I’m a big believer in church planting, but I have some concerns about some of our current approaches. I wrote about them on Tuesday:
- The greatest needs are outside of North America.
- Our methods are too expensive.
- Our casualty rate is high.
- Our models aren’t always healthy.
I’m familiar with some of these realities, because I’m neck deep in them myself. I believe we need to do better. I’m no expert in how to do this, but I’m thinking through a few ways that we may be able to take a more effective approach.
1. Prioritize areas of greatest need.
We need to reach people everywhere, but we should prioritize places with the greatest need. This means a continued emphasis on church planting overseas, as well as in the most unreached areas in North America. For instance, J.D. Payne has listed the most unreached counties and metro areas in the United States. In Canada, I’m pretty sure you can add downtown Toronto, Québec, Newfoundland, and many other communities to the list. We should pay careful attention to the areas of greatest need and plant churches there if we are to follow Paul’s example (Romans 15:20).
2. Develop lean models of church planting.
Ed Stetzer talks about opening more lanes in church planting:
We've adopted a mentality of "clergification," believing that the only people who can plant churches are full-time, paid pastors. As a result, we have a long line of prospective planters (because church planting is definitely the hot thing right now) all waiting for someone to say, “You're clergy. You're full-time. Here's your money.” And there's not enough money for all of them. We've bought all the church planting that we can buy, and that's not enough to start a church multiplication movement. So there they are . . . thousands of planters, stuck in line waiting for their turn and their funding. Unfortunately, many times, we let one's funding determine one's calling.
The solution is the same as Wal-Mart's. We need to open more lanes. I'm not saying to get rid of the fully-funded lane. We need to keep that lane open while we redirect some other people towards other lanes. For example, we need to create a strategy that helps some pastors become bi-vocational. We need to help them find other jobs and teach them how to lead a church while doing it. Another lane would provide permission to ethnic leaders to go ahead and plant churches rather than having to walk through several layers of Anglo hierarchy to do so.
As Payne says, "Jesus said to go and make disciples, not wait for pastors to plant churches."
There’s going to be a continued role for full time vocational church planters, but this alone won’t get the job done. We need cheaper, more reproducible models too.
3. Reduce the risk.
Church planting will always be risky, but there are ways to reduce the risk. We can lower the dollar threshold needed to plant a church, making it less likely that the new church will go broke. We can incubate church planters within existing churches, growing their leadership until they are ready to plant. As we enlarge the church planting table, we can also open more models that have a lower failure rate. We can prioritize coaching for church planters. We also need to actively learn from other planters and organizations on how they mitigate the risk. This is especially important if we are going to focus on the most unreached areas. The risk is already high; we need to do everything we can to reduce it.
4. Focus on the harvest.
J.D. Payne’s definition of church planting is right: it is evangelism that results in new churches. What if church planting focused only on reaching the unreached in a people group or a community? This would take longer, but it would truly be closer to the biblical pattern of church planting. It would be less about branding and worship services, and more about evangelism leading to the birth of a new church community.
We talk about multiplication, but our current approaches to church planting in North America make it hard for this to happen. I long to see church planting that prioritizes the areas of greatest need, uses lean models, mitigates the risk, and focuses on the harvest rather than the already-reached