Quiz: Which text in the New Testament gives us the imperative to plant churches?
If you have an answer, share it in the comment section. In the meantime, keep reading!
Church Planting Model #1:
In 2001, my wife and I accepted the generous gift of free registrations and accommodations to a Church Planters Bootcamp in the denomination we were serving. We had actually already started a church a couple of months before the seminar, but our district leadership thought it would be helpful to us. It was. We learned a lot, and we used the things we learned for several years after that. When the workshop began, the leaders told us,
“We are not going to give you a mission-statement or a mindset. You get to dream your own dream and develop your own vision. We simply want to give you the tools and methods you need to live your mission and see it become a reality.”
When we left that weekend event, we had…
- A carefully written mission statement (ours was “Reaching and Discipling Entire Families for Jesus Christ.”).
- A calendar of ministry events for our first year of ministry (think Christmas, Easter, etc.)
- An outline of all the ministry departments and leaders for each position that we’d need to fill (think admin, worship, kids, youth, etc.).
- A budget of our first year expenses, and a list of all the things we needed to buy to do ministry (think sound, furnishings, technology, etc.).
- A plan for raising support and encouraging our church members to tithe (think teaching, letter-writing, solicitation, etc.).
- A clear set of goals for promoting the church and accommodating the growth we anticipated (think mailers, newspaper, website, letters, etc.)
In short, we spent the entire weekend focused on the methods, techniques, and mechanisms by which we would “do” church for our first year. We were assigned a church planting coach (who was an incredible friend and blessing to us personally), and we were sent back home with prayer and encouragement to launch a great church. That first year, we met most of our goals, including growing our staff, securing a long-term rental facility, renting a church office, starting a worship ministry, a children’s ministry, a youth ministry, and a men’s and women’s ministry. At the end of the first year, our supervisor told us “Your church plant is waaaaay beyond the norm in every way.” We were invited to attend the church planters seminar for the next two years to share our ideas and to coach other new church planters in the methodology we had learned.
Here is the basic flow and diagram of the church planting process in the paradigm we used to plant our first church.
- A coalition of churches (e.g., our denomination/movement) sponsored us as…
- The leaders of…
- A new church plant that would be focused on
- Making disciples
After twelve years of ministry following our first church-planting experience, we personally gave around $100,000 of our own money to the church we started. The total income over our twelve years was about 3.5 million dollars, and we spent about 3.2 million of that on the functions of the church organization, and put the rest in the bank. We probably baptized about 8-10 people per year (maybe 100 people during our 12 years), and saw a few dozen people make first-time commitments to Jesus (though it’s impossible to really count how many there were). We spent tens of thousands of dollars on office rentals, tens of thousands of dollars vehicles and trailers and equipment, supplies, and utilities, tens of thousands of dollars on rental space and equipment for our Sunday gatherings, hundreds of thousands of dollars on payroll and benefits for staff, and tens of thousands of dollars on missions (largely through missionary sponsorship through our denomination — though a few people took missions trips in the church). We also spent tens of thousands of dollars on benevolence for members of the church. What’s the point? It was very expensive. I’m not sure how many people we lead to the Lord who actually became fully devoted followers of Jesus and eventual leaders who could reproduce disciples. I know there were a few, but in all, our emphasis was on ministering to our members through our Sunday gatherings, mens, women’s, youth, and children’s ministries, and weekly small groups and classes. No other successful churches were planted out of our church, and at our largest, we had about 300 members. When I left, we had about 150 people in regular worship attendance, though our giving was pretty consistent and we never functioned in a financial deficit during my entire tenure in the church. By the basic measure of success in this paradigm, we were moderately successful. The church was larger than the national average, was financially solvent, and was re-directing funds back to the parent organization.
Church Planting Model #2:
In February of 2014, nearly four months after we completed our pastoral assignment in the church we planted in 2001, my wife and I heard about another church-planting workshop being held in Arizona. We read the description of it online, and it intrigued us. We had read a book by the author who developed the material, and we really liked it — so we decided to take a road trip and spend two days learning more about it. We paid for our own gas, hotels, meals, registration, and materials and jumped in. This was our first 180. In the first scenario, we were sponsored by an over-seeing organization. In the second scenario, we sponsored ourselves. When we walked into the first session on Friday night, the seminar facilitator began by saying…
“We are not going to give you a methodology or any ministry techniques in this seminar. The Bible does that already, and it’s the same for every Christian and every church. We simply want to give you the mindset behind this mission, and then you can work out how that will shake out in your own context.
This was our second 180. The first group told us, “No mindset, only method.” The second group told us, “No method, only mindset.”
