9 reasons NOT to plant a church in 2012

[UPDATE: When you are finished reading this post, go here to the second post in this series: Practices of a New Jesus Movement.]

“Church planting is the most effective form of evangelism under heaven” said C.Peter Wagner. I know he said that. I was there. I was a young [and good looking] Seminary student sitting in his classroom when he said it.

It was a welcomed idea, proven scientifically more effective than trying to expand older church structures. Back then, there was little argument against it and the idea was embraced by mission societies and church denominations who played it out in their strategies all through the 90’s and also during the noughties when the thinking became mainstream rather than rebellious. I was part of that movement the whole time.

But now it’s 2012 and while some young, enthusiastic people are out there planting churches like its 1997, others are focusing on launching more sustainable, more holistic, more measurably transformational Kingdom solutions.

One of the biggest trends in church planting that I observed in my recent 30+ country trek is the SHIFT AWAY FROM planting churches towards NOT planting a church at all but focusing on a wider range of transforming Kingdom activities. Some church planters are delaying the worship service piece of the pioneer missional ministry for as long as possible and sometimes indefinitely.

– At our gathering in Prague, some of the key leaders of the Europe church planting movement a decade ago told us they had already moved into launching monastic type communities and less ecclesiocentric models of ministry than church planting.

– In USA, some of the most innovative new Christian communities I came across did not launch or host Sunday worship services as part of their ministry portfolio.

– In China, I met a young “church planting” couple who have started ministries in over a dozen cities but refuse to start church worship services. They told me that starting a church starts a long and arduous battle with the Chinese government that they have avoided by starting missional enterprises, Kingdom businesses and concert-like events . . . but NOT churches.

– Same in Indonesia. One group had started hundreds of communities but avoided Sunday worship services and refused to construct church buildings, which have a habit of being burned to the ground in that country. Real church happens when the conditions are right, they told me. They would rather seed a potential garden than plant a church.

Wagner+copy

C.Peter Wagner Image lifted from Ichabod, a website with strong fundamentalist [but poor aesthetic] sensitivities.

WHY THE SHIFT?

There has been some disillusionment with the church planting movement, even after it has purged itself of its 80’s church growth pragmatism. I have talked with many of these leaders and have added some observations myself. Here are some of the issues:

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1. The typical church planting model, in which the solo-church planter starts a gathering that he/she invites potential members to join and commit to lacks satisfying precedent in the Scriptures where Jesus sent out people in teams (2, 12, 70) to find people of peace (them, not us) to allow Kingdom ministry in their venue (not the planter’s venue). Add to that the lack of biblical support for a paid professional pastor and the awkward extension of the Temple tithing system into the present day and the whole package seems a little suspect or at least in need of some recalibrating with the New Testament.

2. The measurement criteria of the church planting project, focusing on numbers of attenders and momentum of new church launch, is too narrow, too shallow, unholistic and ignores more vital measurable signs of a transformed society in its various spheres (economic, environmental, social, impact outside the church environment, etc).

3. The people most likely to join a new church plant are usually those with some kind of church background – the de-churched, pre-churched, ex-churched –  which means ignoring really lost people and duplicating the ministries of existing churches.

4. The focus on people pre-disposed or pre-favored towards church culture can lead to competition among churches to gather people from a diminishing pool of potentials and, worse, to “sheep stealing” which, although a shortcut to acheiving the goal of planting a church in the short term, fails to extend the reach of the gospel into a new culture as well as creating disunity and distrust within the existing church.

5. The challenge for new members to commit to a church meeting rather than be involved in Kingdom mission activities in the world can often lead to a consumer mindset among new members. By not hosting an event for members but rather inviting participants into mission, a different calibre of people is attracted to the ministry.

6. The new church plant creates a higher institutional visibility in sensitive countries which places it in danger of either stifling regulations or physical threat to its members.

7. The lack of traditional funding sources that used to fund church planter’s salary and the first year of operation (often US$100,000) has dried up in the midst of the global financial crisis and changing funding priorities, which has mademore sustainable mission practices like micro-businesses and social enterprises become more important as initial building blocks of new ministry environments than trying to start a regular worship service, in which the only sustainable piece is the generosity of the initiates.

8. Church planting normally thrives in wealthier areas or suburban areas but ignores the urban poor. Stuart Murray Williams addresses this weakness here. It also focuses on the functional people rather than the high-need people and so we end up with church that prioritizes the rich, something we are warned about in the Scriptures (see James).

