Finding the Right Church Plant Model: An Introduction to Church Models

by | Jan 15, 2019 | Church Leadership, Church Planting

A few years ago we got another car. Well, truthfully, Donna (my wife) made me get one. To be completely honest, she went and bought it and brought it home and basically said, “You’re getting another car.”

You see, I hate car buying. I hate picking the right make and model. I just want my car to get me from here to there.

So, I pick a car model based on the purpose—getting from here to there. And, that’s how we should choose church planting models: based on the mission.

Models of Church Planting

In this blog series, I will cover a total of five current church planting models: Traditional, Launch Big, Missional Incarnational, Organic, and Satellite Campus. In covering each model, I will present the main emphasis/elements/components of each model, the financial costs over the period of the first five years of ministry, the type of contexts that prove to be more fruitful (and unfruitful), the strengths and potential weaknesses, the practitioners, and the available resources helping to describe the model.

Obviously, I am not saying this is every way possible to plant a church. Furthermore, I am not saying that my description is a perfect one. However, I want us to think about WAYS to plant a church so we can be more faithful and fruitful in the process.

Just as it is in any missiological context, from a tribe in Southeast Asia, to a rural community in Atlantic Canada, the how of church planting is, in many ways, shaped by the who, when, and where of culture.

And, over time, that “how of church planting” has coalesced into certain patterns that we call “models” when we do missiology.

By the end of the blog series, it is my hope that you will have more information about some different models and how we might evaluate and consider them.

But before I launch into the various models, I thought that it would be wise if I shared some preliminary thoughts planters should consider before choosing a model.

1. Consider the definition of the term “model.”

Models are constructions and symbols of a reality—they are guides, but not exact representations of what we do. (No church fits a model, but they can apply a model.)

In other words, models help label and give descriptions to certain practices. In addition, my friend J.D. Payne asserts that “models are God-given guides to assist us in our church-planting endeavors.”

So, as I describe these models, don’t get too bent out of shape if I don’t fully represent (in detail) your particular model. You can correct me in the comments!

2. Operate from one model, but learn and implement the strengths of the other.

In the context of discussing models of church and cultural engagement, there are strengths and weaknesses of every model.

Thus, although one might operate from a particular model, there is nothing wrong—in fact, it is very helpful and healthy—with borrowing strengths from other models and implementing them into your own. (We will talk some about how that does not work as well.)

3. Pick a model that fits with your giftedness and your context.

Just because a model worked 10 years ago, or because your hero implemented this model, or you think this model is the rage at the conferences, doesn’t mean it will work for you or where you are planting. Rather choose a model that fits within your giftedness and skill set.

For example, if you are not skilled in administration or systems (or if you don’t have someone on your team who is), the Launch Big model may not be for you.

On the other hand, make sure the model fits not only within your giftedness and skill set, but also in the cultural environment you are either planting or want to plant. For instance, in many post-Christian settings (often large urban areas), the Launch Big model may not be the right model.

4. Remember the model is just a tool, not the goal.

I understand we live in a highly pragmatic culture. We want something that works and produces the desired results. Given this is our cultural environment, there is a tendency to put our faith in the works of our models, and to rely on our models to produce the results that only God can produce.

5. Don’t confuse a model with a value.

All models should be leading people to mission, even though one model will emphasize the missional/incarnational structure. And all have traditions. And all should have organic elements.

So, as we look at certain models, let’s remember that there should also be some universal values.

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Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., holds the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College and serves as Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, holds two masters degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles & books. Previously, he served as Executive Director of LifeWay Research. Stetzer is a contributing editor for Christianity Today, a columnist for Outreach Magazine, and is frequently cited or interviewed in news outlets such as USAToday and CNN. He is the Executive Editor of The Gospel Project, a curriculum used by more than one million individuals each week. Stetzer is also Executive Editor of Facts & Trends Magazine, a Christian leadership magazine with a circulation of more than 70,000 readers. In 2015, he began serving as the co-host of the BreakPoint This Week radio program with John Stonestreet. He also serves as Visiting Professor of Research and Missiology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Visiting Research Professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and has taught at many other colleges and seminaries.