HOW TO CREATE A CLIMATE FOR CHURCH PLANTING
In 1776 there were fewer than 3,000 churches in America. There are more than 300,000 in 1981. “Enough is enough!” many people are saying. Some Christian leaders have been saying that all of this century. “The division of the Christian population into many local congregations of varying convictions is part of the scandal of modern Christianity. If anything is true,” these people say, “we have too many churches.”
Four other factors have contributed to this prevailing mental climate that the time for planting new churches in America is passed :
1. Superior roadways and rapid transportation both private and public – have made established meeting houses accessible to people from distant communities.
2. Our struggle to overcome social, cultural, and racial segregation has idealized conglomerate churches and mitigated against starting churches in the various segments of society.
3. The prevalent infatuation with “giant” churches, for whatever motivation, has caused many church leaders to resist the planting of new churches as a threat to “empire.”
4. Ecclesiastical detente among American Christians in this century has produced something of a religious settlement among the various denominations; and it has become unthinkable if Southern Baptists, for example, consider gathering churches where there are no Southern Baptist prospects. Everyone, this mentality suggests, has some preference. To attempt to win a person to active allegiance to Christ and add him to a congregation different from his preference or different from the one nearest his home is unabashedly called “proselyting.”
Yet, there are 80 million people in the United States that do not claim to have an allegiance to any Christian group. There are only six other nations in the world that have a total population larger than 80 million. This makes America one of the great mission fields of the world. It is absurd to think that those 80 million, plus another 60 million that are affiliated with Christian churches but are non-resident and/or inactive. are going to be adequately disciples by the existing evangelical churches. Most of the 80 million are socially and culturally removed from the homogeneous units in which most churches are established. New churches must be planted if these people are to be brought to personal faith in Christ and responsible membership in His church.
Given this milieu, is it possible to create a climate for church planting in a congregation? And how can a church be prepared for motherhood?
THE MENTAL PREPARATION OF THE CHURCH
How do you develop a mentality for planting a new church in a contemporary American congregation?
1. Actualize mission philosophy. It is amazing how many so-called missionary churches are not missionary. They may have a stated theory of missionary concern, and a limited commitment to financial support of overseas missions, but they never consider actualizing their missionary philosophy by direct support and personal involvement. The missionary nature of most congregations is only a rumor.
One way a local church can be prepared for church planting is to specify the mission philosophy of the church-first in words and then in concrete challenges. The church should focus on real opportunities for members to practice what is preached in missionary terms.
2. Be realistic about social, cultural, and geographical boundaries. A congregation – no matter how large – that meets in Hammond, Indiana, cannot adequately minister to Waukegan, Illinois, over one hundred miles away, no matter how large the bus or how dedicated the workers. As obvious as that may seem, hundreds of evangelical churches are presently attempting this strategy.
Cultural and social boundaries are just as real as geographical boundaries. Most of us have our most effective ministry within certain related pieces of the mosaic of human society. We do not communicate effectively across cultural, social, attitudinal lines. This needs to be recognized as reality so that the sponsoring church can see the need for planting churches within every segment of human society.
3. Combat local church myopia. There is an innate shortsightedness in mankind, a tendency to look at what is ours, and to focus full energies in that direction. One’s own community, no matter how needy, is not the world.
Believers develop something akin to militant nationalism in reference to their own church. It is extremely rational to many people to say, “Why should we preach the Gospel in other places when we have not won our community yet?” Such a philosophy would have confined Christianity to Judea and Galilee.
4. Be honest about small-church efficiency. We are living in a big church era. Church and church staff size have become status symbols.
But the truth is that small churches are much more efficient in terms of evangelism than large churches. In 1972, for instance, churches in the Southern Baptist Convention between 2,000 and 3,000 in membership averaged sixty-eight baptisms, or one baptism for every 37 members. That same year churches with membership of 200 to 300 averaged ten baptisms, or one baptism for every 25 members. In Illinois, small churches (50-99 members) baptized four each. Larger churches (1 ,500-1,999 members) averaged seventy-seven baptisms. The result: 30 churches of 50 members each (1,500 total members) won 85 percent more people than one church of 1,500.
This requires mental toughness in a day of big church romance. Information like this needs to be shared over and over again with the budding mother church. Don F. Mabrey’s study “The Demand for Dynamic Evangelism” should be required reading for all persons responsible for, or interested in church planting.
5. Develop a congregational strategy for church planting. Long-range planning has come of age in many congregations. As churches are setting goals, determining actions, and assigning responsibility in the areas of church growth, building development, and Sunday School planning, each church should also be developing a long-range strategy for church planting.
6. Cultivate a winning spirit. A positive mental attitude is essential to successful achievement. The church is called to victory, to growth, and to the multiplication of units. One of the most essential factors to proper mental preparation for church planting is a spirit of faith, victory, and confidence permeating the congregation and its leaders. A church that expects great things from God can attempt great things for God.
