I have realized something over the past few weeks. To skip the long intro, people have different views on church planting. God has been showing me that I had taken this for granted. Ruth and I have experienced wonderful insight into the world of church planting over the past several months. Specifically, what is an effective philosophy and methodology of church planting in our current North American context. We have been free to learn and see first hand what line of thinking is simply just moving sheep from one pen to another and which are actually reaching lost sheep. By the grace of God, we were able to grow. I mean sure, I was jobless, income less, at a loss for words as to what was potentially next, but what we have experienced and learned was nothing short of life changing.
We had experienced a culture that was increasingly on board with the movement and necessity of church planting, well so I thought. Being immersed in the church planting conversation I had almost forgotten there was apprehension to church planting.
Church planting has been defined in many ways, but for the sake of getting everyone on the same page, using Aubrey Malphurs’s definition, “church planting is and exhausting but exciting venture of faith, the planned process of starting and growing local churches based on Jesus’s promise to build his church and in obedience to his Great Commission.”1 When we seek first God’s Kingdom we will make disciples, impact the domains of society and Jesus will build His church.
Having this as my base definition and foundation, my first difficult conversation came when talking to a Presbyterian minister at Starbucks. The second conversation happened over dinner with a friend. The last with a co-worker. Each conversation raised several objections based on their experience with church plants previously, and in regards to the real need of new churches. Sadly, I was not prepared for this. Thankfully, God is a gracious God and allows us to learn through these experiences. For those of you who may have some objections to church planting, especially if one starts in your city, realize that there are many ways to plant a church. Nevertheless, the need is great, look around you at the lostness of our cities and town, regardless of how many churches occupy streets within those city limits.
…starting new churches is vital to the future of the church in America. The point is simple. No church plants—no church. Like all organizations, churches have an organizational life cycle. They’re born or planted and experience early growth due to a natural emphasis on outreach. However, problems begin to arise along the way, and far too many churches shift from an outreach to an in-reach mentality as they attempt to solve their problems. This, in turn, slows growth. Should churches ignore or fail to correct the situation, their growth stymies and they plateau. If they continue in failing to correct the situation, they experience early decline that if ignored will turn into later decline and ultimately death. – Aubrey Malphrs, The Nuts and Bolts of Church Planting.
The result of each conversation has pushed me to better articulate the statement above when questioned about church planting. Essentially, it comes from some training that Ruth and I attended in Las Vegas. See, often times when people think church planting they think about location and a Sunday service. The picture they have is a lack of information and experience with healthy kingdom thinking.
There is a different picture in their head when a church plant is described. They wrestle with how you get money to build a building with no congregation. Or, it’s not really a church if it’s in a school. The other side of location is why there, or in some cases, why here? A church plant in their city brings frustration and anger. I remember when a church started in my home town when I was younger and the people I talked to couldn’t even fathom it and were confused. Mainly, because they were thinking about their church, not God’s Kingdom. Their responses were selfish. Their responses were focused on how a new church would negatively affect their fellowship and their Sunday morning attendance. However, most churches are okay with incarnational approaches to foreign missions, but fail to realize the same strategy can be useful within their own city, no matter how large or small.
Planting churches are the most effective way to reach non-Christians. And, it’s the most effective way to keep up with the growing population. Bruce McNichol explained the findings of his research in Interest magazine:
- Churches under three years of age win an average of ten people to Christ per year for every hundred church members.
- Churches three to fifteen years of age win an average of five people per year for every hundred church members.
- Churches over fifteen years of age win an average of three people per year for every hundred church members. 2
According the to NAMB research using US Census data, in 1900, there were 28 churches for every 10,000 Americans. In 1950, there were 17 churches for every 10,000 Americans. In 2000, there were 12 churches for every 10,000 Americans. In 2004, the latest year available, there are 11 churches for every 10,000 Americans. 3
The other aspect of confusion is starting a church involves starting a service. My hope over the next few posts is to describe that church planting will eventually lead to some form of worship gathering but that it’s not necessary to start with and its not the end goal. A church has not arrived when they have many people, a building, and a Sunday services. Rather, disciples indwelt with the Holy Spirit bring the Kingdom of God to the world forming the church.
- Aubrey Malphurs, The Nuts and Bolts of Church Planting.
- Aubrey Malphurs, Planting Growing Churches for the Twenty-first Century.
- Lost in America: How You and Your Church Can Impact the World Next Door.