New. What emotions, thoughts, and associations does this word evoke in you? What about when you combine new with church? I observe a wide range of gut-level responses. For some new church brings euphoric and, at times, naïve short-sightedness. For many that word new connected to church generates resistance to the changes and sadly territorialism with the status quo in a given region or community. I was recently asked to write a blog post addressing the question “why do we need church planting.” With your permission, I would like to challenge both sides of this opportunity to be open to what God only can do when He puts together these two words.
Here are some cautions to pioneers excited about new church: (Mt. 16:13-18)
Church plants are not for those seeking to build their own cutting edge, ideological kingdom.
Although we are planting a new church, the faith and practice are not new and are well-established. As Evangelist Will Rice recently posted, “Nothing is new to those old enough to remember.” This faith we have was “once delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). Your new church is not pioneering new doctrine; it is the means to tangibly preserving and promoting God’s eternal truth. With persistent trends away from God’s Word, there is nothing more therapeutic and productive than starting a new church upon the “old, old story of Jesus.” Be careful to not invent your way right out of the central, biblical purpose of every church, young and old alike.
Church plants do not begin when you move to the area and “set up shop.”
When we moved to Wooster, Ohio to plant North Pointe Baptist, I have to admit that I thought our city and county were waiting on me to commence God’s work. I quickly learned that He had already been preparing the soil and positioning the hearts of those who knew it was time to inaugurate a local church with Scriptural convictions and compassion. While we did the usual promotional groundwork, most of the individuals and family presently engaged don’t need any convincing of the significance of our work. Their decisions of salvation, baptism, membership, and ministry are the byproduct of much divine work that preceded my “grand entrance” into their county.
Church planting must always launch under the authority and upon the foundation of an existing local church.
The tension between church planters and established churches is often more about the individualistic, autonomous approach of the new pastor and his team. According to Tim Cruse, “The biblical pastor under Christ is the initiator of His work in the local church. He leads the church in the understanding of its responsibility to reach the world for Christ. He directs the church to become reproducible through building leaders whose lives are reproducible as well. The living organism of the local church thus reproduces after its own kind through division.” This means you MUST FIRST cultivate relationships with established churches in order to break ground on the new church. Lone Ranger style of church planting has never been the biblical model…period. Don’t run from the process of developing a meaningful relationship with your reproducing pastor and church. Embrace with joy the process of “deputation” or raising temporary financial and prayerful support from not only the mother church but the “aunt and uncles” that will aid in the birth. Talk to and partner with any local, New Testament believer who will open their ears, heart, and wallet!
Here are some motivations to established churches who may be intimidated or indifferent to new church: (Mt. 18:15-20)
Church plants demonstratively reach more effectively new generations, new residents, and new people groups.
There is a tendency for long established congregations to maintain a style and emphasis of ministry that was generated in a different era or environment than what currently exists in given community. New churches tend to build their ministry strategy (we are not talking about doctrine here) around what is and what will be instead of what was. Also in older congregations, it may require tenure of 10 years before you are allowed into places of leadership and influence, but in a new church, new residents tend to have equal opportunity as long-time area residents. New church tend to evangelize the lost with greater frequency and empower new leaders at a faster pace. While there must be through mentoring and ministry, this is the only way that we are going to keep pace with our global population growth and Christ-given commission to make disciples.
Church plants best establish conversations and connections with the unchurched.
Multiple 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 worshiping body, while churches over 10- 15 years of age gain 80-90% of new members by transfer from other congregations (44 Questions for Church Planters, Lyle Schaller). This means that the average new congregation will bring 6-8 times more new people into the life of the Body of Christ than an older congregation of the same size. Why don’t we have an intense fire to start new churches-because we are focused more upon the saints we have instead of the souls we could see regenerated.
Church plants not only uniquely develop relationships with the lost but also renew the collective body of Christ in established churches.
How so? Well according to Tim Keller the following benefits come to the established church:
- First, the new church brings new ideas and innovations.
“There is plenty of resistance to the idea that we need to plant new churches to reach the constant stream of ‘new’ groups and generations and residents. Many congregations insist that all available resources should be used to find ways of helping existing churches reach them. However, there is no better way to teach older congregations about new skills and methods for reaching new people groups than by planting new churches. It is the new churches that will have freedom to be innovative and they become the ‘Research and Development’ department for the whole Body in the city. Often the older congregations were too timid to try a particular approach or were absolutely sure it would ‘not work here’. But when the new church in town succeeds wildly with some new method, the other churches eventually take notice may get the courage to try it themselves.”
- Second, the new church will cause new creative, strong leaders to immerge.
“In older congregations, leaders emphasize tradition, tenure, routine, and kinship ties. New congregations, on the other hand, attract a higher percentage of venturesome people who value creativity, risk, innovation and future orientation. Many of these men and women would never be attracted or compelled into significant ministry apart from the appearance of these new bodies. Often older churches ‘box out’ many people with strong leadership skills who cannot work in more traditional settings. New churches thus attract and harness many people in the city whose gifts would otherwise not be utilized in the work of the Body. These new leaders benefit the whole city-Body eventually.”
- Third, the new church challenges other churches to self-examination in the areas of faith, humility, and purpose.
“The ‘success’ of new churches often challenges older congregations in general to evaluate themselves in substantial ways. Sometimes it is only in contrast with a new church that older churches can finally define their own vision, specialties, and identity. Often the growth of the new congregation gives the older churches hope that ‘it can be done’, and may even bring about humility and repentance for defeatist and pessimistic attitudes. Sometimes, new congregations can partner with older churches to mount ministries that neither could do by themselves.”
- Fourth, the new church may become an “evangelistic feeder” to many churches connected to the given community.
“The new church often produces many converts who end up in older churches for a variety of reasons. Sometimes the new church is very exciting and outward facing but is also very unstable or immature in its leadership. Thus some converts cannot stand the tumultuous changes that regularly come through the new church and they move to an existing church. Sometimes the new church reaches a person for Christ, but the new convert quickly discovers that he or she does not ‘fit’ the socio-economic makeup of the new congregation, and gravitates to an established congregation where the customs and culture feels more familiar. Ordinarily, the new churches of a city produce new people not only for themselves, but for the older bodies as well.”
I still remember the first time I heard Dr. Earl Jessup present to a bunch of wet-behind-ears preacher boys His burden and vision for church planting-I was hooked…and still am! I am thankful for many men who have gone before us that emphasize the eternal significance of planting churches. Are we stewarding what they have taught and done? Church planter, have you forgotten how much bigger than you this new church thing is? Have you been at it long enough to forget the vision and yet not long enough to experience the increasing realities of that vision? Established pastor, have you lost your fervor and heart-thumping response to the prospect of reproducing the glories of the local church in a new substrate of society that has never had it before? Have you gotten disillusioned by fail attempts or setbacks? It is my prayer that we, the pioneers and the senders, will never lose the doctrine and delight of reading, hearing, and saying these two words together: new church.
One author recently defined every church fledgling and ancient this way:
“There is nothing like the local church when it’s working right. Its beauty is indescribable. Its power is breathtaking. Its potential is unlimited. It comforts the grieving and heals the broken in the context of community. It builds bridges to seekers and offers truth to the confused. It provides resources for those in need and opens its arms to the forgotten, the downtrodden, the disillusioned. It breaks the chains of addictions, frees the oppressed, and offers belonging to the marginalized of this world. Whatever the capacity for human suffering, the church has a greater capacity for healing and wholeness.”
For further clarification and motivation in church planting, read the words of Christ alluded to earlier in Matthew 16 and 18.
What other benefits do you see to a new church?