(Posted at LeaderWorks too.)
Three decades ago, church planting was hailed as the single most effective form of evangelism. The expert in this field was Dr. C. Peter Wagner of Fuller. His statement is legendary: “Planting new churches is the most effective evangelistic methodology known under heaven.”
There are LOTS of other evangelistic methods for reaching non-believing people: outreach programs, visitation campaign, public crusades, radio/TV, and local training programs. But it was said, church planting trumped them all. Again, under heaven, it was said that nothing was as fruitful as a garden variety “ecclesia plantabunt”, a church plant.
Why? Because for many people, a simple church plant is a naturally “pure” church. It has no program, building, business, or busyness. It is a community of believers like Acts 2:42 before church programming spreads like vines around it; where keeping the main thing the main thing is easy because it is the ONLY thing.
It is ‘Mere Church’.
- It focuses on the core essentials of the faith because it has so few resources.
- It shows to an unbelieving world that there are people who still believe in something spiritual.
- It activates people in the pews who might otherwise be ‘pew potatoes’; they invite their friends.
- It forces believers in the church to examine their beliefs and consider the claims of the Christian faith.
- It presents the Gospel to unbelievers in a ‘stripped down’, authentic way. The Faith: unplugged.
- It mobilizes the new church to go where the people are.
- It demands clarity about the actual message of the Gospel: Cross and Grace.
- It stays away from church/denominational issues (because few people care).
- It proves Paul’s Body of Christ metaphor. The church needs everyone for everything!
- It demonstrates the reality of God’s provision to truly provide in difficult circumstances.
- It renews believers when they see others coming to faith in Jesus.
The Church Plant is an amazing thing! But it is not easy to plant a church. Not at all.
Paul, the first to describe a church as something “planted”, came to Corinth and began to preach where he could, contend for the faith, demonstrate the power of the Gospel, and collect those in the city who believed. A church emerged. He stayed there 18 months. Later he wrote, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.” (1 Corinthians 3:6) Simple?
Caveat emptor! Buyer beware! It isn’t as easy as it might seem. Planting…and watering…and then waiting for God to bring growth is the quick version. Paul’s famous metaphor (planting) requires some more scrutiny. There were places where he planted, and nothing grew!
For example, when Paul came to Corinth, it was right after his not-so-successful venture in Athens. (Acts 17) He had been earnest among the Athenians. He was bold. He met the people ‘where they were’, both figuratively and literally. He contextualized beautifully. He pulled no punches. He preached. He sowed the seed. He planted the faith. He gave testimony.
But Athens was rocky. Some listeners took notice. (Acts 17:33) But most people did not care. They ridiculed Paul; some laughed him out of town. No church plant sprouted in Athens. None.
In Corinth, it was a different matter.
And I, when I came to you, brothers…I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. (1 Corinthians 2:1-5 ESV)
Athen’s was rocky. Corinth was ready.
And work that Paul did in both Athen and Corinth was the same work. It was the task of proclamation and demonstration. It was the hard labor of apologetics and community engagement. In one place it didn’t take hold; in another it did.
This shows that the real work church planting is not planting, but sowing. It brings to life Jesus’ Parable of the Sower (Mark 4); namely, that some seeds will fall on rocks, thorns, and briars and that’s about it for that. But some will make it to fertile ground and yield a harvest that is worth the entire effort.
So we should celebrate The Church Plant!
It is one of the rarest and yet most natural occurrences in the church today. I have been in one for 31 years. As I prepare to leave Christ Church, Plano I celebrate the early members who let the seed of the Word fall upon them and take root. I commemorate the six churches we have planted from Christ Church. I honor the staff and clergy and missionaries that have been trained and sent to do their work, some to plant churches.
I celebrate my wife who has endured the life of a Planter/Rector for 31 years.
And I honor, most of all, the power of the Holy Spirit to take the meager preaching and plans of a manifest sinner like me, and turn them into seed; to cause growth and life to emerge and sustain itself for 31 years in this Church Plant.
(I hope to see many church planters in Denver next month and the ACNA Conference, Always-Forward.)