What is Church Planting? (part 1)

Church planters are what I call entrepreneurs of the spirit. But, what is this entrepreneurship of the spirit? What is church planting?

Church planting is a disciple-making process.

Consider these two scenarios.

Imagine that there are two church planting teams. One team, let’s call them Team A, works from the first premise below. Let’s call this “starting point A”. The other team, predictably, is Team B and works from “starting point B”.

A) We’d like to disciple the residents of a neighborhood.
B) We’d like to start a church for the residents of that same neighborhood.

How do the images that fill your mind differ when you read “starting point A” from when you read “starting point B”? How do you imagine that these two teams would approach their work? What things will they have in common? How might they differ?

Jesus instructed his disciples to make disciples of the “nations”. (For our purposes here, let’s take the “nations” to mean those who live without reference to the scripture and who do not yet profess faith in Christ). Jesus’ instructions to “disciple the nations” stretch us to imagine the discipleship of the outsider. In contrast, our practice is to program for the discipleship of the insider. Of all the things the church does, starting new churches should be understood as a process for the discipleship of the outsider, but often it is not. It is conceivable, in the western context, to start a church and never disciple an outsider. According to a recent poll, 96% of mega church growth is transfer growth. (Hat tip to Bob Roberts for that stat). In fact, many churches that consider themselves “discipleship” churches even though they have little to no contact with outsiders.

At a recent Church Planting Training at Northwood Church in Keller, Texas, Bob Roberts stated, “We don’t plant churches in America. We plant worship services.” Starting a worship service may require a programming team and some stage talent, but need not require nor create disciples.

Starting a new church often results in a new worship service populated by the already convinced. But if we start with the discipleship of the outsiders, then the aim of the church planter is already being achieved even before a new church emerges…which will often happen. The apostles did not go into cities to start churches, but to announce the kingdom… to get that “embodied” conversation going. When that conversation took root in the hearts of women and men, new communities of faith emerged.

Brian Hook, church planting pastor at Northwood Church in Keller, Texas, tells me that he believes “… in the years ahead we will be talking discipleship rather than church planting.” In fact, he takes it a step further. He’s thinking that “we could drop the term church planter today because, in America, it doesn’t always mean ‘disciple'”.

So, when we think about definitions for church planting, it may help us to think in terms of the process of disciple-making among outsiders.

What do you think?

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8 thoughts on “What is Church Planting? (part 1)

  1. Paul Dryer

    As I take HFF to the next level it is my vision to engage and connect with “unchurched men” and the “under valued”. An initiative to invite them to embark on a meaningful interrelationship with spiritual adventure. I eagerly listen and act on new creative strategies for the Kingdom that can have significant impact here and now…by faith. You may recognize some elements as it reflects some of your (and Erwin’s)influence. Your insights/feedback on this HFF dream would be greatly valued.

  2. Noah Zirk

    You’re spot on! My wife and I have started a conversation about faith with many outsiders. We determined that we would “plant” only with the unchurched and dechurched. I will admit it’s been tempting to want to gather people from other churches and start a new worship service because that’s what I see being done. Truth be told, I’d love to be fulltime and have more funds to do more, so the temptation to get church people is a struggle for me at times. Unchurched people seem to struggle with giving you their money! We’re trying to teach them the importance of giving… 🙂 I read the scriptures and I see what’s been done and how a group of 12, turned the world upside down. It’s possible to disciple the outsider and create a better world.

  3. Mark Biebuyck

    Sal, those are great and mighty questions, that I hope to read some dialogue on.

    Alex & John, whatever form of “service/event” we choose to do, I think the aim should always be attractional. I might even say that it isn’t discipleship if it’s not attractive. The call is to die…how much better invitation could there be to hand someone!


  4. Sal Vasquez

    Great thoughts Alex!

    I have a few questions about this discipleship process.

    -What does it really look like to disciple someone?
    -What’s the difference between kingdom discipleship vs discipling someone into the Christian culture.
    – When thinking about discipleship, what is our final destination for people? Is it to get them saved? What does that even mean, “to get someone saved”? Is it to reach them with the gospel? What’s the gospel we should be talking to people about? Is true discipleshipit have them sign up for our denominational ways of thinking? Is our final destination for people to start attending our church?
    -How do we really know if our discipleship process is working? What should we be looking for in a disciple?
    -How do you synthesize the different people that you’re discipling for kingdom effectiveness. Should we even look to bring all these people together?

    Just some thoughts I’m wrestling with =]

  5. alex

    Hey John, Good to hear from you. I think you’re right. We have effectively used various delivery systems for the good news of the Kingdom. In terms of language, I use the phrase “discipleship of the outsider” rather than the phrase “evangelization of the outsider” but I think we mean the same thing.

  6. John Worcester

    In the beginning church planting that is properly understood is all about the evangelization of the outsider. This may come in many forms- relational evangelism, servant evangelism, or attractional event evangelism. Attractional events may be in the form of church services if they attract unreached people from the neighborhood. We have been doing this for years and this method still commonly results in 25-75% unreached people visiting the services. I wish we could celebrate the different ways God is leading leaders to reach people. We are on the same team.

  7. alex

    You’re welcome David. Indeed, discipleship happens among the outsider. In fact, I wonder if discipleship can even happen without the outsider?

  8. David

    thanks for this kick starting idea, I feel weary of planting churches with little discipleship.
    The aim of discipling can happen way before a church gathering gets on the scene.
    This post really pushes an important conversation I need to keep having for my own growth n others.

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