Church planting has been extremely popular in recent years. Many conferences and organizations have been created to accommodate the growing interest in the subject. If you Google the term, you’ll be given more information than you can digest. Networks and agencies such as ARC, Acts 29, and NAMB have planted thousands of churches since their inception. Although it’s impossible to know the exact number, the global church has been actively planting churches as well, resulting in thousands of additional congregations.
For those not familiar with the term, church planting is simply the act of starting a new church. Historically, churches have been started by people who long to obey the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19) and live in Christ-centered community. Some churches meet in homes while others meet in buildings.
There are several different models and ways to start a church. One popular approach is the multisite model, where a church starts an additional campus in a different part of town or, sometimes, a different town altogether. One megachurch in Texas is doing the opposite by leaving their multisite model for the sake of a “deeper commitment to local ministry and church planting.”
All this church planting has been great and can greatly contribute to the goal of making disciples. But have we reached the goal? Is church planting still necessary?
Gardening & Church Essentials
The word “planting” is a gardening or agricultural term. A person may plant tomato seeds in hopes of growing tomatoes. If the tomatoes grow successfully, they may consider planting other vegetables to expand their garden. Similarly, God is interested in expanding his family and He’s looking for gardeners who are willing to plant some seeds.
There are some essential things a garden needs to be considered a garden. For instance, a garden generally consists of a planned space with soil and, eventually, produce. The church is similar in regards to essentials. At bare minimum, I believe a church must consist of teaching, sacraments, fellowship, and prayer (Acts 2:42). These are the things that constitute a church. A building isn’t needed nor are programs. That being said, a gardener can do all sorts of things to produce more crops, yet, without the essentials, they will not have a garden in the strictest sense of the term.
If these are the essentials of a church, what is the goal of planting one?
People, Mission, and The Kingdom of God
In his book Planting Missional Churches, Ed Stetzer claims that the goal of church planting “isn’t to plant the coolest church or do things that have never been done before, but it’s always to reach people, be on mission, and be about the kingdom of God.”
I believe Stetzer is correct. Let’s look at the three goals he stated by beginning with a church plant’s goal to reach people.
One reason a church should be planted is because there are many people who are unaware of the basic truths of the gospel. It’s not hard to find people who believe that places like Europe or North America have been so inundated with the Christian message that a need no longer exists. Maybe you believe that to some degree. The reality is, many people living in these cultures have actually made a god of their own liking or understanding rather than acknowledging the God of the Bible. Popular phrases such as “God helps those who help themselves” or “God won’t give you more than you can handle” has so pervaded the imagination that many people believe the Bible actually teaches it. Even within the church, Bible illiteracy is a real problem. We need churches that are biblically sound to reach people that are not.
Next, to be on mission means to be doing the work that God Himself is doing. God is about redemption. His plan for redeeming the world is seen throughout the Bible and perfectly at the cross of Christ. Regardless of vocation, if you are a Christian, you are called to be a missionary. Being a missionary may not look like going overseas but could look like going next door to love your neighbor. Like Jesus, we need to leave our comforts behind and go to people instead of assuming they’ll come to us (Philippians 2:5-8; John 6:38).
Lastly, the kingdom of God is active in places where Jesus is King. If you have surrendered to Christ, the kingdom of God is in you. Instead of trying to attract people with entertainment and free stuff, the church needs to recognize how attractive a gospel community is to a world hungry for real community. Let God be God by allowing His Spirit to work through His people for the purpose of making Jesus known to the ends of the earth.
Sadly, people don’t always plant churches for these reasons. Sometimes, church planters desire attractive programs and hip pastors more than making disciples and glorifying God.
I don’t think programs or hip pastors are bad, I just believe it’s important to be aware of our ministry motives. After all, God is concerned with the heart not the external appearance (1 Samuel 16:7).
I also believe you should be involved in church planting. I’m convinced we need church plants now more than ever. Perhaps you can look for ways to participate in a plant. Ask your pastor how your church is supporting the church planting initiatives around the world. You can also prayerfully consider raising support or awareness for a new plant. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, you could consider starting a church. Most people who start a church begin with an inner call from God. However, don’t be afraid if you feel ill-equipped. I’ve heard it said that God doesn’t call the equipped, He equips the called.
Yes, church planting is still necessary. It is necessary because there are still people who need to meet Jesus in your community. It is necessary because God’s kingdom of light is pushing back Satan’s kingdom of darkness. God’s desire is to redeem our broken world. He is using the local church to that end. Praise God for church plants and planters!