9. In a country where the church already has a bruised reputation for greed, immorality and unethical practices, basing a strategy around starting another church and having people join it, and actually give money to support it, is a hard sell and a troubled solution.

So if these young people are not “planting churches” in 2012, what kind of Kingdom ministry environments ARE they establishing? And how are today’s church planters avoiding the past mistakes?

That’s the subject of another post. [UPDATE] And here it is. Go to “Practices of a new Jesus Movement.”

Pushbacks, Responses and Spankings: Naznet, PastorBryan, ThinkingOutLoudAlexAbsalomDining with Sinners, Assembling of the Church, 3 Perverted Church Planting Motives, BrimmingOver.

Related on TSK: Church planting posts and a popular post on how to estimate [and not estimate] church attendance.

Special Thanks to Lyn (Homeschool Mama) who retrieved my post when it got lost.

 

Andrew

Andrew Jones has been blogging since 1997. He is based in San Francisco with his two daughters but also travels the globe to find compelling stories of early stage entrepreneurs changing their world. Sometimes he talks in the third person. Sometimes he even talks to himself and has been heard uttering the name "Precious" :-)

80 Comments

  • Interesting. I look forward to your follow-up posts with 2 parts enthusiasm and 2 parts skepticism.
    I love that people are doing more holistic kingdom activities, but am concerned about: 1) sustainability (David Bosch uses a great phrase “spirituality of the long haul”); 2) neglecting proclamation of the good news in word as well as deed; 3) do these actions really lead to transformation?
    Keep up the good work!

  • Hi Michael. I am always a little skeptical also, and maybe that is good.
    Regarding sustainability, the Shouwang church in Beijing is a young [but traditional] church plant among urban professionals that lost the $4 million they invested in their worship facility a year ago and has lost most of their people in their fight for a traditional worship service.
    On the other hand, the new Christian communities based around shared business and missional enterpreneurship in China I just described are growing and multiplying.
    Which model is more ‘sustainable’?
    As for proclamation of the good news, I would not assume that lack of a Sunday worship service means these young people are not sharing the gospel with their friends. If anything, they have more meaningful contact with unbelievers and more redemptive relationships with those outside the Christian ghetto because their energies are not being sapped through highly programmed Christian activities.
    And for transformation – the shift away from ‘church-planting-only’ towards city-wide impact through the Christ-community means that people are redefining “transformation” and widening the playing field. This is part of the rationale behind the “Transformational INdex” we are helping to develop that will measure impact using 4 bottom lines – spiritual, economic, social and environmental. Kingdom transformation has traditionally affected all 4 areas and there is no good reason to not broaden the ministry measure criteria to where it has been in the past and where it should be in today’s world.
    thanks for you feedback.

  • This is more observation than advocacy. But there are many in USA that are thinking this way. A year ago we drove from coast to coast and saw quite a few good examples of creative Christian communities who don’t have a Sunday service, but not as many as in Europe or Asia.
    North America is in a strangely unique situation of having very little religious persecution, lots of church funding without a high demand for thrifty and economical ministry expenditure, a measurement criteria for ministry that is more nostalgic than transformational, and an existing pool of de-churched ex-churchgoers and potential church-swappers that can feasibly support even the weakest church planting strategy.
    which means existing church planting will probably continue as-is, especially with highly motivational cp conferences and pep-talk cp books.
    but for those who choose to move out of the suburbs and into the margins of American cities to start Christian communities among the growing urban poor, then a different path will emerge and is already emerging – involving a different way of thinking about ecclesia and establishing rhythms of ministry and life.
    It will also be different for Americans who want to start communities overseas and discover that what works in Atlanta will not work in Istanbul.

  • Well said.
    And this explains the gut feeling I have always had a against the church planting movement. In my experience, people have no use for a club on Sunday. They long for connection with others and to change/engage the world.

  • it also explains why so many young people are sleeping in on Sunday but starting incredible ministries and monasteries that lack a sunday service but overcompensate with deep and meaningful rituals.
    the ministry i mentioned today in my post “Prophets of the New Order” http://tallskinnykiwi.typepad.com/tallskinnykiwi/2012/01/prophets-of-the-new-order.html
    glorify God by sleeping in on Sunday and NOT attending church – which may cause some people to get upset – until they find out that this community actually meets 3x a day for liturgical worship in their chapel.
    I know this because I am joining those services and led this afternoon’s communion service.
    . . . . looking forward to Sunday sleep in . . .

