5 Things to Consider Before Planting a Church
Gathered for Sunday dinner, parents asked their two youngsters what they had learned in Sunday School. “It was great,” enthused their seven-year-old son. “Our teacher said the boys were better than girls!”
The parents were taken aback. “Are you sure?”
“Yep,” said the boy. “She said that God made Adam first, and then Eve, so boys are better than girls!”
His eight-year-old sister, also in the same class, was getting rather agitated. “That’s not right!” she asserted. “Teacher said God made Adam first, and then He stepped back and thought about it, and He said, ‘I can do better than that!’ So he made Eve! Girls are better than boys!”
However one interprets the significance of the Creation story, it is clear that growth and multiplication were an essential part of the human race from the very beginning. Babies grow older, families grow larger, communities become more populous, and the church of Jesus spreads as congregations increase in size and birth new fellowships.
Church planting is a natural part of Christian ministry and mission. Every congregation ought to be investing in church growth locally and globally. Among the most effective tools of evangelism in recent decades has been churches planting churches.
There are good reasons for increased evangelistic growth through church planting. Often congregational structures and facilities function optimally up to certain social size and then maintain that level; planting a new nearby congregation can ramp up growth again rapidly, often with significant numbers of conversions in the clarifying and energized atmosphere of new start-ups. Also, developing new church plants with a demographically different set of leaders can open doors into other neighborhoods that sometimes seem closed to existing congregations. Again, the process of planting a partnered congregation can re-energize the ministry of the “mother” congregation, and keep it focused on its essential missional character.
Yet wanting to grow and multiply does not guarantee successful church planting, any more than delighting in green fields makes someone living in a rural area a good farmer. Wise multiplication involves thoughtful planning. Some important issues to face include:
- Why do we want to plant another church? Tainted by sin, congregations might think of planting another church because other congregations are doing it (pride), or because their people do not mix well with other population groups (socio-economic or racial segregation), or because they are not doing personal witnessing (guilt) and think they can pay for others to do it (shame). Churches must plant other churches as an extension of their own profound sense of being a missionary community of Jesus.
- Do we have the resources to plant another church? Jesus told his disciples to count the cost when engaging in the transforming work of the gospel (Luke 14:25-35). Church planting requires planning, and it also demands multiple kinds of resources—point leaders who need to be paid, location spaces that need to be bought or rented, ministry materials, communications media, oversight structures, and at least modest long-term funding commitments. Furthermore, some of the best church plants transfer well-trained leaders and possibly spiritually mature members from the “mother” church to the “daughter” church. Enthusiasm that runs ahead of resourcing is likely to wane quickly.
- Should we clone ourselves or multiply social diversity? A winning formula begs to be repeated. For that reason, some churches plant clones of themselves as nearby “video venues” where the same ministries are duplicated, while Sunday messages are transmitted in from the dynamic teachers of the “mother” venue. Other churches recognize that multiplication in the Body of Christ ought to involve diversity, so “daughter” congregations are intentionally staffed and shaped in ways that connect with different demographic segments.
- What steps will we institute to ensure that that “daughter” churches will mature and become “mother” churches in their own right? The great mission movement of the 19th century was closely tied with European and American colonization, and resulted in intentional institutional inequalities. Modern church planting can do the same, with “mother” churches maintaining an air of superiority over mission outposts, and “daughter” churches developing dependency mindsets that presume resources will always be provided by “mother”.
- How will we transition beyond the initial or next church plant? Because church planting is a mammoth undertaking, absorbing so much energy and resources, at some point there will be a major psychological shift when the plant is well underway. Wise congregational leaders will help churches keep their focus on the next developments of Jesus’ mission among them. When we stop thinking of growth, however it manifests, we begin to die.