PREPARING THE CHURCH ORGANIZATIONALLY
How do you devise an organizational structure for church planting? Here are five guidelines:
1. Make specific assignments in church planting to responsible leaders of the congregation. Select a missions committee, missionary board, or church extension task force and lay the responsibility for this significant function on the shoulders of lay leaders. This action will counteract the unscriptural notion in many circles today that responsibility for starting churches in the American context belongs to state, regional or national boards, and is divorced from the essential duties of the local church or its members.
2. Give the Church Planting Task Force (CPT) status and visibility in the congregation. In most Southern Baptist churches the group would be called the church missions committee. Whatever it is called, it should stand alongside your Board of Christian Education in terms of significance and have high visibility as an important church committee.
3. Choose members for the CPT who provide creative, forceful leadership. Persons should have a missionary and evangelistic passion and a personal faith that is contagious. They should be able and willing to devote time to gathering and analyzing data about community needs. They should command the attention and respect of the congregation when they speak.
4. Train the CPT for its job. Begin with the bare essentials. Do not share all the minute details at a one-and-only training session. Let the group begin to function, and then provide continual training opportunities that are dictated by functional needs. This approach vastly increases the relevancy of training information and provides high motivation for training opportunities.
5. Turn the CPT loose to function. There are at least four primary functions of the CPT:
a) Planning function. The CPT must develop “church extension eyes” just as a student pilot must develop navigation eyes. It must be able to recognize evidence of unreached pockets of people. This ability is not primarily intuitive. It requires study of census data and housing and economic patterns. Recognition is only the beginning in penetrating unreached populations and gathering new congregations. The strategies must be communicated to the congregation.
b) Promotion function. The findings and recommendations of the CPT should be publicized, reported, discussed. and gossiped through the entire membership. Do not restrict reports to congregational meetings. Both need and potential should make a church planting project as exciting and pervasive as an every-member financial canvass, an evangelistic campaign, or a building program.
c) Enlistment function. Churches have within their membership individuals and families who have particular gifts for church planting. The CPT should, in every way possible, attempt to discover people with those gifts and interests. They should share the church planting needs and plans with the congregation in such a way as to evoke such gifts that might be latent in individuals.
d) Implementation function. The CPT must have authority, resources, and initiative to see that plans are carried out, evaluated, and reshaped until they prove to be effective
PREPARING THE CHURCH PRAGMATICALLY
How do you secure concrete involvement from a sponsoring congregation in beginning a new church? Commitment should be secured in at least four areas :
1. Prayer. Undergird the project with prayer! Prayer must be viewed as essential and pragmatic. It is the place to begin, continue. and end any ministry of witness or service in the name of Jesus. Specific plans should be made and individuals and organizations in the church should be enlisted for concerted, sustained, and explicit prayer support for the undertaking.
2. Training. Equip the congregation with the skills necessary for gathering new churches. Most lay training programs have been basically maintenance-oriented.
As a start, do an evaluation of all the lay workers in your church. How many spend their principal time and energy in service to those within the church? How many are actually trained and assigned toward ministry in the world? This will reveal the area where there is greatest need.
Provide lay training for various outreach strategies the new church will employ. Such areas as evangelistic Bible study groups, coffee fellowships,new community visitation, various community ministries and more.
3. Money. Underwrite the project with necessary funding. I am not speaking of total support. I know of churches that have refused to sponsor a new work because they could not buy a site, erect a first unit, and put a full-time seminary graduate in the pulpit. That’s not what is called for.
In funding, priorities need to be established. People are more important than places. The best money will be spent on personnel. Halls should be rented only when homes are not available or too small. Buildings should be erected as a last resort.
4. People. Ask the church to commit people – individuals and families- to church planting just as it commits people to Bible study organizations, music, or social activism.
“But that will weaken the sponsoring church,” is the first reaction.
“All this does is divide a fairly strong church into two weak ones.”
The worst way to begin a new work is with church division. If sponsoring churches could be led to see that a new church multiplies their ministry, perhaps this could be overcome. I often say to a pastor. “What would you do if two families in your church were transferred?” The answer is, of course, “We would go and seek others.” That is just the way the church should look at the investment of people in new churches. Expect and look for others whom God will send to fill their places.
The New Testament pattern in evangelism was not to make many new disciples and leave them unrelated to other Christians. The local church is of crucial importance. The biblical pattern is not to enlarge existing churches until their membership numbers in the thousands. The biblical pattern is to move converts into new churches, let them meet in homes, and then multiply the number of such churches. Normal growth comes by the division of cells, not by
the unlimited expansion of existing cells. The growth of individual cells beyond a certain point is pathological.
The only way to increase the ratio of Christians to population in any nation is to multiply the number of churches. If we are to make significant progress in bringing America to Christ, the number of churches must be significantly and strategically multiplied.