  • There is no doubt that there is some fantastic, highly pragmatic and incarnational stuff going on around the world that we can learn a great deal from. Speaking as someone who gave up a promising career to plant a new church I can tell you it’s an exciting time to step out in faith and obedience to God.
    About the Sunday thing. You are probably right. Its about time we did away with the old outdated and irrelevant idea that we should keep one day a week that’s holy to the Lord. Who’s silly idea was that anyway? Everybody knows that there is nothing God likes more than elaborate rituals and extravagant personal sacrifices. Right?

  • Perhaps the word ‘church’ is a little tricksy. Different people mean different things when they use it and understand different things when they hear it.
    I don’t think anyone is suggesting we shouldn’t gather in groups, read the Bible, pray together etc. But it’s also good to eat together, cry together, love the neighbours together.
    Church planting will not stop. But it may be informal and as hoc instead of planned and backed by an organisation.
    Maybe we need to expand our view of what church is. Could it include three friends hanging out together doing the things listed above? Yes it could!
    If others decide to follow Jesus through seeing and hearing what that group of three is experiencing and another tiny little group starts as a result; could we call it church planting? Yes, I think so.

  • Andrew,
    I am thinking how often our praxis is leading us to create “theological paradigm” and if really our “theological paradigm” is making us to realy live it in the the praxis.
    Or even three steps. Change of climat / cultural, political,technological, social / leading us to change of praxis and then us creating suprisingly clear “new” theological paradigm. / Sorry for my English

  • Wondered if you could please e-mail some of these “innovative Christian Communities where Sunday service is not in their portfolio”. Loved your blog. I have felt for sometime now traditional church is just over.

  • Hi Andrew,
    I read the title and wanted to dive in and defend the intentionality and virtue of church planting – this fish swallowed the hook.
    Reading on I see the tricksy phrase ‘church planting’ is being aligned with establishing a church defined as and by worship events, Sundays, services, usually public, in a ‘church’ building and so on…
    In the church planting and conversations I know best in Incarnate Network which is mainly Baptist and mainly UK in context, the meaning of that tricksy phrase has markedly moved on to it being increasingly linked with understandings of joining in with God’s mission, incarnation, discipleship, community organising and transformation, etc… Though as you’d expect, the practice is lagging behind the thinking…
    But am I working too hard to redeem the phase ‘church planting’? I’ve still half a mind to jettison it for other language, and in that case would I’d need to drop the word ‘church’ with all it’s baggage. When I was involved in planting ‘Church from Scratch’ I often wonder if it would have given more freedom if the bunch of us who were it at the time had not used the word ‘church’ in the name, but I can’t see us renaming ourselves now, it’s our name afterall…

  • I resonate with your thoughts, but only if I interpret your use of the word “church” to mean institutional Sunday worship services. If we can see that these other meetings and communities that you refer to are actually “ekklesia” we will see that the church in these situations is functioning as is scripturally should. Jesus said that He would build His church and He is still doing it. Sad thing is that so many of the visible institutions really aren’t His, nor are they permitting Him to do the building.
    Thanks for an excellent, thought-provoking article.

  • As a missionary in Africa, I have long taught that we must do church planting with the idea that we plant a ‘group” which is trained to lead itself without a fulltime paid pastor, uses no established building unless they need or want one themselves (we don’t decide this for them and they pay for it),and is Biblically based… not taught to use someone’s best selling book. Reproducibilty… meaning they can reproduce a Gospel presence in another area without our financial resources, is hugely important. However, I feel that is it very important that we teach/train others in how to study God’s Word using simple methods and how to praise and thank Him for his blessings. All of this is done on their economy….their ability and with their types of resources.
    I like what you have stated but I feel that we can not ignore worship of God. I don’t think that is what you mean but in stating that people were not starting worship services,it makes it appear that they were not worshipping God. As believers, I am sure they are worshipping God within their personal lives and community.

  • Excellent post – with a group of friends we’re exploring what it means to follow Jesus and bring about communal change here in a little part of Exeter, UK. We’ve felt strongly that we’re not supposed to do church, as there’s plenty of that of all kinds of flavours, but to serve our community and see what happens as a result of that.
    Thanks, TSK.

