An Essential Ingredient in Reaching Unreached People

The occasion: a church’s first service in a new building. The mayor and other dignitaries attended. The mood was festive — at least until the pastor showed a picture of men hanging from a crane.

The men, the pastor explained, were martyrs, killed for their faith in Jesus. We do not live with the same danger, he continued. We will probably not face martyrdom. But we can not be any less committed to Jesus than these men were, the pastor said, and we must be equally prepared to die for Christ as they were.

We live in interesting times. We are increasingly out of step with culture, and we are feeling it. We’re not used to being countercultural. We get that it happens elsewhere, but it’s a new experience for us here.

It’s time to get used to it. We out of sync with the popular zeitgeist. We may even, at some point, lose our charitable status or property tax exemptions. So be it. We can’t be any less committed to Christ than those who have suffered more.

David Platt once witnessed a baptism in an underground house church. The pastor asked a young man in his twenties, “Are you willing to be baptized, knowing that it may cost you your life?” With unhesitating resolve, he replied, “I have already sacrificed everything to follow Jesus. Yes, I want to be baptized.” A friend of mine now asks people this same question before he baptizes them.

We may not face the threat of death here, but we must be equally prepared to die for Christ as those who do.

I love what Ajith Fernando writes:

The West is fast becoming an unreached region. The Bible and history show that suffering is an essential ingredient in reaching unreached people. Will the loss of a theology of suffering lead the Western church to become ineffective in evangelism?…[Christians] need to have a firm theology of suffering if they are to be healthy and bear fruit.

This is true everywhere, but we’re just beginning to learn its truth here.

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Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.

Four Adjustments in Church Planting

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:

  1. The greatest needs are outside of North America.
  2. Our methods are too expensive.
  3. Our casualty rate is high.
  4. 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

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Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.

Four Problems with Church Planting

I’m a big believer in church planting, yet I have some concerns with some of our approaches. Today I want to outline some of my concerns. On Thursday I’ll suggest some tweaks in how we plant that address some of these concerns.

1. The greatest needs are outside of North America.

Paul said, “And thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else's foundation…” (Romans 15:20). While there are many people who have not been reached with the gospel in North America, I also agree with J.D. Payne who writes:

I am sometimes asked, “Where do we begin our disciple making and church planting activities?” My general response is, “The greatest needs are outside of North America.” It is in those locations that we find the greatest physical and spiritual needs. Most of the two billion who have yet to hear the good news live outside of our context.

2. Our methods are too expensive.

J.D. Greear writes:

Many church plants start with a yearly budget of $200,000 or more, which means that before they’ve even planted the church, they need to grow the church to 200+ just to become self-sustaining. For many planters, especially in difficult contexts, this is simply unrealistic. Unfortunately, most don’t recognize the mistake until year 3 when their funding begins to run out.

Another problem with this approach is the sheer amount of money it will require given the number of churches we need to plant. Southern Baptists have a goal of planting 15,000 churches by 2022. Even if every plant only required $100,000 each, that’s 1.5 billion dollars. That’s a lot of money in a day when many of our churches are plateaued or declining.

See also Trevin Wax's interview with Jimmy Scroggins.

Then there is the human cost. Truckloads of stage gear, chairs and childcare infrastructure have to be set up and torn down each week. It’s a ton of work and key volunteers can burn out easily.

3. Our casualty rate is high.

The North American Mission Board has found that the survivability rate of church plants in their study was 68 percent after four years. That means that almost a third of church plants fail. This is costly, both in terms of money and people.

4. Our models aren’t always healthy.

I can't say it any better than J.D. Payne:

We do not need another flavor of church in the Baskin Robbins of North American Christianity; we need missionary bands to settle for nothing less than disciple-making that results in new churches...

Are there times when a church should hive-off members to begin work in another area? Yes.  Is it okay for a congregation to send out a pastor with several church members to plant an “instant” church in a community? Yes, under certain circumstances.

However, such models tend to be difficult to reproduce (in view of four billion unbelievers), pose contextualization challenges, are costly, and often do not result in a great amount of disciples made.  The weight of the biblical definition for church planting is not found here.  Such models should be the exception when it comes to church planting.  Today, they are often the expectation. 

