Planting is for Every Church

My latest column at ChristianWeek:

I used to think that church planters are deviants—nice people with a rebel streak. I liked them, and I admired them, but I couldn't relate to them, and I certainly didn't want to join their number.

Tim Keller, a pastor and church planter in New York City, changed all that. I read an article of his called "Why Plant Churches?" (PDF) and I still haven't recovered. Church planting, he argues, is the biblical strategy for reaching people with the gospel. Church plants reach people that established churches won't.

Church plants are also the best way to renew established churches. Keller answered every objection I had to church planting, and he convinced me to see church planting as essential. It's not for deviants; it's essential for every church.

I remember sitting in my office a decade ago while pastoring an established church. A friend of mine had just planted a new church. We had a huge building, money in the bank, and a couple hundred people. They had a dozen people meeting in a basement.

A decade later, that church plant has outgrown the established church I pastored, and they have also planted a number of new churches that are also growing. While I'm still convinced that we still need to work on renewing existing churches, I began to appreciate church plants like never before.

I also remember sitting in a meeting with two pastors of established churches and three church planters. As we talked about our churches, the two of us from established churches struggled to articulate our vision. We lacked clarity. The three church planters spoke with great clarity about the vision of their churches. I walked away from the meeting wondering how their vision and clarity could rub off on us.

I've come to believe that every church needs to be involved in church planting. It's not just because I'm now a church planter—it's because I've spent 20 years pastoring established churches, and I now realize what I was missing.

First, church planting is strategic. In every city and town, we need new churches to reach the people that existing churches can't. According to Keller, the average new church brings in six to eight times more new people than an older congregation of the same size. I agree with Peter Wagner: "Planting new churches is the most effective evangelistic methodology known under heaven."

Secondly—and this is new to me—church planting benefits established churches. My mother is often asked why she seems young for her age. She has a one-word answer: "Grandchildren." Because she's investing in the lives of those who are young, she's stayed young. Every church was once a church plant; the way to maintain some of that energy is to continue to live close to the youth of other church plants.

Church planting isn't for deviants. It's the way to reach new people, and it's the way for the established Church to maintain its vibrancy. Church planting is for every church.