  • I guess I wonder if there is some element of church planting that still needs to exist. Sure, it may not as institutionalized as having buildings, set meeting times, and government registration. But some kind of regular getting together of believers for mutual sharing, encouraging, prayer, and staying grounded in the Scriptures still seems necessary.
    Do you have the “Transformational INdex” written up somewhere? I’m currently doing research on an evangelical theology of urban transformation, I’d love to see what you have been working on.

  • Thank you, Andrew. This was excellent. As an organic house church practitioner I find myself having to continually correct myself of bad habits and say, “No, we need to do this differently”. Keep up the good work and words.

  • Thanks everyone
    Its morning now in New Zealand and I just read all your comments.
    Yep the word “church” is tricksy so i apologize for any confusion, but i am using it here to refer to the typical worship service attractional strategy that most church planters employ to start and grow their church.
    Clint, you said, “I like what you have stated but I feel that we can not ignore worship of God.”
    Agreed
    The Christian community/monastery I am staying at is a good example. They have about 8 communities and one monastery but there is no Sunday church service. Everyone sleeps in on Sunday to the glory of God. But that doesn’t meant they do not worship. In fact, they host 3 chapel services a day and are working through the Anglican liturgy
    I just blogged about them here http://tallskinnykiwi.typepad.com/tallskinnykiwi/2012/01/prophets-of-the-new-order.html

  • Michael, in some cases there is more meeting during the week than the tradition model of Sunday only. Like where we are staying, for example, at the contemporary monastery where we meet 3x a day for chapel service. [more below]
    TI is still in progress.

  • Hi
    This is a reminder that Church plnating should never be an end in itself, and the motivations must be higher and greater than church growth. Church planting however is ONE essential strategy in the missional activity of God but not the only one. Church growth theory has strengths and weaknesses and of course the current focus on missional church is a helpful wake up caall to the Missio Dei. However what is overlooked here is the direct link between missioanl work and the forming subsequentially of relationships leading to community. The current emphasis on FEOC is of course on doing mission in new ays and in new palces among new cultures. All this is good, but of this is done a missional community will always form if mission is truly relational and incarnational. The motivation must be God glorfying, the work kingdom oriented, and the focus Christ centred. The aim is not to start churches for the sake of it, or even for growth, but to recogonise that when the Gospel is lived and shared authentically new communites often form. Church planting at best recogonises this and holds true that all missional work must at least be intentional (planting) and almost invariably form a community (church). So long as it has a solid biblical and theological basis and motivation we should always consider church planting as one vital expression of the Great Commission.

  • Well said, Trevor. Always two there are [Yoda voice}: the missional work and the community.
    The differences I see is this
    1. some (traditional cp thinkers) see church planting as a goal but others see it as a natural outcome.
    2. some place church planting in the beginning of the strategy and involving members in mission as an eventual reality while others (next gen) see involving everyone in God’s mission as a primary step and the forming of a regular worship event as something that eventuates in the right time.
    and when that time comes, they may not chose a sunday worship service because it was never part of the initial strategy to gain members – rather, it might be a series of community building/worshipping events during the week, bible studies, prayer times, etc but all are geared for the maturity of the team rather than attracting new members.

  • I want to add one more observation. Elohim is nothing if not an original thinker – always making things new.
    The most important thing is not whether we agree about what church is or should be, or about how new groups of disciples are planted, how we worship, or any of that practical stuff.
    Instead it’s whether we are living the way Jesus lived. He always listened to the Father and watched what he did. He said only what he heard his Father say, he only did what he saw the Father do.
    We will do well if we follow the Master’s example in this. Watch, listen, and obey. Isn’t that why the Spirit of Christ has come to live in our hearts?
    There will be many different expressions of church/ekklesia as he leads and guides.
    We should not be afraid of the differences, we should be afraid of our propensity to each say our way is right and the others somehow not quite right.
    Not only should we expect variety in obedience, we are called to be one body despite the variety. Let’s celebrate the differences!
    (This might be of interest – http://jesus.scilla.org.uk/2011/11/valley-of-dry-bones-index.html )

  • Great post Andrew. The reality that conventional church planting is becoming increasingly difficult to pull off is a growing concern among many denominational leaders. Many are searching for answers to this dilemma. Your post answers some of their questions.

