Three-Self Patriotic Movement in mainland China.


The three principles of self-governance, self-support (i.e., financial independence from foreigners), and self-propagation (i.e., indigenous missionary work) were first articulated by Henry Venn, General Secretary of the Church Missionary Society from 1841 to 1873, and Rufus Anderson, foreign secretary of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions.[1][2] The principles were drafted formally during an 1892 conference in Shanghai of Christian missions reflecting an almost unilateral agreement that the future of the Chinese church depended on the indigenization of the leadership, and the finding of sufficiently Chinese modes of worship.[3] Dixon Edward Hoste, head of the China Inland Mission, was known for putting the same principles into practice in the effort of assisting the Chinese to establish their own indigenous churches during the early 20th Century.

The Three-Self Patriotic Movement in mainland China, now the officially sanctioned form of Protestant Christianity in China, adopted these principles as foundational for its establishment.[4]

The mission historian David Bosch has argued that there needs to now be a fourth "self," self-theologizing.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Trammel, Madison, "Marking Time in the Middle Kingdom", Christianity Today Library, retrieved May 1, 2007.
  2. ^ Venn, Henry (1971), Warren, M (ed.), To Apply the Gospel: Selections from the Writings of…, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
  3. ^ Grant, Paul (January 1, 2007), The Three Self Church, NSM, retrieved May 1, 2007.
  4. ^ Lewis, Donald M. (2004). Christianity Reborn: The Global Expansion of Evangelicalism in the Twentieth Century. William B. Eerdmans. p. 90.
  5. ^ Bosch, David J. (1991). Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books. p. 462. ISBN 978-1-60833-146-8.