Saturday, November 10, 2007

Church Planting - We Can Learn from Others

Most churches in our country have a desire to grow in membership. Some of those churches simply want to get bigger for the sake of getting bigger. However, I think most desire to grow because it should mean that at least some of that growth will be new believers.

Some of the churches that want to grow try to do things to either boost evangelism or make their church seem more attractive to outsiders. Most of these ideas don’t end up amounting to much.

Other churches decide that planting churches is the way to go. I agree whole-heartedly with this. New churches are usually much more effective at reaching the lost than are established churches. I’m not sure of the reason for this, but the evidence is clear on this point.

Some church plants are successful; some are not. What interests me about all this is that much has been learned from overseas church planting efforts that can inform church planting here in the USA. In some parts of the world (China for example) churches are exploding in number. What are they doing there that we are not doing here? What can we change?

First of all, we need to be clear on what constitutes a church. I am not talking at all about a building. I’m referring to groups of Christians who meet together to worship the Lord and edify one another. It’s that simple.

Also, in order for any church planting to occur at all, it has to be the work of the Holy Spirit. If God is not at the forefront of what is happening, then all the work is a waste of time.

Let’s return to the main question: What are people doing overseas that seems to lead to church planting success? How is it different from what is happening here?

When we (my wife Alice and I) went through our missions training about a year and a half ago, we were taught 10 characteristics that seem to always go along with church planting success (what I mean by success is churches that plant other churches that plant other churches, etc.).

Here are the ten characteristics:

  1. Much prayer
  2. Intentional evangelism
  3. Planting of reproducing churches
  4. Authority of God’s Word
  5. Local leadership
  6. Lay leadership
  7. House churches
  8. Churches planting churches
  9. Rapid reproduction
  10. Healthy churches

As we look at these ten characteristics, we can quickly see a few things. First, the prayer is that the Holy Spirit will lead the entire process. Second, there is intentionality in all that is done. Third, a clear goal is that churches will be planted that in turn plant other churches. Fourth, the first nine characteristics lead to number 10 – healthy churches.

Let’s now look at how most churches are planted in the USA today. Usually a big church decides to plant one or several churches within its same city or geographic area. After that decision is made, how many of the above characteristics apply to what happens next?

Two of the above 10 usually do occur. Numbers 2 (intentional evangelism) and 4 (authority of God’s Word) almost always happen, at least in evangelical churches. That’s about all I see.

Four of the above 10 sometimes do occur. Numbers 1 (much prayer), 5 (local leadership), 6 (lay leadership), 7 (house churches), and 10 (healthy churches) happen some of the time. However, this is not what I usually see.

Which numbers have I never seen in the USA? Numbers 3 (planting of reproducing churches), 8 (churches planting churches), and 9 (rapid reproduction) simply are not happening here in the USA.

Why is this the case? I believe it is because of two reasons. First, most churches do not pray for this specifically to happen. Second, churches are not intentional about planting churches that are designed to rapidly reproduce.

Why go to the trouble of planting one or two churches when with a few changes in strategy a church can plant churches that reproduce exponentially? If this process is blessed by God and is effective overseas, then why don’t we do it here? I have no idea.

I would encourage our local churches to not just share the gospel locally, but also plant churches. Beyond that, plant churches that are designed from the beginning to plant other churches, etc. By this method, many more people can hear the gospel, and also be a part of a local body.

We can learn from what is happening overseas. It can happen here, too.

(The 10 characteristics can be found in David Garrison’s book “Church Planting Movements.” ISBN: 0-9747562-0-2.)

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