  • Great stuff here, and from my conversations with youth around the US, they would be more open to this because it sort of disconnects from the stuff they dislike about church and concentrates on the stuff that makes more sense to them.

  • As the admin of the Making DIsciples facebook page, we deal with this issue time and again. Invariably losing members each time. A few days ago I tweeted, “Saying you’re going to plant a church is like saying you’re going to plant a Volkswagon. It has not biblical significance.” There was, of course, mixed reactions to the phrase.
    I think though, that your trend analysis may be accurate and certainly something for anyone with a desire to grow the church should consider.

  • Yes Paul planted churches but before we put a white gotee on Paul’s face and Wagnerize the Book of Acts, lets remember that Paul was in the Synagogues to preach the good news of Jesus, not to head-hunt a bass guitarist for his big Welcome Service launch.

  • I like this comment. the aim is the discipling of the nations/planting the kingdom among lost and broken communities, ‘kingdom communities’ follow the former if its relational and incarnational. Like a ship which leaves a wake.
    That has been my experience in mission the organic way over the past 5 years (after 38 years of often frustrating denominational pastoring)…

  • Monasteries…liturgical…rituals 3 times a day. No wonder you disdain church planting…you’re a Catholic monk.

  • . . . . a Baptist monk, perhaps.
    but Pablo, no one is DISDAINING anything. Please hear what I am saying without the KNEE-JERK . ..
    I am observing that young people are starting a different kind of Kingdom ecosystem that does not always include and certainly does not feature in its front line of attack, a Sunday morning worship service, such as has characterized church planting movement since the early nineties.
    Young people all over are discovering that church is bigger than a hymn-and-sermon sandwich.

  • David, [and Pablo – hi again] its funny you should mention the Sabbath because the ministry i have just spent 2 weeks with [about 8 urban communities and a rural contemporary monastery] have a strong commitment to Sabbath. What they do is actually stop their 3x a day prayers and Bible readings and communion and reduce all the way to a single communion at a separate time.
    yes they sleep in but not because they are lazy. They take the Sabbath seriously.
    How about your church plant. What Sabbath traditions do you promote?

  • Hi anyone in the Wairarapa reading this?
    Would like to get together for cheese, wine and roast lamb and ferment these ideas.
    tony at ai net nz

  • yum. love to come. we don’t really have a car yet – having just arrived back in NZ from . . . like 16 years overseas . . . but in the near future yeah for sure
    or come and visit us here. i just sent you an email with details.

  • Thanks for this big yin! Long time no see. Best wishes from Scotland (well, now Aussie for a while!). Great debate going on, so thanks for “getting that party started”! I’ve been one of the prime movers in getting the fresh expression “mission shaped ministry” course into Scotland, and it’s one of the best things we’ve done in recent years (not that I’m biassed!) – offers training for those thinking about new church, or revitalising traditional church. But do agree that church planting, like anything else, can take you down so many “blind alleys”. And we’ve got “church planting freaks” in UK, Aussie, States, elsewhere, so I suppose it’s keeping some kind of focus. And it does depend on context Andrew. We have (had) such a strong tradition of “hymn-sandwich” in Scotland (for good reasons – we were all Christian!) that we need the new breath of pioneering mission and new models of church!
    But we are in the world, and therefore need to engage with the world – business, banking, prostitution, abuse, homelessness …. So, love the idea of kingdom businesses, etc.. Trsvel well, and keep us posted! David (Scot in Oz!)

  • Thanks David. I have watched the Scotland scene for a decade now and its great what you managed to accomplish there. Hurry up back to NZ. Australia is far too HOT for your white Scottish skin.

  • Andrew – My observation since the US financial crash (Dec. 2008) – the Christian conference carnival ended (your apt prediction) and with this went a major form of income for many church plants who relied on their leader to hawk their wares to raise the funds to support the ministry. If one wishes to play in the more reformed evangelical pools, there’s still funding available (e.g., the Southern Baptists are planting about 50 more churches in NYC http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/26/nyregion/southern-baptists-plan-new-churches-in-new-york-area.html).
    But for those looking for more missional outreaches to those on the fringes, it’s clear other ways will have to be found to continue one’s work similar to the models one finds outside the states.

