Why Church Planting?
God’s Heart and Plan for the Church
There are a number of practical reasons for planting churches. Consider the reality of our massive population increase in America. Consider that even if all of our churches were full, there would still be a need for more congregations. Consider the thousands that close every year. Consider the many that have fallen into compromise. It isn’t hard to create a practical case for planting churches.
However, the main reasons for planting churches are far greater than reactionary. There are two profound theological concepts that root and motivate church planting-the Gospel and the Congregation. These two concepts, while covering different teachings, are not to be separated. They form the key foundation that unlocks the heart and plan of God.
We see all throughout Scripture God’s heart for his rebellious and lost people. All mankind are sinners, separated from a Holy God, lost, and bound for Hell. Yet, God’s heart is a heart of grace and mercy. This passion to reconcile culminated in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God incarnate. He dealt with the problem himself. Only He could. His work was a work of reconciliation as He became sin for us and took our punishment and death. His work defeated the power of sin, death, and the devil. Through faith in Christ, sinners are forgiven, receive God’s Spirit, and have assurance of Heaven. Through Christ, sinners now have a new Gospel shaped identity that radically reorients their lives. They are free in Christ.
The nature and intent of Christ’s Gospel is not designed to be hoarded but spread to other lost sinners all around the world. Christ has given his people the great privilege and responsibility to “Go, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” This is the Gospel mission of Christ’s people. In fact, we can’t be faithful followers of Christ and ignore or marginalize this. What a joy it is to share the liberating message of Christ Crucified and Risen.
Please notice that this mission is not simply evangelism, but also lifelong formation. It is justification and sanctification. This is where the congregation can’t be separated from the mission.
The late Clint Clifton wrote, “Church planting is important because the church is important.” Unless we understand the design, purpose and beauty of the congregation, we won’t be compelled to see why more congregations are necessary. Christ’s Church, made up of thousands of local congregations is a divine design with a divine purpose. The congregation is where God’s Kingdom is manifested and experienced here on earth. It is the very place where His life giving Word is proclaimed by trained undershepherds. It is the very place where He locates his gracious presence and work in tangible and experiential gifts called Sacraments. He gives these gifts to create and nourish spiritual life. It is where His Gospel cares for weary souls. It is where His Spirit equips his people to lovingly serve one another. It is a place of grace, radical hospitality, accountability, and active personal stewardship. The Congregation is the chosen instrument through which Christ forms his people for life.
The Gospel and Congregation Woven Together
The life giving Gospel of Christ and Christ’s institution of the Church can’t be separated or pitted against one another. The Gospel’s work unmoored from the congregation leads to a faith unrecognizable from the scriptures. This leads to solo and subjective Christianity cut off from Christ’s gifts. The congregation unmoored from the gospel is nothing more than a social club. These two intimately connected bring life and spiritual formation. This beautiful picture of the congregation directly and naturally connects to Home Missions. More congregations like this leads to more lives transformed. More congregations like this means more of Christ’s ministry to lost and weary sinners. More congregations like this mean more souls nourished and fed by the Lord.
In fact, history has shown that church planting is the most effective long-term evangelism strategy. If your goal is to reach a community for the next 50-100 years, the best plan by far is to plant a congregation. The local congregation is to be the active mission base in a community to continue to reach lost souls for Christ.
Evangelism and discipleship are designed to be deeply embedded in the congregation. We see that from the Scriptures that the congregation is plan A for the Lord. It’s crucial for us to see that Christ’s commission to his people cannot properly be fulfilled without planting churches. That’s the goal. Ed Stetzer captures the picture of New Testament strategy. He says, “When the apostles and disciples heard the Great Commission, we might consider what they did in response. They did not just evangelize. They congregationalized. When the disciples heard the Great Commission, they planted churches. So should we.”
Why Christians Don’t Plant Churches
Adapted from Word and Sacrament, by Rev. Dan Alger, Cannon of Church Planting, ACNA
Many genuine believers simply have not taken the time to learn, or have had the opportunity to be taught the radical nature of how the gospel and the congregation are designed to work together to reach and form people in Chris. Because of this, there naturally is a genuine lack of understanding as to why it’s important to start churches. Unfortunately, the heart and passion for evangelism and discipleship hasn’t been “congregationalized,” which has fed into the massive rise of solo and subjective christianity.
Sending missionaries isn’t cheap. Raising new children is expensive. Often times, the greatest inhibitor to planting churches is the sin of idolatry. Believers and congregations that are more concerned with themselves than the lost. Effective mission always requires self denial. It requires giving. It requires taking risks. Effective church planting places uncomfortable demands upon congregations in terms of money and leaders.
Fear & Scarcity
Stepping out to plant something from nothing is incredibly hard and inherently uncertain. Risk tolerance must be high. Doing faithful Word and Sacrament ministry will also no doubt face rejection. Planting in today’s culture is simply complex and daunting. It is our nature to not want to do things that scare us. There is also a fear of the scarcity of our resources. If we prioritize planting as God’s plan A for mission, that will necessarily mean that our leadership and financial resources will need to be adjusted.
