How To Decide Where To Plant Churches


While this post may be useful for individual church planters, it is really intended for either churches that are considering planting new churches or for people who are responsible for making decisions about starting multiple churches in a region. It is written from a North American perspective, and therefore does not include particular nuances of many international situations.

My own situation is the San Francisco Bay Area. When my family moved here in 1996, I had several options about where my next church planting assignment might be. That God directed me to the Bay Area seemed to be a culmination of several factors.

First, I left my heart in San Francisco before I had actually ever seen it. As a product of the 1960s, many of my friends wanted to move here. I was personally wired for this place.

Second, part of my God-given gifting is to love anything that is unselfconsciously multi-ethnic, and my husband is similarly gifted.

Next, I am called to what is difficult, complex, or undeveloped. Of all my church planting options in those days, the San Francisco Bay Area fit best.

Finally, of the places that were open to me, the Bay Area seemed the most needy, and the least evangelical. As we prayed, all of these things seemed to indicate that God was leading us here.

But when there are so many choices about where to concentrate church planting efforts, where do we begin? The thoughts below are sometimes conflicting, and really not in a particular order, but I believe will help you reach a decision.

  1. Where God is clearly moving. This could mean where he has raised up leadership, wonderfully answered prayer, acted in a miraculous way, or brought together a group of people who know they need Him.  A people or place not even on your radar can unexpectedly emerge.
  2. Size of group, and whether that group is growing or declining locally, matters, but so can the size of their global population. Some groups may be identified by country or state of origin, others by religion, language, caste, or some affinity. Examples are cowboys, surfers, or among  the 10,000 employees of Google’s Mountain View, California campus
  3. The degree to which the group is known to be unreached globally. The common indicator is 2% or less evangelical for what is called an unreached people group. Also consider how the group ranks locally in relationship to other places they live in North America. Reaching the least reached is a kingdom mandate.
  4. Presence of a missionary, volunteer, indigenous leader or person of peace. Think leadership: Is God providing a clear leader for this group?
  5. A new neighborhood or community where there is no church nearby. In this kind of community there are probably already some Christians who wish they didn’t need to drive 10 miles to attend church.
  6. Where there is community transition and the local churches no longer fit the language or culture of the newcomers, and where the existing churches don’t know how or are unwilling to change in order to embrace them.
  7. Where there are not enough churches to reach the population. In some places it may because population growth is outpacing the capacity of existing churches to incorporate new people.

Ok, now your turn.

Where, or among whom would you plant a church, and what would you prioritize? Leave a comment with your ideas.

  • John Wallace

    Thanks, Linda. I’m speaking primarily with a view toward planting in North America.

    I think planters needs to ask, “Where can I be effective?” and solicit honest feedback to that question from people who serve in the fields they are considering.

    I knew a planter who planted a church in one region that grew to a thousand. He then planted, in a different region, a church that never became sustainable. He was a good man and had noble reasons for moving to the new context but perhaps not the right persona (only God knows). Local leaders seemed leery of challenging his calling because he came to the new field with great confidence and strong financial support from his previous church.

    As church planters we can be attracted by the alluring opportunity (the toughest soil, the most unchurched, the center of global influence). In the 80s it was cool to plant in the mushrooming suburbs. Now it’s cool to plant among the urban gentry. Yet lost people are just as lost in Podunk as they are in NYC. At this stage in life I’m asking “Where can I make a difference?” (Romans 12:3).

    I know from experience that it is very difficult to get objective feedback regarding your own capabilities. It’s even harder to get sound counsel on how to strengthen your capabilities for the sake of a perceived call. There is a strong bias in our leadership culture toward categorizing people as “Those Who Can” and “Those Who Can’t.” For the aspiring planter, this can be frustrating but it should not be an excuse to avoid counsel.

    So we must be courageous. If we’re not dealing with critique, we’re probably running away from it. Yet we must remember that none of us need be enslaved by people’s opinions of us.


  • Frontline Worker

    Groovy thoughts and great post.

    You mention that this doesn’t include the nuances of international situations but than list a major criteria of where to plant a church as “the degree to which the group is known to be unreached globally” – which puts it into a global context.

    Most of the worlds church planting resources and people are concentrated in the most reached areas of the planet. We like to say that we are focused on the hard and most neglected places but the reality is we are simply starting alternative cultural expressions of the church in places that are already churched.

    There are many reasons for this the main one being a weak Missiology with a poor understanding of nations, or “ethnos” in the Good Book. If we saw the world through the lens of people groups rather than cultural groups than our Church planting efforts would look very different. Surfers, Cowboys and Post-modernists are sub-cultures, not an Unreached People Group with their own language, culture and worldview.

    John Piper says that “missions exist because worship does not”. This should be our main criteria: Where is the Glory of God not shining? Where is there absolutely no glimmer of God’s glory?

    Thank you Linda for shining.

    -From a Pioneer Living Somewhere (closed country) near the Ends of the Earth

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  • MichelleRob Damron

    pagans, gays and those on the very outmost fringes of society.