Is Church Planting Still Working?
by Jess Connolly
I was 20 when I joined my first church-planting team. It was 2005, and it was just months before my wedding. I wasn’t familiar with the idea of church planting, was still relatively new to church in and of itself, but the concept seemed self-explanatory enough.
We’d take this seed, this idea, and see if it could grow—we’d do something wild and beautiful, partnering with God in the process of creating. But it wouldn’t be art or a family or a meal we’d be making—we were going to start a church from scratch.
My husband and I spent our twenties bouncing from church planting team to church planting team, in the Southeast and the Northwest and eventually in the Midwest. I swear we didn’t seek them out, it just so happened that we kept joining up with different groups of planters. We learned the lingo, the different types of church plants: parachute plants, sister churches, campus plants and partnerships. And even though I protested a wild amount, I always knew what was coming: one day we’d start our own church plant, just the two of us and a small team of people crazy enough to join us.
But what’s the deal with church planting and why is it so much more common these days? Why are pastors bucking tradition, heading out on their own, trying to create new spiritual families when there are more than enough churches in most towns—some buildings and congregations almost empty anyhow? Is this right? Should we keep going?
Here are some thoughts from the trenches, some positions I’ve formed along the way:
There are lots of wrong reasons to plant a church.
The biggest thing I’ve learned watching churches form at the most basic level is that if you’re gathering around the idea of what you DON’T want to be, you’re probably in a bad spot. Simply put: if you’re planting a church (or joining a church plant) because you’re reacting to something you’ve seen that you didn’t like in another church, that negative ground won’t hold you very steady. It’s so much more fruitful to spend your time and energy thinking about what you do want to grow, what God has equipped you to grow and being very honest about what your skill set will enable you to grow.
Another potentially horrible reason for a church plant to pop up? A frustration with authority and/or a lack of willingness to be led. It seems that a lot of church planters have entrepreneurial vibes that keep them from wanting to be under another pastor’s leadership. However, this plan massively backfires when you realize that leading a church takes a strong capacity to submit to God’s authority, not to mention a large dose of humility and willingness to work out conflict.
But, there are incredible reasons to plant a church.
If your chief concern is people—serving them, loving them (not simply seeming like you love them), seeing them walk in abundance and take their place in the light of the Kingdom—man, you can’t go wrong. You can’t fail if all you want to do is love and lead people closer to Jesus. Your church may have 15 people or 1,500—but you will have accomplished the goal.
This motivation is in direct contrast to the desire to take over the world or really make a name for ourselves as church planters. Eventually, that self-centered motivation will not be enough. It will lead us to build broken churches that glorify only ourselves. It will be a foundation built on sand—which is dangerous, because even if it succeeds, there is a strong possibility of people slipping through the cracks, being swallowed whole or lost to the ambition of leaders.
But! When we just want to love; when we just want to serve; when we just want to hope the best in people and use our hands, our hearts, our hours to serve the Kingdom of God; when we allow Him to determine the fruit, the flavor, the path the church takes; when we make Jesus the King and the Hero; when we make people the objects of our service rather than the prize of our success: we see a really beautiful and flourishing church emerge.
And in that case, yes—absolutely, we need more of those. We need more of those houses of worship to crop up everywhere. We need more church planting.
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