Again: I believe in church planting. We need to take seriously, though, that these four realities are keeping us from being as effective as we need to be. On Thursday, I’ll suggest some tweaks in how we can address these concerns.

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Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.

Under My Skin

The emerging church was all the rage, and I had just picked up Don Carson’s book Becoming Conversant with the Emergent Church. I noticed that he mentioned a church I’d never heard about before: Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York. Speaking of Redeemer, Carson wrote, “It displays all the strengths of the emerging church movement, while avoiding most of its weaknesses.”

I began to look into Redeemer, and soon discovered a world of gospel-centered renewal that I never knew existed. My own soul was changed through Keller’s preaching, and then by discovering others like Jack Miller. My ministry approach changed as I began to see the centrality of gospel doctrine for the life of the church.

It feels like the other shoe dropped last year. When I picked up The Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ by Ray Ortlund, Jr., I expected a good read about gospel doctrine. I didn’t expect that it would go deeper and describe something I'd never really considered, never mind experienced: the importance of a gospel culture. It's a manifesto. Ortlund writes:

The current rediscovery of the gospel as doctrine is good, very good.  But a completely new discovery of the gospel as culture — the gospel embodied in community — will be infinitely better, filled with a divine power such as we have not yet seen.

From a distance, I’ve been sensing some of that culture through Immanuel Church in Nashville. It’s made me jealous that we experience that here as we plant a church in Toronto. “A gospel culture is not easy,” Ortlund writes. “But it is possible.”

There are a handful of books that have gotten under my skin. This is one of them. I’m forever grateful the current focus on gospel centrality. I’m so hungry now that we experience what Ortlund describes as gospel culture, or die trying. Maybe you’ll join me.

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Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.

Cross-Cultural Ministry at Home

Someone has started a Facebook group for debating current issues in our community. It’s a church planter’s dream, because it regularly confronts me with the reality that people think very differently than I think they do. That’s something I need to know.

I grew up in a suburb of Toronto. I’ve lived in the Greater Toronto Area my entire life. And yet, I’m involved in cross-cultural ministry right in my own backyard.

What happened? Three things. I’ve physically moved, and that means that I live in a new community with different values. I’ve aged, and that means that I’m learning from a different generation than my own. And society has changed. Even if I stood still, society hasn't, and that means trying to catch up.

I’m not alone. Matt Galloway, host of the Metro Morning radio show in Toronto, tweeted as he watched the Grammys with his kids:

I can relate, but it goes much deeper than music. It has to do with worldviews and values.

What does this mean?

It means that we need to remind ourselves regularly that we are sojourners and exiles here (1 Peter 2:11). Because I’ve lived here my whole life, it’s easy for me to think I know the culture more than I do. We need to pay attention to the subtle cues of cultural misalignment. They’re everywhere.

It also requires that we learn. It means asking lots of questions and listening well. Sometimes the best and hardest thing that a preacher can do is shut up and listen. It also means that I read widely, including the magazines and newspapers that people in my community are reading, especially the ones I don’t want to read because I don’t like what they say.

It also means that we need to learn to communicate to people who think differently than I do. Tim Keller talks about distinguishing between “A” doctrines (commonly held beliefs that line up with Scriptural teaching) and “B” doctrines (areas in which culture and Scripture disagree). He advises us to ‘float’ ‘B’ doctrines on top of ‘A’ doctrines, looking for ways to build the truth they don’t accept on top of the truth they do. This isn’t the entire answer, but we must give thought about how to communicate into a culture that’s different than ours.

Finally, it means that we need courage. Douglas Groothuis writes:

Christians should know what they believe and why they believe it. As they grow in their confidence that Christianity is amply supported by reason and evidence, they should likewise grow in their courage for the Christian witness. The stakes are too high to be ignorant or cowardly.

We need the courage to engage rather than simply withdrawing, even when things get challenging.

Cross-cultural ministry is great. We just have to remember that’s what we’re doing, and learn to do it well, even at home.

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Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.