When we left that event we had…
- A fresh commitment to center our lives on learning the ways of Jesus, and following him as King
- A re-ignited passion for one-on-one relational discipleship
- More ideas than we could count about what we could do with our money now that it would be 100% focused on mission & discipleship
- A renewed passion for sharing our faith with friends and family who would never “go to church”
- A strong commitment to live in the world as missionaries whether we were working for a church or not
- A simple return to the value for making disciples, leaving the building of His Church to Jesus himself!
In short, we spent the entire weekend focused on the mission of Jesus to bring the nations under his Kingly reign through teaching them his ways, and calling them to live for him (largely by living for him in front of people). We were not assigned any overseer or coach, but were told that all of the DNA — the SEED of the Kingdom of God was resident within us, and within every other Christian, and we were sent back home with prayer and encouragement to start making disciples as the Great Commission directed all believers to do. In this phase, we have only one goal. Make disciples. Period. That’s it.
Here is the basic flow and diagram of the “church planting” process in the paradigm we learned at this seminar:
- A christian helps another person to become a follower of Jesus, and
- if he/she does this effectively, a “leader” emerges and helps the other Christian grow in faith.
- Jesus will meet with those two or three (or more) as His own Church whenever they gather together in His name, under His Lordship
- If they continue to do this, and this process multiplies over and over, the Christian movement will continue to grow on the Earth until every person is reached.
Jesus-followers who function in this paradigm can spend 100% of their tithes and offerings on whatever Jesus is doing through them and their families. That might involve getting training (like the seminar we went to), helping friends with their bills, feeding, clothing, and visiting people in need, buying Bibles for friends who don’t have one, buying meals or food to share with other friends with whom they gather to be the church of Jesus, and even taking missionary excursions to places far and near to share the good news about Jesus. If there is a need among this group, they can simply decide how to help one another. If the group really grows and disciples multiply, they can — if they wish — rent a spot to have a large gathering every once in a while for teaching and worship, or whatever. But if they never do this, their movement will not suffer either the threat or the reality of catastrophic failure or death because it is only dependent on their willingness to continue to live in relationship with each other, with Jesus, and with the lost people they’re sharing with. No one in the group is dependent for their livelihood on the rest of the group, and the group is not bound to purchase or maintain real estate or properties. They are not required to file papers with the government, nor are they required to pay an organization an annual fee to license their leader(s) to officially perpetuate the Jesus-movement (e.g. ministerial ordination). That’s it. Their ministry rhythm fits with the rhythm of their every-day lives and relationships. There is no going to church, there is primarily being the church. Churches are “planted” organically and naturally when there are two or three Christians who agree to follow Jesus together and continue to disciple others as a group. If a disciple decides to venture out and begin the process elsewhere, the movement continues and grows, and new churches (of 2, 3, or more Jesus-followers) can keep growing, and the mission of God continues. This paradigm is 100% sustainable and reproducible by any Jesus-follower regardless of their income, their age, their gender, or their social status. It takes absolutely no organizational infrastructure to begin it or to maintain it. It only takes commitment and consistent intentionality, making the mission of Jesus to reach people a life-priority.
Back to the quiz…
At the beginning of this post I proposed a quiz to identify the verse or verses that charge Christians to plant churches. In my reading of the New Testament, there is no such imperative because the Church of Jesus is built by Jesus through the relational and organic work of discipling people. Any time two or three disciples gather together around he Lordship of Jesus Christ to worship, serve, and grow in their knowledge of and obedience to him, and to join him in his mission, there is the Church. It rises out of discipleship rather than out of organizational strategy or the vision of a “church planter.” People who live in the second example don’t think of themselves as church planters. They think of themselves as disciple-making Jesus-followers, and if they’re doing that, then church emerges out of what they do naturally and organically. It is also absolutely free (though it will cost a person their whole life) to think of Church in this way. That doesn’t mean that there is no financial cost, but the movement will not die if no one tithes to the organization planting the church. This group of disciples can tithe too. But they individually or collectively use their resources to carry out their missionary and discipling priorities.
By the numbers…
When we planted our church under paradigm #1, we raised over $200,000.00 the first year, and we spent most of that money on the things I described in section one above. If it costs two hundred thousand dollars to plant a church, and if it must be done by a gifted leader with a special calling, and a core-group consisting of department and ministry functionaries who can do all of the ministries in the church’s program, and if that leader group will need to collect the money buy all the stuff needed to facilitate “church” the way it’s described there, then I propose that the Christian movement cannot grow and cannot expand fast enough to reach the whole world for Jesus Christ.
