Saturday, February 24, 2007

Why Church Planting? A Theological Reason

We've taken a look at some external reasons for church planting--it's biblical, it's effective, it's needed in America today. But what will this mean for us? How is this going to affect our church? Why is this our job? The answers to some of those questions begin to take shape as we realize that


I think that the concept of "faith" is kind of foggy and vague for most Christians; if they had to define exactly what faith is, most of us would have a hard time putting our finger on it. Fortunately, the Bible has already given us a definition; it says that "Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see" (Heb. 11:1 NIV).

"That's all well and good," one might say. "But what about all those people who were 'sure' and 'certain' about things that never came to be?" The question is a good one. Essentially, How do we know what to put our faith in? How do we know that this is the right course to pursue?

I want to answer that question by asking another question: What or who is it, ultimately, that we put our faith in?

  • Do we put our faith in this vision? No.
  • Do we put our faith in the elders and other church leaders? No.
  • Do we put our faith in me as the pastor of this church? No.

Our faith is not ultimately in any of these. Our faith is in God the Father, and in his overwhelming love for us that caused him to send Jesus to earth. Our faith is in the work that Jesus did on the cross to reconcile us to the Father, and in the Holy Spirit that lives in us and empowers us. Our faith is in the Word of God that has been given to us, and in all the promises and commands contained in it. THESE ARE THE THINGS WE PLACE OUR FAITH IN!

People will disappoint you; everyone you know will eventually fail you, if they haven't already. Causes will come and go. Finances and jobs will change. Ideas may or may not pan out. Plans will adjust. We cannot put our faith in any of these things. Only God, his kingdom, and his will merit our faith.

So, the new question becomes, Is this vision an expression of God, his kingdom, and his will? It seems clear to me that the answer is an unqualified "YES!" Here's why:

  • As explained in other posts in this blog, the Bible teaches that churches should give birth to other churches; church planting is an expectation that the Bible has for the local church as part of its inborn DNA.
  • As explained in other posts in this blog, church planting is unmatched in effectiveness for reaching new people with the life-changing message of Christ; it's clear that God blesses efforts to birth new churches.
  • As explained in other posts in this blog, the spiritual need of America is overwhelming; this is a need that can be met only by establishing more congregations.

I believe it is inarguable that this is something God calls us to do. Therefore, faith in God demands that we respond in obedience to him. It is not faith in the vision, faith in the leadership, or faith in your pastor that drives our church; but faith in God alone. If God is calling us to it, then you can be sure that we can do it. Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

So what about the others who made bold claims and "stepped out in faith" only to see their plans fall flat? Every situation is different, but here are some common reasons why this happens:

  • Some people confuse their own desires with God's directions. Everything should be tested against scripture, experience, and (spiritual) reason;
  • Some people fail to see God's plans through all the way. God never asks anyone to do anything that's easy. Some people give up too soon;
  • Some people are mistaken about God's ultimate destination for them, yet are still being led by him. Sometimes, he allows us to believe we are working toward one things when in reality we are working toward another. This should not be seen as a failure, but rather a reminder to keep seeking God each step of the way. For years, I believed I was preparing to become a theology professor when in reality God was preparing me to become a senior pastor.

Faith is proved by actions. "What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?... Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead" (Jas. 2:14, 17 NIV). If we really have faith in God, then our faith demands that we respond to God in obedience.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Why Church Planting? A Cultural Reason

When business consultants meet with companies to assess their health, they often ask two questions: 1) What is your business? and 2) How's business? The "business" of the church of Jesus Christ is making disciples. So how's business? Not too good, I'm afraid. Why should we plant more churches?


Here are some sobering statistics about the effectiveness of the church in America over the past century.

  • In 1900 there were 27 churches for every 10,000 Americans; in 1950 there were 17 churches for every 10,000 Americans; today there are fewer than 11 churches for every 10,000 Americans.
  • During the last ten years membership in Protestant churches declined by 9.5%, while the national population increased by 11.4%.
  • No county in America has seen an increase in church attendance in the last decade.
  • Churches lose over 2.7 million people a year.
  • Between 3,500 and 4,000 churches close their doors each year, while only 1,100 to 1,500 new churches are started--a net loss of about 2,500 churches each year, or nearly 50 churches a week.
  • Church analysts estimate that America currently needs about 100,000 more churches.