  • Yep – these are the kind of communities I keep finding in my travels – not to mention many “emerging” type ministries that aren’t part of the “emergent conversation.”

  • Man, more food for thought. Here we are in a smallish town in eastern Quebec contemplating our fellowship options. Checked out a few of the existing local churches, but they just feel dead and culturally irrelevant. Then we started exploring the idea of trying to start a house church… but how to even meet people that would be interested in that is anyones guess. We are meeting lots of people, but “church” is that last thing on their mind.
    Now you have got me churning on the notion that maybe we need to be thinking along completely different lines. It is very clear to us that God has us here for a purpose, we just have to figure out what he has in mind…

  • Maybe you should call what you’re against “worship service planting” instead of church planting. The ministry communities you’re advocating are the Church, after all.

  • While reading through this blog entry, I couldn’t help but think what a good observation was just killed in corporate-sounding buzz phrases that make it sound like the church really is nothing more than a business venture. Phrases like:
    “…others are focusing on launching more sustainable, more holistic, more measurably transformational Kingdom solutions.”
    “ministry portfolio”
    “mademore [sic] sustainable mission practices like micro-businesses and social enterprises”
    The author highlighting the problems uses terminology that makes the church look more like an investment strategy than a Biblical calling. This is a proposal to Wall Street, not God. He doesn’t seem to see the irony behind the observation, “The challenge for new members to commit to a church meeting rather than be involved in Kingdom mission activities in the world can often lead to a

      consumer

    mindset among new members.”

  • Good post, lots of good responses, thanks folks for this…its got me thinking about the differences between planting and finding- asking God to bless my decision vs seeking to join in with what God’s already doing… As an activist i find the former much easier, but my feeling and increasingly my experience tells me the latter is what i need to do.

  • Thanks for the post. There’s plenty in there that resonates with me as as pioneer minister in the UK.
    It is true that taking a long time doing the ‘kingdom’ stuff is important, setting down roots, building and serving the community. We have not started a worship service yet as whatever we would have started would have reflected the preferences of the Christians in the Core Leadership Team rather than whatever might have been most appropriate for the wider community. However at some point I envsiage that something approaching ‘church’ will have to start. This comes down to a couple of reasons, some of which are down to the language and definitions that we use:
    1. I am busy building relationships, serving people in my community, and getting into all sorts of interesting conversations. There are are a small group of people who are interested in taking the next baby step. I am very conscious that the next step is not to usher them into a worship service and get a ‘bum on a seat’ but in taking them on a journey of discipleship. At some point when, by the grace of God, they are ready to consciously follow God, they will need a regular way of expressing their worship. What form this will take or when, I do not yet know, but I’m sure it will be required to maintain the onward growth.
    2. Therefore (a definition) if you define church as a community who are journeying toward Christ and are reading the scriptures, praying, and celebrating the sacraments (in whatever form), at some point a group that is doing that which has come out of pioneer initiatives will become ‘church’. As a matter of definitions, is this not planting church from seed (instead of by graft)? By this definition I would argue that your example in Indonesia has actually planted churches, just not on Sunday or in conventional form.
    3. You mentioned that some pioneers were ‘focussing on a wider range of transforming Kingdom activities’ and ‘delaying the worship indefinitely’. This is great, but it all depends again on what the pioneer means by this. Some churches have, for years, been positively and actively engaged in the communities and have done great things, but have neglected to “speak of the reason for the hope that they have” (1 Peter 3:15) and have failed to give adequate opportunities for people to explore the substance of the Christian faith. Transformational Kingdom Activities must have both aspects in them
    4. Finally, models of church planting depend entirely on the context you are in. The UK is currently in post-Christendom, which means that traditional evangelistic programmes will not be as effective, as you rightly pointed out. However there are still segments of society where a traditional church-planting model is effective. HTB in London has planted over 20 churches around London in the last 15 years. Each time they send a pastor and a group of 50 people. It is undeniable that people still become Christians this way and that the new churches have a positive impact on the surrounding community. This method certainly wouldn’t work in my context but it seems to be working among a section of the population there. They will still need pioneering initiatives to go alongside those planted churches and reach sections of society that their traditional model is not reaching.
    Thanks again for a thought-provoking post

  • Thanks Marcus. Good observation. I am using normal, profane, “street” language from the market and my world to describe what I see in the church movements. Whether or not that is wrong, or is similar/disimilar to the agricultural/business language Jesus used to describe the Kingdom of God, is for you to judge.

