Monday, March 26, 2007

Q&A: Where Will We Plant A Church?

If you've been reading this blog regularly, you know that I'm answering common questions that have been put to me about the vision for our church: To become actively involved in planting new churches to reach the 100,000 people in Jackson County with no church family. So far, I've tried to clarify a couple issues regarding why the creation of new congregations will make a difference, and our definition of the word "church." This week, I want to start tackling some of the "curiosity" questions, starting with Where?

First off, I just want to be clear that none of these questions that I'll be addressing over the next few weeks have been completely settled. Many of these are "down the road," but it is still good to be thinking about them now and praying for God's guidance and wisdom regarding these issues.

When we look at a question like, "Where will we plant a church?" there are a couple factors that need to be taken into account:

  • Where is there not currently an effective, Bible-teaching church?
  • Where will we have the greatest opportunities for success?
  • Where do we already have a significant concentration of members?

Honestly, I don't know the answer to the first question. However, statistically speaking, it's likely to be in an area of low popluation density. Small communities tend to have very few churches. Often there will only be a handful, none of which is particularly effective in reaching their community for Christ.

As to the second question, the answer again is very likely one of the small communities surrounding Jackson, rather than a neighborhood inside the city itself. There are several reasons for this.

  1. It's easier to make a big splash in a small pond.
  2. Small towns are often ignored by church planters, so most of the churches in those communities are well into their life cycle (i.e., plateaued or declining).
  3. Churches planted in small towns or rural communities have a higher success rate (measured by whether they are still in existence after 5 years) than those planted in urban or suburban environments.
  4. Those who live in smaller communities--even among the unchurched--tend to be more interested in "traditional values", such as family, responsibility, integrity, and work, making them more receptive to the church's message.
  5. Smaller communities have lower standards of excellence, and are more accepting of the limited resources of a small, start-up church.
  6. The city of Jackson has a more diversified racial make-up, including many African-Americans and a growing Latino element. While God absolutely cares about other ethnic groups, a similar cultural background to the target area is an important factor for success. I, for one, would love to see a multi-racial church--and maybe God will lead us that way down the road--but I don't believe it would be wise to target a different ethnic group for our very first church plant, as it decreases our chances of success.
  7. There's more competition in the city. I'm not talking about other churches--they're our partners. Rather, I mean things competing for the time, money, attention, and allegiance of our target: movies, shopping, sports, clubs, events, restaurants.

So that takes us to our third question--where do we already have members? Interestingly, very few of our attenders live close to the church. Most of us drive 10 minutes or more to get here. Coincidentally, very few of us come from the city of Jackson. We seem to have 2 major population centers outside of our immediate area--north, and east. So we may be looking at planting our first church near Rives Junction/Pleasant Lake or Grass Lake/Michigan Center.

As I said, no decisions have been made. This is just thinking out loud right now; it's quite possible that God will lead us to plant a church right in Jackson. However, we believe it's most likely that it will be somewhere else. Please be in prayer as this conversation moves forward that we will follow God's leading and wisdom.

I'd be very interested in any thoughts that any of you may have about all this:

  • Is this surprising? Why or why not?
  • Does it make sense? Why or why not?
  • What is your take on planting a church in a smaller community?

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Q&A: What's A Church?

As I'm addressing various questions that have been put to me ever since unveiling the church's new vision to become actively involved in planting new churches to reach the 100,000 people in Jackson County with no church family, the next one I'd like to tackle is this: What, exactly, are we talking about when we say the word "church", and what does it mean to plant one?

Now, nobody's actually asked me, "What is a church?", but several of you have asked the question, "What definition of 'church' are we using?" This is a very astute question because there are different ways that this word is used. According to, "church" can mean (among other things):

  • a building for public Christian worship.
  • public worship of God or a religious service in such a building: to attend church regularly.
  • the whole body of Christian believers; Christendom: the universal Church
  • a Christian denomination: the Methodist Church.
  • a body of Christians worshiping in a particular building or constituting one congregation: She is a member of this church.

None of these definitions is really accurate for what we're talking about. We're certainly not interested in establishing a new worldwide universal Church, nor do we want to make a new denomination. The other three definitions are all linked to buildings, and we're not interested in buildings either. We're also not talking about events or programs. So what is our definition of "church"?

A church is a group of people who have banded together for the purposes of

  • Worship
  • Community
  • Outreach
  • Discipleship
  • Service

This group of people can meet in a barn, in a mall, in a park, or anywhere else. They do not need to buy a building or own any property in order to advance their mission. They might even change locations often as their needs change. What matters is not where they meet, but that they are united in mission, vision, and values to advance the kingdom of God.

So as we get closer to the day that we give birth to a new congregation, we will be asking each of you to pray about whether God is leading you to be a part of this new church plant. Those of you who are willing to join this new church will meet periodically to make decisions about what kind of a church you will be--your structure, your strategy, your vision, and so forth. One of the things that will need to be decided is where you will meet. Very likely, your first location will be in a rented facility, such as a school. But the building is really unimportant. It's just a tool to accomplish the foundational purpose of advancing the kingdom of God.

Over the next couple weeks, we'll be getting into some of the nitty-gritty about upcoming decisions regarding when, where, and how we will go about pursuing this vision. I certainly appreciate any continuing questions you might have, as each question is an opportunity to clarify, to inform, and to help us all be on the same page. May God give us strength and perseverance as we march forward in obedience to him and his call for our church.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Q&A: What Difference Will More Churches Make?

