(C) Copyrighted Article. Orginally published in “Equipping The Saints”.
Vol. 6, No. 2 – Spring 1992. Used by permission. Sysops: for
information contact Christian BBS Abba II at 619-487-7746.
Evangelism Through Church Planting
by C. Peter Wagner
Premise: There is no more practical or cost effective way of bringing unbelievers to Christ in a given geographical area than reproducing new churches.
The single most effective evangelistic methodology under heaven is planting new churches. That statement will seem bold and brash to some, even though research over the past two or three decades proves it.
This axiom is simple, but it is not simplistic. It applies monoculturally and cross culturally. Some Christian leaders so badly wish it weren’t true that when they aren’t attempting to deny it, they are ignoring it.
Many books on evangelism (perhaps 98 percent) say nothing about church planting at all as an evangelistic methodology. Granted, many of them promote personal soul winning, and I applaud them. The average Christian in the pew and the average pastor give little, if any, thought to planting new churches. Winning their friends and relatives to Christ and ministering in their own local congregations is all they can handle. But that is the small picture. Those who see the big picture see it differently, or at least they should if they are committed to the spread of God’s kingdom throughout their city or their region or the world.
Evangelizing people by persuading them to go through the “Four Spiritual Laws” or come forward in a large crusade is excellent. But unless these people who so express their desire to follow Jesus find a home in a local congregation, their decision may turn out to be nothing more than a gesture. They never become disciples of Jesus Christ.
Not to make an explicit connection between evangelism and the local church is a strategic blunder. As the number of individuals who are evangelized increases, so also must the number of churches and the
variety of churches. The more harvest God gives us, the more barns, silos, and grain elevators we need. In any given geographical area, the Christian community will grow or decline according to the degree of effort given to planting new churches.
þ Growing denominations plant churches
Without exception, the growing denominations have been those that stress church planting. The leaders of these denominations know church planting is a central key to their growth, so not only do they believe it themselves, but they see to it that their pastors and lay leaders also believe it. They go to great pains to communicate the challenge of church planting throughout their constituency.
My friends in the Church of the Nazarene, have sent me one of their four-page flyers dressed up with pleasing colors, cute caricatures, artistic layout and a simple message: “How a Church Is Born.” It says that a birth implies “loving parents, anticipation, pain, attending physicians, tender care.” It outlines seven steps in the church birth process. Then my friend, Raymond W. Hurn, who wrote it, makes this telling observation: “Few, if any parents, would ever say it was not worth the time, trouble, or expense to give birth to the infant and watch it grow through childhood and adolescence into adulthood.”
Year after year one of the fastest growing denominations in the United States has been the Assemblies of God. They have constantly held church planting high. Articles and motivational pieces on church planting regularly appear in their clergy journal, Advance. In their family magazine, Pentecostal Evangel, they use stylish graphics to excite their people about new churches. They let them know, for example, that while in California there is only one Assembly of God for every 26,000 people, in Arkansas there is one for every 5,000. Their message? “New congregations become part of the vanguard, God’s elite task force, which marches in advance in world conquest for Christ.”
As they moved into the crucial decade of the 1990s the Assemblies of God had no intention of allowing their vigorous growth rate to weaken. In 1988 their Executive Presbytery signed a declaration designating the 1990s as the Decade of Harvest, and set the following goals: “To enlist one million prayer partners; to reach and win five million persons to Christ to train and disciple 20,000 persons for ministry; to establish 5,000 new churches.”
Working from a base of slightly over 12,000 churches, this is indeed a bold goal. They are projecting an increase of around 40 percent.
Some might object by saying the Assemblies of God are taking too big a risk to announce such a bold goal. Suppose they don’t make it? All right,suppose they don’t. Suppose they end the decade with only 2,500 or 3,000 new churches? They’re still better off than they would have been without making the effort. And even then they will end up with a net gain of more churches in a decade than many U.S. denominations many times larger will have gained in three or four decades combined.
þ Seminary students can do it
I had been teaching church growth in Fuller Seminary for several years. I had discovered that planting new churches is the most effective evangelistic method under heaven. Then I realized that in the whole history of Fuller Seminary no course in church planting had been taught. So I decided to do it myself. I knew very little about it when I started, but one thing I thought I knew was that the best church planters would probably be experienced pastors who had served several parishes and who had accumulated the wisdom and maturity to do it well.
Not that some fitting this description wouldn’t make good church planters, because they do. However, experienced pastors do not turn out to be the most likely talent pool. Younger people who still have more options and more flexibility are considerably more likely to do well. Since I began challenging my own students to plant churches, I have seen several each year go through a change in their career planning. When I describe some of the advantages of starting from scratch rather then inheriting a collection of someone else’s problems in an existing parish, some take me up on it and start churches.
For years Rick Warren, a young Southern Baptist graduate of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary has helped me teach my church planting course at Fuller. Rick packed his family into a car with a U-Haul trailer and set out in 1980 to plant a church in south Orange County, California. He announced his goal as a church of 20,000 by the year 2020 and planting a new church each year on the way. Could a seminary student do it? By 1989 his attendance was running between 4,000 and 5,000, right on the curve toward 20,000. And instead of starting nine new churches, he had started fourteen. He has inspired and challenged scores of students to step out and risk it for God.
þ Why plant new churches?