It is easy for a congregation to develop an attitude and posture of scarcity where we feel like we lack the resources to survive, so we act like a body dying of exposure: we pump all our heat and life away from the edges to warm our core and allow the vital organs to live. We decide church planting and mission are extremities—expendable so we can stay alive. But the truth is that when mission and church planting have become dispensable, we are already dead.
A common reason to not plant is also related to the misunderstanding of demographics as well as target audience. In some rural cases, planted too close to other healthy congregations is probably not a wise use of resources. However, in larger towns and cities, this concern is unnecessary. Consider the small percentage in a city that actually faithfully attend healthy congregations. Most likely, it is less than 20%. Now consider the other 80%. The primary motivation to plant a new church in an area is to reach into that 80%. If that is clearly understood, any hint of territorialism simply is unfounded.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some answers to some commonly asked questions.
01. Shouldn’t we focus on revitalizing our existing churches before starting new ones?
This question is very common. Yes we should certainly seek the health of our existing congregations, but that doesn’t preclude us from church planting. It’s not an either/or, but a both/and. The Apostle Paul didn’t stop his work simply to solely focus on the dysfunction at the church in Corinth. This question does bring up further important questions though. How should we strengthen existing congregations? How will we know when they are revitalized enough for us to start planting? There are times when special assistance is right to help a congregation that is struggling. However, what if that congregation is systemically unhealthy and outside money is perpetuating the dysfunction? How many people will be hurt? It is far too simplistic to think that just giving money or resources will fix an unhealthy congregation. Far too often, what we call revitalization is really life support. It’s bad stewardship. Discernment is needed in this issue. True revitalization happens through the work of God’s Spirit in developing a healthy culture, healthy leadership, and healthy mission focus. Ironically, church planting has proven to connect deeply to congregational revitalization. Focusing on the mission of God, on the lost is a key component in a congregations culture. The very thing that is propped up as less important is what will bring life. Revitalization is very important and needed. It should be pursued with wisdom. But it must also be remembered that most churches that desperately need revitalization will ultimately refuse to make the sacrificial cost needed. Good stewardship compels us to focus on the those that earnestly desire true revitalization as well as plant new churches. Both/And.
02. Aren't there plenty of churches already?
If the motivation to plant churches is to reach the lost, then we should plant thousands more fully believing that the Gospel and Congregation are linked together by our Lord. The goal is not transfer growth, but conversion and spiritual formation. The target audience of new plants are the unchurched, dechurched, and underchurched. We need strength in numbers. New churches are not threats, but gifts to the greater Church and the community. The sad reality also is that many congregations are dying, or are drowning in compromise. New churches, although not the goal, will provide a healthy congregation for those that need to leave unhealthy congregations. Another aspect of this question is the massive demographic transformation in our country. Ethnic diversity is now our norm. We must realize that we need new churches to reach these diverse communities that existing churches struggle to minister to.
03. Isn't church planting too expensive?
It is helpful to see a comparison of churches with human life. Young families desire kids. The reality is that babies are terribly expensive. They consume all resources of time, energy, expense in a young family. But young families still pursue this because children are awesome. Children change us as well as set our future in a healthy direction.
Starting new churches cost a lot of money. Yet we must also see that maintaining existing churches, especially older churches is not cheap either. Maintaining aging facilities, more staff, more programing to support also is expensive. Church plants tend to have fewer facility, staff, and program expense, yet tend to be more effective in reaching the lost.
04. How old or large should a congregation be before planting?
We see in Scripture that the church at Jerusalem had only 120 members when they were commissioned to reach the entire world (Acts 1;8,15). The Church is Thessalonica was about one year old when Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians 1:8. The church at Antioch was also young when they set out on mission.
The answer to this question boils down to the spiritual health of the congregation. Size and age simply are not the biggest factors to participating in God’s mission of church planting. No church is too small or too young.
This question also assumes that the congregation has the sole responsibility to mother a new church. While certain congregations are able to do this, many simply aren’t able to. In fact, a broader support base is a very healthy model for a new church. Small congregations can still leverage their gifts and resources to pattern and support a new church. However, there are many ways to partner with other congregations to support a new church such as prayer, giving, mission teams, and equipment supply.
05. What if we don't have enough plant pastors?
Congregations are designed by the Lord to have pastors. It is true generally that we need more pastors. That is the same within church planting which requires specifically gifted and built pastors. The Lord invites us in Matthew 9:38 to “pray to the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth laborers into his harvest.”
This means that while we pray, we also seek to develop a pipeline of pastors. This system begins even within the youth of our association. Our call is to start identifying those God has gifted and called. Work with them as they are studying in college and seminary. Develop our leaders to plant. Church planting in our secular culture demands pastors that are well trained theologically, apologetically, and pastorally. This takes years, yet it is a process that shouldn’t be rushed.
06. Can't we be involved in mission in other ways?
As a foundational truth, all congregations are called to be invested in the great commission of Christ. While this can look different in each congregation, we need to see that this commission includes our “Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).” The disciples responded to the commision by planting new churches. Historically, the principle means through which the Lord has sought to fulfill this is the planting of new churches.
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