Church Planting, Redefined

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One of the things that we’ve learned over the past ten years has been that if you set out to plant a church, you may attract a lot of people, Christians may flock to what you’re doing, but you won’t necessarily make disciples.

On the flip side, if you set out to make disciples of Jesus, you will inevitably wind up with a church. I like to say it like this: Church planting is best understood as a discipleship process that leaves a church in its wake.

This is a shift from what is commonly done. Most church plants start with a core team that is selected from an existing church. The core team leaves the existing church, begins meeting in another location, and hope that unbelievers show up at the new location. This is usually accompanied by some amount of outreach to get new people to join the church.

In this model, significant amounts of time and energy are focused on creating a meeting that attracts people. And while this is usually not the intent, the kind of people that this new church attracts are often very similar to the people who start the church: Middle class, somewhat moral people. And many times this ends up being people who are dissatisfied with a previous church and are already believers.  Church planting was supposed to be “the best methodology of evangelism under the sun,” but when we primarily engage already saved believers with our methods, we give away our opportunity to be effective in reaching people for Jesus.

But church planting can be something different.

It can look more like baptizing new believers than preparing sermons.

It can be more like loving on the broken than setting up tables.

It can be meeting with newly baptized believers and teaching them the Bible than writing a doctrinal statement.

It can be teaching other believers how to share the Gospel and endure hardship instead of working on your church’s website.

It’s effective because it’s not building the church programs and expecting disciples to get made, but building disciples and expecting the church to be born.

So instead of starting a meeting with existing believers, gather two or three existing believers who are hungry to reach the lost with the love of Jesus.  Spend time with these believers talking to lost people and engaging them with the gospel. As they come to Christ, teach them to follow Jesus and obey His commands. Baptize them. Help them get into the word. Teach them to share the love of Jesus.

Eventually you will come to the command to gather with other believers and encourage each other. But prior to that, you and your small group will have practiced this several times over in trying to be obedient to the other commands.

And as two or three people come to Jesus from the lost and begin to become disciples, you will begin to see a functioning church emerge that isn’t built on meetings but is built on following Jesus and interconnected relationships.  The reward is not only a church, but a church made up entirely of people who never knew Jesus prior to their involvement.

So make disciples and churches will emerge.  As churches emerge men and women will be sent out to preach the Gospel and make more disciples. The point is that discipleship continues to go out from where you are and touches people who have not yet given their lives to Christ.  It’s a “go-ing gospel” that touches people outside the boundaries of the church.

Most importantly, when we teach people to obey Christ, it’s the seedbed for a movement that can spread far beyond you and I and touch the ends of the earth.

And that my friends, is what we really wanted from church planting, anyways, right?

Photo Credit: IMG_0507_HDR by Mars Hill Church Seattle

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About traviskolder

Travis Kolder is a follower of Jesus, a husband, a father of five, an organic church planter, and a writer. He lives in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where he serves as part of the Cedar Rapids House Church Network.

3 responses to “Church Planting, Redefined”

  1. gunnarlarmstrong says :

    Good article. I appreciate your heart for reaching out to the lost. I think most of us have forgotten that (major) part of our calling.

    I think it is so true that most church growth today is made up of churches with better programs drawing existing Christians from churches with less exciting programs. And, I agree that most church plants really are aimed at drawing other Christians who maybe are dissatisfied with their current church.

    I think that most house churches are, in some ways, similar to church plants. In my experience, most house church growth seems to come from people who are frustrated with the more traditional church. However, I think it that when a house church draws people from a more traditional church it is a different situation than when a church plant draws people from already established churches. People come to house church seeking not a new “program”, but the promise of church based on relationship rather than program.

    I wanted to make a couple other observations too, however. I think that the standard middle-class church plant is exactly what you describe. But I think that you will agree that there are “traditional-type” church plants that do go down to where the lost are and seek to draw them — especially in the inner cities. And I think those types of church plants — although they keep the traditional church structure, do better at relationship — because they tend to be small and tend to focus on the people — especially if they don’t have the money for “programs”.

    The other thought I wanted to offer is that I don’t really believe in “church planting”. I believe in multiplication. My heart is not to go out and start a church among the lost. It is my desire (I don’t know that I have been very successful) is to reach out to the lost through relationships through the house church (remember the church is a group of people, not a meeting), and then drawing them into the house church and discipling them there once they have believed. As the house church grows with new believers, hopefully, it will split and continue the process of discipleship, growth and multiplication. I tend to feel that if the lost that we are reaching out to are too far away to be drawn into our house church, then we should be sending teams out to live among them and to be a church there, and then start the process over again. (Of course, what I just described is probably just a different way of saying what you were expressing).

    Gunnar

    • traviskolder says :

      Gunnar

      I agree with just about everything you’ve written here. It’s generous and thoughtful.

      I had to smile because throughout your whole last paragraph, I kept thinking that what you were describing is in many ways the kind of church planting I was describing…and then you said the exact same thing. 🙂

      I think our intent here is to practice both kinds of church planting…multiplication and sending. I think there is tremendous opportunity for forming house churches around men and women of peace who are open to the Gospel and bring others to their homes to hear it. But I realize there are also some people who don’t have this sphere of influence and they need to be adopted into a spiritual family as well. Every situation is a little different and will require a different type of church planting.

      But let’s be honest, Kingdom growth will require new churches (whether through multiplication or sending) or they will cease to be house churches. So no matter our means for getting there, we need to.

      I’ll be praying for you, brother, that Jesus helps you see the desire you have to touch the lost.

      • gunnarlarmstrong says :

        Travis:

        Thanks for the prayers. I do appreciate that. It is very much in my heart to reach out to the lost, but sometimes the Lord puts you in a place where you are growing and being stretched rather than being “active”. I think I have needed a lot of time in the growing and stretching phase. So I will appreciate your prayers. You said, “ Every situation is a little different and will require a different type of church planting..” I am sure that you are correct.. I tend to have my ideas and want to think I have it figured out, but I think god is infinitely creative in the ways he uses to reach people.

        And I agree totally with what you said at the end about needing new churches — whether they are “planted” or the results of “multiplication”. The natural tendency is to want to grow large — to be “successful” as a church. I find I have this constant desire to see my house church “grow”, and then I remember, that we are not about growth in numbers — we are not trying to get a big program — we are seeking growth in Jesus — and that works best in smaller groups where real discipleship can occur.

        Gunnar

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