There are many reasons for giving church planting a central position in planning strategies for church ministry and mission. I will list five of the chief reasons:
1. Church planting is biblical. Church planting is the New Testament way of extending the gospel. Trace the expansion of the Church through Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost part of the earth and you will see that church planters led the way. This is a kingdom activity, strongly endorsed by God our King. Collectively, as a community of the kingdom, we can scarcely feel we are obeying God if we fail to plant churches and plant them intentionally and aggressively.
2. Church planting means denominational survival. While some may not consider institutional survival a worthy motive, deep down in their hearts most church leaders do. Most of us rightly feel our denominational emphases contribute something important to the wholeness of the universal Body of Christ. But if the present rate of decline in many of the denominations continues for another 25 or 30 years, given the steady rise in the age profile of present membership, the future is bleak to say the least. One of the essential ingredients for reversing the decline is vigorously planting new churches.
3. Church planting develops new leadership. Many studies confirm that the most important institutional variable for the growth and expansion of the local church is leadership. In the local church no individual is more important for growth than the senior pastor, but effective senior pastors make it a point to see that lay leaders also take responsible positions in the ministry of the church. For the most part existing churches have unconsciously placed a ceiling on both clergy and lay leadership, and as a result upward mobility of new people into positions of ministry is difficult. But new churches open wide the doors of leadership and ministry challenges and the entire Body of Christ subsequently benefits.
4. Church planting stimulates existing churches. Some are reluctant to start new churches for fear of harming those churches already in the target community. They feel that doing so could create undesirable competition between brothers and sisters in Christ. In more cases than not, a new church in the community generally raises the religious interest of the people, and if handled properly can be a benefit to existing churches. That which blesses the kingdom of God as a whole also blesses the churches that truly are a part of the kingdom.
5. Church planting is efficient. There is no more practical or cost effective way of bringing unbelievers to Christ in a given geographical area than planting new churches. This applies both to “new ground” and to “old ground.” Let’s look at each one.
þ New Churches on New Ground
By “new ground” I mean areas of the world or people groups within those areas that are yet unevangelized. As we move into new territory with the gospel, there is little debate that new churches are needed. Yet it is only recently that some very large international evangelistic ministries have begun to realize just how important church planting can be for lasting results.
Three imperatives confirm the need for new churches as an essential part of evangelistic strategy on new ground:
First, there is a biblical imperative. As the apostles and evangelists moved out to the unevangelized frontiers they planted new churches. The Apostle Paul said, “It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation” (Rom. 15:20). Paul went to new ground, and what did he do? He planted churches.
Second, there is a demographic imperative. Of three billion people in today’s world who do not yet know Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, around 70 percent do not yet have a viable, evangelizing church in their culture. This amounts to over two billion people. They will not come to Christ unless someone moves across into their culture with the love of Christ and begins to plant churches. The rapidity at which they are won to Christ will be directly proportional to the rapidity at which churches are multiplied.
Third, there is a practical imperative. Some international Christian ministries that have been established for the express purpose of evangelizing have discovered that the most effective evangelistic methodology under heaven is planting new churches.
Few world class organizations have been used more extensively than CampusCrusade for Christ in evangelistic ministries. However, their original charter did not contemplate church planting. On college campuses they regularly organized functional substitutes for churches taking the form of campus groups. But the picture became more complex when they developed the Jesus film and began direct village evangelism on new ground. There is little question in my mind that worldwide the Jesus film is the most powerful evangelistic tool currently in use. Many are saved when it is shown. But Campus Crusade president Bill Bright began to run into a problem. In villages where the Jesus film had been shown and numbers of people had prayed to receive Jesus, the believers were not being gathered into Christian churches.
So Campus Crusade began planting “home fellowship groups.” It soon becameevident that these groups would eventually grow into churches. By necessity, church planting has now become an explicit goal of Campus Crusade. New Life 2000 is the most massive program they have ever devised. In it they are working with Christians from all denominations to achieve eight specific goals by the end of the century. Goal number eight? “Establish in cooperation with existing denominations, more than one million new churches.” Imagine the impact this is going to have on world evangelization! Look at Thailand as an example. Through the Jesus film, Campus Crusade has reported more new churches planted in that country in the 1980s than in the previous 150 years of mission work.
þ Old Ground
In my opinion, the same principle applies to old groundÄwhere churches have existed for a hundred or a thousand yearsÄthe most effective evangelistic methodology is planting new churches.
The strongest resistance to the idea comes from the establishment, thoseindividuals who closely identify with the traditional churches.
But remember this simple fact: It’s easier to have babies than to raisethe dead! Not that all existing churches are dead, or even that most of them are. Most can and should be brought to life by the power of the Holy Spirit. Still the most exciting part of the hospital is the maternity ward.
C. Peter Wagner, Ph.D., is the Donald A. McGavran professor of Church Growth at Fuller Theological Seminary, School of World Mission. Wagner is widely recognized as one of today’s leading authorities on church growth. The above article was adapted from Church Planting for a Greater Harvest published by Regal Books. c1990 by C. Peter Wagner. Used by permission.
þ This article was originally published in “Equipping The Saints,” the quarterly magazine of Vineyard Ministries International. For a one-year subscription (four issues), send $8.00 to Vineyard Ministries International (VMI), P.O. Box 68025, Anaheim, CA 92817-0825.
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