First, lets simply answer the question, “What is church planting?” It’s a shame many Christians often assume our “Christianese” is common language these days. I was reminded of this truth in a CVS one late night making a diaper run. The lady at the register asked me about my shirt. I told her a church plant made it to promote. She responded with a confused look and asked “What’s a church plant?”
Great question. To be honest, it is a weird term many unchurched are unfamiliar with. I would not be surprised if many church members in America are unaware of this term, especially if it is alien in their context. For this reason, I have been using the term “starting a new church”.
Back to the question. What is a church plant or what is church planting? Church planting is the process of starting new churches. A church plant is a new church. Timelines vary on when a church is no longer a “new church”. However, I think a combination of maturity, self-sufficiency, and duration of existence are good markers to determine whether or not a church should be considered “new” or a church plant.
In a lot of Christian circles, starting new churches has become a popular trend. Many books are written. Conferences are held. Christian celebrities rise to the top as experts in the field. Still, there are some completely ignorant or strongly opposed to the idea. Lay members that are comfortable and secure in their ministries often see no point in this endeavor. Other pastors may feel threatened, disrespected, or honestly challenged.
Those who start new churches and those who are often sent to support face many objections to church planting. But there is good news. The objections are often the same though worded differently. Here are the top 5 I have observed personally and through reading:
- It negatively impacts existing churches – This can happen. However, this is often not the case with healthy new churches. New churches often increase the religious interest of the unengaged and in return assist existing churches in the area. Mature church planters are often wise enough to counsel or at minimum disuade church hoppers from joining their core teams. Church plants are often focused on reaching the lost instead of benefiting from transfer growth. However, if this does happen existing churches should take two postures. Be prayerfully thankful that their members are participating in the Great Commission. Secondly, be grateful that the church planter down the street now has some of your craziest members 😉
- There are already too many churches -Isn’t it interesting we don’t have these complaints about grocery stores, gas stations, or retail stores. The more the better. The more convenient the better. The more options we have the better off we are. Why not for churches engaging the lost with biblical foundations? Plus, this criticism is not true. Consider these statistics from the Malphurs Group
- There are 120 million non-churched people in America, making America one of the top five largest “unchurched” nations in the world.
- The number of unchurched in the U.S. has doubled from 1991-2004.
- Each year, 3,500-4,000 churches close their doors forever, while only 1,500 new churches are started.
- 80-85% of American churches are on the downside of their life cycle.
- In 2004, the latest year available, there are only 11 churches for every 10,000 Americans.
- From 1900-2000, the number of churches in the U.S. rose by 50% while the nation’s population nearly quadrupled.
- We need to focus on revitalizing churches -In this case, it shouldn’t be either or. It should be both and. Still, with the urgency that Christ is soon to come again we must realize that Church planting is both biblical and evangelistically effective. New churches are able to adjust, be flexible, and engage the lost in new innovative ways without battling traditionalism or culture wars. One prominent scholar described the difference between revitalization and church planting by saying, “Its easier to give birth than resurrect the dead.”
- Big churches getting bigger reach more lost people – This appears true at first glance but Tim Keller states “Dozens of denominational studies have confirmed that the average new church gains most of its new members (60-80%) from the ranks of people who are not attending any worshipping body, while churches over 10-15 years of age gain 80-90% of new members by transfer from other congregations.”
- It takes too much money -Starting new churches are often less expensive than maintaining older churches. Older churches typically have dozens of ministries and staff that must be financially supported. New churches typically have less facility expenses, staff, and programs to financially support. Yet, they are still most effective in engaging the lost.
Lastly, church planting is BIBLICAL. I could make a broader case by explaining the mission of the church, the commands of Christ, and intent of the Great Commission. But here is a more powerful point. Turn to Romans. Yea, that was a church plant. Turn to Ephesians, yea that was a church plant. Turn to Titus. Yea, that was written to a pastor commanded to plant churches or at minimum support new churches. How do I know? Paul commanded Titus to appoint elders in every town (Titus 1:5). And the last time I checked, elders led churches. Only two options exist here. Either Paul or other missionaries had already started churches in EVERY town and now leaders needed to be developed (less likely). In that case, Titus was called to support church planting. Or more likely, Titus would start churches in EVERY town by building, identifying, and consequently sending leaders out. Selah….
Every church in existence now; was once a church plant. There are more people unreached in this generation than thousands of years ago. You don’t have to be a lead pastor to be a church planter either. Every volunteer, lay member, and average Joe can be a church planter assisting a lead planter. I’ll leave you with this powerful quote.
“You might say, “I’m not called to plant churches.” Yes you are! It’s always the will of God to have a people who worship His son in the nations. You’ll never have to worry about making God mad if you try to plant a church. It seems crazy to me that people are under the delusion they need a special calling to save souls, to disciple them, and to get together to love Jesus. Whatever ministry you are with, you must understand one thing: church planting is not for us, it’s for God. We do it so God will have a people to worship him!” ~Flyod McClung
For God’s Glory,