  • thanks for these very helpful thoughts. i’m passionate about “church” in it’s sense of like minded people getting together for a common purpose and am sad about the autocratic model that has been propogated in the name of christianity. we live in france and have been “church planting” here. i feel we need a whole new vocabulary because any word with a latin or greek origin has been eploited and deformed (well, exagerating a little)and feel that Christ has been left out of christianity.
    just to add my little contribution – i’m passionate about “congregation” sized groups up to 50 or 100 – big enough to have some corporate identity, small enough to know just about everyone, small enough to be able to identify and welcome visitors; small enough for leaders to learn to lead, big enough for them to have something to lead. i don’t think relacing wrong structure with NO structure is necessarily helpful.
    i’m passionate about those groups being able to reproduce themselves. i am very blessed reading about the methodist revival in britain and the good mix they had of small group, the chapel sized group (tho having to own a building can become a problem) plus the central hall regional identity so believers can see themselves as part of something bigger.
    i love the fact that they said no one is too poor or inferior to be able to learn to read the bible for themselves and then share it with others.
    i’ve only just found this blog and i look forward to reading more in the future. thank you.

  • pls help us for bangladesh church planting work
    Sub: Application for church planting fund for Bangladesh ministry.
    Dear Sir,
    With due respectfully to state that Native Evangelical Church have been doing the Ministry in Bangladesh among the majority groups. God has given the new vision to plant churches in rural and urban both. We prayed for the target areas where Jessore, Narial, Tala. Monirampur, Kishobpur, and Magura. and also the North part of Bangladesh. By faith, I sent this project to you for the partnership and financial support , so that we may work together to reach the M groups and plant churches many places. In the same way, community Development work also will be together for our needy and poorest and share the gospel with them.
    Finally May I request you please pray for this and help us the needs for our ministry. Your partnership support will encourage us to work hard for the gospel. Let us know and join with us.
    Sincerely
    Yours faithfully
    Rev. Ishan Biswas
    Chairman and Founder
    Native Evangelical Church
    Bangladesh

  • We’ve been out of the mainstream and burbs for over 10 years…Dealing with immigrant culture, urban poor and 3rd generation unchurched. I see the value in these activities above, but would still believe at some point their needs to be a Church (this is a theological conviction as well as a practical one…). Neil Cole said “Evangelism is the most effective means of planting a church under the sun” which we agree with…and we don’t believe the “gathering” is our front door, but I hope that we don’t see a return to churches outsourcing the Mission to the para-church either, but rather that church members actually live like Christ followers and neighbor their neighbors to Jesus.

  • These efforts aren’t replacing wrong structure with “NO structure” – many of them are more intricately structured than a traditional church plant.
    Really it’s a shift in thinking from a static, historical idea of structure, to embracing structures that are designed to accomodate the current needs and cultural context.
    A book that might be helpful if you’re trying to wrap your mind around alternative structures (viral and permission-giving structures – different to hierarchical structures) would be “The Starfish and the Spider”
    Blessings on your efforts in France!

  • Thanks Noah. sorry i missed you in Chrstchurch
    also on the structure thing, i have observed that many traditional churches are heavily structured on sunday morning but light structured in their weekly ministries
    whereas many of the new movements are light on structure on their ministry meetings/bible studies/prayer gatherings but heavy on structure on their outreach/social enterprises, and microbusinesses which are full on businesses and legal structures in every sense of the word.
    i wonder if the Apostle Paul’s tentmaking business was more structured than the church ministries he was involved in.
    Liz, every blessing in France. They need you there.

  • Andrew,
    Thanks for this thoughtful article. As others have said, we realize you are probably being provocative, but it seems to me you are saying “don’t plant the wrong kind of church that is planter-centric and puts most of its energy toward a once a week consumer meeting.”
    We need to plant churches mainly for those beyond the gospel, BUT we need to plant the right kind of churches.
    We are helping people throughout Asia that are involved in what some have called church planting movements – but it is probably better to call it gospel planting movements. We are working in areas mainly unreached with the gospel and look for people of peace and lead them in a process of discovering who God is and how to love and obey him. Our goal is for them to be lead by the Holy Spirit not by an outsider. To find their answers in Scripture and figure out how that works in their context and culture rather than adopting foreign Christian culture.
    These new churches are far more the church than most “institutions” with that name (shouldn’t we call some of our own established groups clubs and not churches?). They meet mainly in homes and often endure great persecution. They are typically an existing family/group that become disciples together. They are deeply involved in loving others because they don’t realize that Jesus wasn’t being literal when he said to heal the sick and cast out demons and raise the dead and tell them the kingdom of God is near. They take seriously the command to love their neighbor so they share food and educate children and teach job skills and rescue orphans and on and on. They are not perfect but they are committed and exciting and doing their flawed best to become loving disciples.