Now that we've taken a closer look at each of the five reasons for church planting, over the next few weeks, I'd like to respond to some of the questions that people have asked about this whole endeavor. But first, I want to thank those of you who have read through the Vision Packets, prayed about the vision of our church, and have asked questions. I appreciate your thoughtful engagement, and it helps me know what I need to explain more thoroughly and completely.

The first question I'll be tackling is the most common one people have been asking: What difference will more churches make? After all, if there are 100,000 people already not attending church, why would the establishment of a new congregation make them suddenly start coming?

That's a very reasonable question, but one with answers, too. Some of these answers I've already covered in a previous post: Why Church Planting? A Pragmatic Reason. In that post, I talked about what makes church plants different from established churches, and why they're more effective.

But this week, I want to take the question from the opposite angle--from the perspective of the unchurched person--because as people have posed this question to me, that's usually the question they're really asking: If someone doesn't go to church currently, what difference is it going to make that there's yet one more church to not go to?

This question from this perspective has some unspoken assumptions behind it that I'd like to bring to light:

  • The assumption that "The Unchurched" as a category is a monolithic group that is all pretty much the same;
  • The assumption that the unchurched are unchurched because they have made the conscious choice to be unchurched;
  • The assumption that the unchurched have already received a credible presentation of the gospel message, have thoroughly evaluated the evidence, and have made an informed decision to pursue meaning and purpose elsewhere.
In other words, many times when people are asking this question, they assume that unchurched people are not interested in accepting Christ, and there's nothing that can ever be done about it.

But that is certainly not the truth! There are many different types of unchurched people:
  • those who have simply never thought much about spirituality and God
  • those who have been hurt by the church or by Christians
  • those who are actively searching for God but unsure how to find him
  • intellectual skeptics who choose to put their faith in science or politics
  • those who have accepted negative stereotypes of Christians because they've never really gotten close enough to know any that would challenge those stereotypes
  • those who feel guilty and don't believe that God loves them or could ever accept them
  • and there are many others too!

Some of them grew up without the church and it has never occurred to them to seek God there; they believe church is for "other people." Some did grow up with church, but their spirituality was never connected in a meaningful way with the rest of their life, so it became an unnecessary appendage that they have since dispensed with. Some of them have heard the gospel message, but it may have come at a time that they weren't ready for it, or in a way that they didn't understand it, or have an opportunity to respond to it.

So often, we blame the unchurched for not accepting Christ
when we should blame the church for not reaching them.

The truth is that our culture is hungry for real spirituality. They are constantly searching for it through a multitude of means--yoga, Oprah, therapy, tai chi, Chai Tea, movies, AA, and self-help books. But all of those things are ultimately empty and dead ends without God. They are going to keep searching until they find what they are looking for because that's the way that God created us. The real question is: Will the church be ready to give a reason for the hope that it has? (1 Peter 3:15)

There are not nearly enough churches going out into the deep waters and searching for the lost and shipwrecked. There are too many people to save, too many clubs, and not enough life-saving stations. Or as Jesus said 2000 years ago, "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest therefore to send out more workers into his harvest field" (Matt. 9:37-38 NIV).

By planting more of the right kind of churches--churches that are actually committed to fulfilling the mission of Jesus--we are not only praying for more workers, we are actually deploying them.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Why Church Planting? A Personal Reason

So far, we've seen how and why church planting is so necessary in our world today. We've seen how the church in America has veered from its mission and purpose, and we've looked at the devestating spiritual needs of our nation that result from the church's failure. We've considered the impact such an endeavor might have on our church, and finally we look at the outcome that will be produced in each of us individually as we give our hearts and lives to this vital task. The truth about church planting is that


How does this make any sense? We already have a church family, a place where we can love and be loved, where we can give and be given to, where we can serve and be served, a place to learn, grow, and be supported and challenged. Why do we need to plant additional churches?

This question actually has several answers:

1) The purpose of our lives is to bring as much glory to God as possible. It is not to be comfortable, to be happy, to be popular, to be famous, to be rich, or anything else. Our fundamental, primary, basic purpose is to leverage everything we are and have for God's glory. So we need to be about the business of making as big a splash in eternity as possible. Planting more churches is the most effective way to reach as many people for Christ as possible, bringing maximum glory to him.

2) We fail as human beings when we focus on ourselves. When we get absorbed with our problems, our circumstances, our pains, our "issues", our desires and longings, our personal agenda... we are failing to live the kind of life that God created us for. God did not create us for self-absorption. Our first purpose is to love God with all our hearts (see reason #1, bringing as much glory to God as possible), and our second purpose is to love other people. We're not planting churches because of all the benefits that will come to us--we're doing it because there are people out there who need to know God. We're doing it for them, to help them see that they can know the one true God, and that he will utterly transform their lives. We all have a basic need to be part of something larger than ourselves.

3) This sort of a major church-wide effort can serve to draw us together. We already share one purpose--to meet people where they are on their spiritual journeys and lead them to become fully devoted followers of Jesus. We also already have the same Core Values--Real Spirituality, Real Community, and Real Story. But these things can be abstract and hard to wrap our minds around. However, this vision--to become actively involved in planting new churches to reach the 100,000 people in Jackson County with no church family--is very concrete. Such a vision--if we will give ourselves to it--can serve to unite us, excite us, motivate us, and inspire us as we apply our mission and Core Values to accomplishing this God-sized task!

The Bible expects it; Experience proves it; America needs it; Faith demands it; and You and I need it! How can we not pursue this vision? Let's apply ourselves to this vision wholeheartedly and pray expectantly for God to use us in mighty ways! Next week, I'll begin addressing some of the questions that I've heard from you so far. Keep your questions coming! You can either post them here, or email me.