The town we live in now has 60,000 people in it, and the average church has less than 100 people. There are a couple of medium, large, and very large churches, but the total number of people in these churches totals around 15,000 people. Fifteen thousand people “go to church” (one of 70) in a town of 60,000. If my supervisor was right, and our church was way beyond the norm in the first year, then imagine replicating what we did enough times to reach all of the other 45,000 people in our city. At the end of the first year, our church was around 200 people and had about 225k in income. Divided by 45,000 people, our town would need 225 more churches of 200 people (like our “way beyond the norm” church), and if they all did ministry the exact same way we did the first year, they’d all need about 200k to do ministry the first year (and more every year after that). So, we’d need 225 churches and 40 million dollars to reach every person in our town. Yep. That’s right. 40 million dollars. But we would also need enough buildings to accommodate the 225 churches of 200. Some of them would want to buy land and build their own buildings. That would add millions of dollars to the equation. Anyway, you get it. We can do the numbers all day. It’s incredibly expensive!
By the way, all of this assumes lots of evangelism, which is not the primary way our church grew the first year. We grew by affinity and transfer. That means people already knew us and joined us, and others came from other churches. In the 225 new churches, 100% of the members would need to come from evangelism.
In the second paradigm, every single Jesus-follower can start a church for free. He/she needs to lead at least one or two other people to Jesus, then meet with them regularly around the Lordship of Jesus in order to disciple them and walk with them. If each of the 15,000 already-Christians (?) in our town though to themselves, “Hey I’m a missionary,” then each of them would only need to lead 3 other people to Jesus in 1 year in order see the entire city we live in come to Jesus. Yep. 15,000 x 3 = 45,000. On the other hand (using the 225 new churches idea), if there were 225 Christians in our town who thought of themselves as missionaries, then the math would look like this.
225+225 = 450
x2 = 900
x2 = 1800
x2 = 3600
x2 = 7200
x2 = 14,400
x2 = 28,800
x2 = 57,600
In less than 8 multiplication cycles, the entire city I live in would be reached for Jesus Christ with just 225 people who said, “I am a missionary to my city, my friends, my family, and my neighborhood.” This would have to be done relationally, but there would be no need for any specially gifted leaders with the vision to plant churches, nor would there be any need for millions and millions of dollars for equipment, buildings, offices, land, payroll and benefits, or anything like that. Every penny that anyone spent could go 100% to their own sense of mission. The only catch here is that each person would need to be faithful to Jesus personally instead of turning over the task of mission to the men and women with the official licenses and the “vision.” The Jesus-movement would either live or die based on the faithfulness of each Christian to keep the mission going.
About a month ago I had lunch in Fresno with a friend who is getting ready to plant a church under paradigm #1. He is not ignorant at all about the two paradigms I shared here. He can articulate both fluidly. He said, “Kenny, I feel called by God to live in the first paradigm and to do it that way.” I said, “then do what God calls you to do!” So this is not an indictment of, or a rant against the first paradigm, though it is a critique (which has to be a self-critique at the end of the day, because it’s how we “planted” and functioned). Whether we choose paradigm #1 or #2, every Christian is called to be on mission with Jesus and His Church.
The first paradigm begins with an organization and a key leader who plant a church (of already-Christians), which they hope will make disciples. The leader dreams, organizes, leads, and raises the funds needed to make it all work. Again, there are 70 of these in our town, and 15,000 people are connected to them. Hundreds (if not thousands) of people among the 15,000 have been part of the other 70 churches at one time or another.
The second paradigm begins with one disciple who decides to lead another person to Jesus. If they do it, they instantly become a leader, and if they meet together regularly with that disciple, around Jesus as Lord, and if they both follow him together and keep repeating this over and over, they are organically and automatically a church. If they keep doing this, the movement grows and grows.
1+1+Jesus = Church. If this addition (which becomes multiplication in just one generation) continues, it’s not long at all before there are thousands, then hundreds of thousands, then millions and millions of Jesus-followers. There was a time in the Jesus-movement when this was how the message of Jesus took over the world without a building, a website, a program, a slogan or logo, a fog machine, or anything else that has become the stock-in-trade of contemporary church-planting.
Whatever paradigm we embrace, (there may be others, or hybrids of these two), we need to be on mission with Jesus and His Church.
All authority in heaven and earth has been handed over to Jesus
So, get going — to every kind of person, discipling them by baptizing them into the name of the father, the son, and the Holy Spirit
Teaching them all the things that Jesus taught — and calling them to obey Jesus
He’s with you to the end of the project (My translation of Mat. 28:18-20).
Okay – time for you to jump into the comments. Let’s dialogue more about this.
For more resources on this important subject, check out…
“The Forgotten Ways” by Alan Hirsch
“Organic Church” by Neil Cole
“Church 3.0” by Neil Cole
“God’s Missionary People” by Charles Van Engen
“Organic Discipleship” by Dennis McCallum & Jessica Lowery