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?

IMN Resources
Makers of Fire: The Spirituality of Leading from the Future

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