Why has there been this trend of church decline? Well, there are a number of factors, but here are some of the main causes:

  1. Churches have a lifespan. Most churches live about as long as a person--80 years. It doesn't have to be that way. Some churches die sooner, some much, much later. But most churches follow a typical pattern. In the beginning, there is life and growth; in middle age, there is a plateau, followed by decline and eventually death. We are not reproducing ourselves, so more churches are dying than are being birthed.
  2. The last big wave of church planting in America took place just after World War II, more than 50 years ago, making most churches in America well past their peak years of effectiveness. In fact, 80% of churches in America are either plateaued or declining. Of the 20% that are growing, 15% are growing due to people coming in from other churches; only 5% of churches are growing by reaching new people for Christ.
  3. Many Christians have developed a "retreat" mentality. They view the world as a place that is universally hostile to Christians, so it must be avoided, rather than engaged. Unfortunately, if we don't engage the world, it will never come to faith--"Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?" (Romans 10:13-14 NIV). If we isolate ourselves from everyone except those who are already in the "holy huddle," there is no chance for anything except decline.

In other words, the church has gotten off its mission. So often, we blame the world for not coming to us: it's their fault that they don't already know Christ. But God hasn't commanded the world; he's commanded us to be his ambassadors, to go, to show, to lead, to plead, and to serve. So if we're ineffective, it's our fault.

We have to change how we do church. We have to communicate the good news in a way that is intelligible to the people of our culture, and we need to create more churches that are doing the same. There are a lot of good churches out there, but so many of them are ministering exclusively to the already-convinced. We need churches who are committed to reaching those who don't know Jesus yet. America deserves more churches like that.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Why Church Planting? A Pragmatic Reason

We're going through the five reasons for church planting and taking a closer look at each one. This week, we're focusing in on a pragmatic reason. The fact is that church planting is one of the most effective ways for the church to accomplish its mission. How do we know that?


Lyle Schaller, a prominent church observer, consultant, and church growth expert, has said, "Planting new churches is the closest thing we have to a guaranteed means of reaching more people with the good news." C. Peter Wagner, former professor of Church Growth at the School of World Mission at Fuller Seminary, has said much the same thing: "The single most effective evangelistic methodology under heaven is planting new churches." In all, new churches are about 30 times more effective in bringing new people into the kingdom than established churches (Robert Logan, Church Planter's Workbook, 1993). Why is that? What makes church planting so effective?

1. The "Cool" Factor. New things create buzz. People ask questions. They're naturally curious, especially if they hear this one might be different than other experiences they've had. They figure they might as well give it a try. This is true not only for churches, but practically anything. Ask any restaurant owner--it's easy for a restaurant to turn a profit in its first few months. What determines whether it has staying power or not is its ability to generate a strong enough corps of "regulars." When a restaurant is new, everyone wants to go check it out. A similar principle applies to churches.

2. Intentionality. People who plant new churches have done so because they have a deep desire to reach their community in a new and compelling way. They are united in focus and purpose, and everything in the body is organized around this one driving conviction--it is our job to reach our community for Christ. Casual, apathetic, half-hearted, uncommitted Christians don't join church plants (new churches, after all, require a great deal of work!), when there are already a dozen other churches they could attend that won't expect anything from them.

3. Necessity. New churches usually don't start with a large enough group to be self-sustaining. They may have some temporary funding from a denomination, a parent church, or a foundation, but at some point they have to sink or swim. They know that if they're going to swim, they have to bring in more people. Statistics show that people involved in planting a new church are more focused on bringing their friends and sharing their faith stories.

4. No Distractions. New churches aren't burdened down by red tape, traditions, or maintenance. There are no traditions, and there's nothing to maintain. No one argues about the color of the carpet because usually there IS no carpet! Many church plants meet in rented facilities. Without these other distractions, it's easy to aim every resource squarely at the mission--reaching the community.

5. Easy "Break-Ins". In church plants, it's easier for new people to walk in and be accepted... because everyone's a new person! With no pre-existing relationships, there are no cliques, no groups, no inside jokes. There's also a higher retention rate of new people because those who come early on in the church's life are the most committed; they can always say that they were there when...

