The healthiest churches are congregations that understand the urgency of sharing God’s love and the centrality of the local church in His plan. Since the Jerusalem church planted congregations in other cities and the Antioch church took it to another level of aggressive planting—right up to the visionary congregations of today that are dreaming about how they can plant hundreds of new congregations, church planting is the most effective means of transforming lives by connecting people with God.
And the most aggressive church planting churches are totally into collaboration and partnership. Networks of churches, sometimes even across tribal lines, are working together to increase both effectiveness and volume in church planting.
- One church in northern Ohio partners to plant churches all over Ohio, and in several international locations.
- A growing number of churches in Los Angeles are forming a network to plant churches in as many of LA’s neighborhoods as possible in the next decade. There are 119 identified neighborhoods in the city limits by the way, ranging from 10,000 to 250,000 in population!
- In New York, many church partnerships have resulted in a growing number of healthy, high-impact church plants in the last decade. Championed by local churches, but also resourced by congregations across the country, the new churches of New York are becoming a stronger voice for reconciliation every year.
So “If churches plant churches, do we need para-church organizations that plant churches?” Seriously, what’s the point of an organization that itself must raise money for operations, trying to do what is by commission and best practice the responsibility of local congregations? Some might assume this is a redundancy that should be eliminated so that as many resources as possible can be conserved for actual church planting. Is there a role for an agency in church planting? Since I’ve been working at church planting for more than 20 years, I think I have at least some ideas (certainly not all the answers!).
First, those of us in church planting ministries are the servants of the Church. Where some might be fuzzy on this point—and some tribes may delegate more or less responsibility to their church planting agencies—it is clear that planting new congregations is the responsibility of every church. It should not be delegated or relegated to an ancillary function.
So what service should agencies provide?
The stewardship of best practices.
There are many effective strategies for planting churches, but there are core practices like careful assessment and selection, coaching, bookkeeping, project management, and care for planting families which transcend and undergird strategy. Agencies can quickly propagate learnings from one church plant to the next. Each church planter stands on the shoulders of others who have gone before and the church planting agencies are the brace-points that provide the balance needed for a strong and confident footing.
The ministry of holy discontent.
I’m not talking about the spiritual gift of criticism! I’m talking about that sense of urgency and non-negotiable primacy that all of us need sometimes—well-meaning churches included. God’s heart is breaking for those who are far from Him and church planting is the most effective way of reaching those precious ones. A regular and poignant dose of “reminder” is a valuable way that church planting agencies serve the church.
Managing the logistics.
Let’s face it, every growing church is busy and stretched beyond its limits. A new church plant, while central to our strategy of reaching the world for Jesus, can often be outside the circle of focus just because it’s “there” and not “here.” This is not judgment, simply reality. Church planting groups can help with management and facilitation to take the burden off the planting church. This is the application of best practices—and hopefully a load off the mind of a church leadership team trying to do the right thing to make disciples at home AND plant churches. We in the church planting world bring what the sending church values to the new churches and bring the stories of life change back from the new church to the sponsoring congregations. This is not insignificant—it really serves both ends of the enterprise.
So churches plant churches. That’s been established since the book of Acts. And local churches entrusting church planting ministries to maintain best practices, keep the heat on high, and manage the details seems like a symbiotic relationship that is working. When churches lose focus on their mandate to plant, or agencies lack clarity about being servants of the church, things go sideways pretty quickly.
What do you think?