  • I moved to what is now South Sudan five years ago from the USA. #7 all the way is where we are shifting into for 2012 and linking it up with community transformation and social entrepreneurship. Thank you for the confirmation!

  • Fully, wholeheartedly agree with this post. And even in the UK where we have freedom and access to all sorts of ‘church professionalism’, I feel like it’s important for Christians to learn how to do simple church without the reliance on those things. You never know when either could be reduced or taken away.

  • Well-stated, Andrew.
    This is an important post…one that I hope is well-read among believers around the world (but especially here in the USA).
    My husband worked as a pastor for six years, but decided to step away last year. It’s been freeing…to learn…to reflect…to read…to pray…to live outside of the confines of a salaried position, a building, and so many programs.

  • Poor logic Meets Weak Ecclesiology
    I find this post by Mr. Jones provocative, but not for any constructive reasons. The article is so poorly argued and referenced, it begs a response. Some things are not right, others are not even wrong. The author builds upon a wholly unbiblical ecclesiology, exuding a pragmatism that only Charles Peirce could fully appreciate. In fact, its only redeeming feature is that serves as a model for where poor logic and weak ecclesiology can lead.
    The pattern of his argument bears remarkable similarity to the dysteleological argument (argument from poor design) against a creator God. It is patterned like this:
    If A, then B
    Not B
    Therefore, not A
    Atheist and agnostics apply this modus tollens to undermine the teaching of scripture related to an all-powerful God who created all things. It goes like this:
    A perfect and all-powerful God would only create things that are perfect.
    There are many things in our world that are not perfect.
    Therefore, either God did not create them or he is not perfect.
    Mr. Jones has applied this same faulty logic to undermine the teaching of scripture related to Christ’s Bride for which he died. It goes like this:
    God desires us to only engage in kingdom activity that draws lost people and has eternal impact.
    The church has often been ineffective and focused on the wrong things.
    Therefore, the church can’t be the vehicle and living bride of Christ by which God has chosen to redeem His people.
    Whenever we relegate the living bride of Christ to an optional contextual modality we circumvent God’s design and intent and render impotent the fuller context of the Gospel which serves to equip the saints to full maturity.
    There, I feel better. ☺
    Jeff Weber, Pastor
    The Sojourn Community
    Greensboro, NC

  • Well the Bible sort of defines what is and is not a church, so three friends deciding to meet together would probably not meet the minimum criteria of a plurality of elders, a body large enough that “to each one is given a manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Cor 12:7) would make any sense, a diversity of giftedness and perspective and the meaningful ability to be in the world but not of it.
    Of course the Bible never says how many people you need to be in a church but if you start with a plurality of elders and a number of non-member elders greater than the number of elders then you’d end up with 5 people at least.
    The thread is helpful to me in that it does make me think about what is actually Scriptural and what is cultural and I think most Americans who look hard would conclude that the majority of what we do is cultural.

  • Thank you, I have to finish for writing for my blog tonight but was so stuck on this I was afraid I that I needed to take the time to address this post. But you did it so adequately that all that is needed of me is to add my amen. Amen.
    Ignore those who would detract from your message with passive aggressive sarcasm.

  • Oopps. Excuse that first response.
    Jeff, I notice that your church has a church planting project in Greensboro. It might be a highly pragmatic question but I would be interested to know how much money you invest in each one (buildings/salary/etc) and to what extent is the Sunday worship service a key part of your strategy.
    And if a strong part, would that be a good model for church planting overseas considering most countries do not have a church attending culture? What would change?

  • Actually, the contemporary monastery I referred to in these comments, the one WITHOUT any Sunday worship services, the one I am writing from right now, is actually a Church of England ministry. Bishop Tom was here this week.
    So its not a case of either/or. But thanks for the links.

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