It only makes sense... When churches can focus on their mission instead of other stuff, it makes them more effective at their mission.

According to Leith Anderson in A Church for the 21st Century, "new churches are the most effective means of evangelism [because] New churches are flexible, open to newcomers, entrepreneurial, outreaching, and not burdened with servicing old internal relationships and demands." Older churches "tend to become so burdened with budgets, buildings, and pastor and people problems that they no longer have the energy for outreach."

What can we conclude from all this? Simply this: Church planting works. It is FAR more effective for us to plant churches that will penetrate their communities than for us to try to build just this one church. We want to ignite a spiritual movement in Jackson County, something we could never do from one location.

Furthermore, we can expect any churches we plant to outpace us in size in just a few short years. They are naturally more effective. God blesses church planting. If we want to be on God's side, we should dive all the way into what He is blessing.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Why Church Planting? A Biblical Reason

Last week, I said that we'd be spending the next few weeks looking at the 5 reasons I gave for church planting. A good place to start is to see what the Bible has to say about it. The first reason that we want to become actively involved in church planting is because


I made the statement during the State of the Church Address that "church planting is part of the New Testament idea of what church is." In other words, the Bible expects that multiplication is a natural function of the church. We don't have time to go through every possible scripture, but I do want to look at several that support this audacious claim.

  • Matthew 13:1-23; Mark 4:1-25; Luke 8:4-18--The parable of the four soils is about spreading the message of Christ ("sowing the word" Mk. 4:14), which is represented by the seed the farmer spreads. In all four cases, the same seed is used, but differences are observed as a result of what kind of soil the seed falls in. Good soil produces a crop that multiplies thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times (Mk. 4:8). Often we look at this passage from an individual perspective, but it applies on a corporate level as well. What kind of soil are we as a church? If we are good soil, faithful recipients of the word, that will be demonstrated through bearing fruit on an exponential level--multiplication! No farmer plants seeds that will only produce their own replacements; farmers plant seeds that they expect will return a harvest much greater than what they invested in planting. God expects that same from us.
  • 1 Corinthians 3:6-9--Extending this metaphor of planting, Paul specifically refers to the church in this passage as a field. Different laborers have different tasks, such as planting and watering, and God's task is to make things grow. Elsewhere (Romans 12:5; 1 Corinthians 12:12-27; Ephesians 4:4-16), Paul refers to the church as a "body." The church is always pictured in scripture as a living thing; a church that is dead is an abnormality and contrary to God's will (Revelation 3:1-2). One thing about all healthy, living things is that they were created to reproduce (Genesis 1:12, 22, 28)--it is inherent in their function, their DNA, their biology. The church, always pictured as a living thing, should have reproduction as a natural part of its life.
  • Acts 13:1-3--In my Address, I metioned that the whole book of Acts is essentially a manual for church planting, as it describes the activity of the church in its earliest days. I could pick pretty much any section from Acts, but I wanted to highlight this one, as it tells of when Saul and Barnabas were first sent out from their home church for the specific task of planting new churches. For a whole year Barnabas and Saul had been prominent leaders and teachers in that church (Acts 11:26), yet the other leaders felt God leading them to invest their all-stars in a broader mission for the kingdom, not simply to hold on to them, regardless of how valuable they were for that one church.
  • 2 Corinthians 10:15-16--Paul instructs the Corinthian church to grow in their faith "so that we can preach the gospel in the regions beyond you." In other words, he's calling them to reach out to the surrounding towns and cities to prepare the way for Paul and his associates to come and plant more churches. The Corinthian church is clearly the most dysfunctional that Paul wrote to, yet his de facto assumption is that they will be actively involved in planting more churches.

When we look at what the Bible says about churches, it's clear that the assumption is that they will be actively involved in church planting. This is something that's supposed to be part of the life of the church. We've clearly gotten away from this in North America--so much so that for us to talk about this is actually a big deal--but according to the worldview of the Bible, it really shouldn't be. Perhaps that's one reason the church in North America is failing.

Next week, we'll take a closer look at a pragmatic reason for church planting--experience proves it!