The Necessity of Church Planting
Hard but Necessary
I’m convinced that church planting is one of the hardest but most necessary activities that we can be involved in as members of Jesus’ global church. From personal experience, I can attest that planting is hard and at times lonely. However, I still agree with the statement that Peter Wagner made in 1987. He famously said: “Planting new churches is the most effective evangelistic methodology known under heaven.”[i] This was a groundbreaking statement when Wagner first said it, and it remains so today.
The necessity of church planting (especially in Nashville) doesn’t initially make sense to many. Tim Keller lists some of the common concerns:
“We already have plenty of churches that have lots and lots of room for all the new people who have come to the area. Let’s get them filled before we start building any new ones.”
“Every church in this community used to be more full than it is now. The churchgoing public is a shrinking pie. A new church here will just take people from churches that are already hurting and will weaken everyone.”
“Help the churches that are struggling first. A new church doesn’t help the existing ones that are just keeping their noses above water. We need better churches, not more churches.”[ii]
This may sound like logical thinking, but according to Keller, Stetzer, and others, the statistical evidence points in the opposite direction.[iii]
So Why Should We Plant New Churches?
I believe we should continue to plant new churches for four specific reasons: It’s biblical, it results in the salvation of new believers, it energizes existing churches, and it mobilizes Christians on mission.
First, I believe church planting is biblical. In his famous last statement, Jesus told his apostles to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them . . . and teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:18-20). Notice, Jesus didn’t say “win converts,” he said “make disciples.” He then outlined what a disciple is in part: it is someone who has been baptized, and taught how to follow Jesus. Discipleship is a church activity. If we want to obey Jesus’ great commission, it will require more and more churches in order to reach more and more people. Additionally, the pattern established in the New Testament is a pattern of continual evangelism for the purpose of planting new churches that gather regularly.
Secondly, church planting results in the salvation of new believers. Church planting is not church splitting. When I say church planting, I don’t mean thirty disgruntled people going down the road to start their own thing because they now hate their previous pastor. By church planting, I mean a missionary (or group of missionaries) like the Apostle Paul and Barnabas intentionally going out to reach new people and incorporating them into a new church. In the book of Acts, we read about the church in Antioch. During a prayer service at the church, Paul and Barnabas felt the call of God to reach new people. They were sent out to plant churches with a God-given desire to see new people come to faith in Jesus. Church planting by biblical standards is an evangelistic endeavor, not a sheep-swapping endeavor.
Thirdly, church planting energizes existing churches. The church in Antioch was energized, not threatened by the work of Paul and Barnabas. It was likely painful for this church to send out their top notch leaders; however, as God led, the church obeyed, and more people were reached as a result. When you read about Paul’s missionary journeys in the book of Acts, you see that he regularly comes home to Antioch to share what God was accomplishing. Paul’s obedience energized his home church. I have seen this pattern firsthand in Nashville. The churches engaged in church planting feel the pain of sending out some of their best people, but in the long run they rejoice to hear about everything that God is doing in these new churches. As a result, both the sending church and the church plant are energized and encouraged. And the people of God are more willing to take risks for the fame of Jesus as a result.
Finally, church planting results in the mobilization of Christians to be more “on mission” than they previously were. As church planters begin their work, they almost always gather a core group to help them plant the new church. Core groups are typically made up of both believers and not-yet-believers. The people in the core group easily feel the weight of helping the church to grow. Where previously they may have been volunteers or attenders at the sending church, now they are being equipped and encouraged to reach their neighbors and co-workers and invite them to the new church. Now, I’m not saying that existing churches don’t encourage their people to reach their neighbors and co-workers — they certainly do — however, there is something about being part of new work that helps everybody really feel the responsibility to help the church grow. Core group members feel the responsibility to reach others more than they ever have. And as a result, they are more mobilized on Jesus’ mission than ever before.
Let’s Keep Planting Churches
I realize that all church planting is not healthy church planting. There are church splits, and there are guys down the street who seem only to want to steal sheep and build their own egos. However, there is also a lot of healthy church planting happening in our city, and we at the Nashville Baptist Association want to continue to be part of mobilizing churches to plant healthy churches in every part of our city. I’ll end with this quote from Ed Stetzer:
The question is not whether the church will reach postmodern people. Clearly, Jesus promised that the church and the gospel will prevail. the question is actually, “Will we (and the traditions we represent) be the groups that reach postmodern culture, or will God have to bypass us and use others?”[iv]
Church Planting Strategist
Nashville Baptist Association
[i] C. Peter Wagner, Strategies for Growth, 168.
[ii] Tim Keller, “Why Plant Churches?,” http://download.redeemer.com/pdf/learn/resources/Why_Plant_Churches-Keller.pdf
[iii] Tim Keller, “Why Plant Churches?,” http://download.redeemer.com/pdf/learn/resources/Why_Plant_Churches-Keller.pdf
[iv] Ed Stetzer, Planting Churches in a Postmodern Age, xvii.