The natural question to ask when we mention the topic of planting a church is “why?”. Why plant a church? After all, there seem to be plenty of churches (especially in Darke County). So, why do we need more church bodies?
There are many answers to this question and I think its worth our time to investigate more of the “why” aspects of church planting before we really dig into the “how” of a church planting plan. And so, I’ve broken down my response to the “why’s” of church planting into the following categories: a scriptural response, a pragmatic response, a theological response, and a pastoral response.
I hope that any and all of these responses drive us closer to the heart of our God. I hope they ignite a passion in us that pushes into many mission fields in years to come and that we increasingly see the fields as “white for harvest” (Jhn. 4:35).
A Scriptural Response
If church planting is right we would expect it to be reflected in the pages of scripture. I believe this is what we find throughout the New Testament. Paul describes his ministry toward Corinth as “planting”—meaning, he started the work while Apollos “watered” (or developed) it (1 Cor. 3:6). We see this pattern in Paul’s first missionary journey (Acts 13-14) particularly where Paul travels throughout the region, visiting major cities, seeing converts made, and establishing elders. This trip culminates to 14:22-23, where Luke tells us that Paul returned to each of the cities “strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, ‘Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.’ When they had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.” (Acts 14:22-23)
The book of Acts shows us that the process of evangelism should lead to new churches. As new churches are established, they are entrenched in the community and to continue the work of discipling future generations. In this way, God envisioned a more permanent church presence than a temporary missionary presence, which, is essentially the call to plant churches which continually preach the gospel. This is how Paul could say that he had “no more work” to do in a region because it had churches already established there (Rom. 15:19,23).
Even the great commission (Matt. 28:19-20) is not just a call to make converts but to baptize—implying a community by which new converts would both be baptized by and enter into. In short, evangelism starts church plants. We can easily imagine a scenario where more and more churches are started in smaller and smaller subsets of a geographic region as the gospel continues to bear fruit and increase in that area (Col. 1:6).
A Pragmatic Response
When we speak of a pragmatic approach we really speak of what works—what is the most effective way to accomplish a task? Church planting is pragmatic in that is the most effective type of church for the evangelistic purpose. At Grace, we’ve identified this as one of our five core values—engage (you remember right? GROW, RELATE, ADORE, COMMIT, ENGAGE). If we look at the stat sheets, church plants simply engage non-believers better.
Consider these words from Tim Keller;
“Dozens of denominational studies have confirmed that the average new church gains most of its new members (60-80%) from the ranks of people who are not attending any worshipping body, while churches over 10-15 years of age gain 80-90% of new members by transfer from other congregations.2 This means that the average new congregation will bring 6-8 times more new people into the life of the Body of Christ than an older congregation of the same size.”
The new church depends on conversions for its existence and, thereby, places importance on evangelism and engagement with their surrounding community. This might not be true of every established church, but generally, stands to reason.
Gary Rohrmayer, director of church planting for the Midwest Baptist Conference, told me of a 1,200-member church that planted a church. The new church quickly grew to 200, but in the same time period, the 1,200-member church grew to 1,600. Seeing that the established church had actually added more members, leaders wondered whether they should put their resources into expanding their own ministry instead of planting another church. When asked how many adult converts they had seen in that period, however, they named eight. The new church had about 100. “You [tell] me whether you should start another church or not,” Rohrmayer says.
Again, this doesn’t mean that established churches can’t be evangelistic, but simply that new churches must be. Remember the link we saw between converts and new churches in the book of Acts; that still rings true today. Its also wrong for us to think that church plants don’t receive transfers from other churches—this will inevitably happen. But generally, the stripped-down functionality of a new church won’t have much to attract the church-hopper.