Church Planting - The Most Successful Form of Church Growth
When I ask, "What is the fruit of the apple tree?" many people look at me as if to say, What a dumb questionapple trees produce apples. But this is an incomplete answer. The apple is a package of seeds. Within each apple are seeds designed to produce more apple trees. The body of Christ is like the apple treeproducing individual disciples and more congregations.1
Fruitful churches produce more and better disciples. Like the apple tree, every church contains seeds that can produce more churches. Healthy churches multiply churches.
The relationship between gospel proclamation and church planting is so intimate it cannot be divorced without doing violence to the mission of the church. The primary mission of the church is to proclaim the gospel and gather believers into local churches where they can be strengthened in their faith and made effective in service. God has placed within all churches the potential to grow and reproduce. In fact, church planting is the most effective means of evangelism and church growth.
WHY PLANT NEW CHURCHES?
New Churches Reach More People
Would you rather have 1 church of 1,000 or 10 churches of 100? Which will reach more people for Christ? Christian Schwarz surveyed over 1,000 churches from 32 countries and 6 continents. He discovered that small churches (averaging 51 in attendance) were 16 times more effective in winning new converts to Christ than megachurches.2
Having more entry points into the kingdom of God increases the possibility of people coming to faith in Christ. Ron Gladden, a church-planting leader, asks: "If your city had only one restaurant, would more people eat out?" The answer is obvious. More restaurants increase the possibilities of more people eating out. The same is true for churches. If there are more churches, there is a greater potential for reaching more people with the gospel.
The Valley Foursquare Church is a small congregation in southern California with an average attendance of 43. Yet in the past 6 years they have helped establish more than 20 multiethnic churches. The total attendance of 15 of these churches is more than 2,000.
New churches have life and are vitality attractive to the unchurched person. This is often a necessary component for catalyzing that persons receiving Christ. There is little in life more exciting than the birth of a new babysuch an event softens and energizes even the hardest countenances.
New Churches Reach New People
We are aware of the need for new churches throughout the world. But 70 percent of people in the United States have no meaningful church relationship. The harvest fields surround us. Many people will not be reached without new churches.
Jesus would still tell us today, "Do you not say, Four months more and then the harvest? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest" (John 4:35).* Look around and you will see that the harvest is very plentiful.
How To Know Where Church Planting Is Needed
List the churches in your area. Find out the seating capacity of each one. Total the number of available seats. Double that number, assuming that two services are needed to hold all the people in every congregation. Compare that number to the total population in the area. You will have a very conservative estimate of the number of people who still need to become disciples of Jesus.
Unless your Jerusalem is extremely small, there is probably a need for at least one more church in your local area. There are undoubtedly many people who will not or cannot be reached by existing churches because of limitations relating to style or physical capacity. Think about increasing your local disciple-making capacity by establishing the need for new churches near your home base.
Jesus said, "Open your eyes and look at the harvest." The opportunities to reach people for Christ through church planting and multiplication are all around us.
The harvest is also diverse. A motto for many urban centers across North America could be: Walk our streets and tour the world. In the United States, daily newspapers are printed in more than 45 languages. Over 200 groups of foreign origin live here.
One church cannot reach everyone. Rick Warren says, "It takes all kinds of churches to reach all kinds of people." This is true when people speak a different language. But even when the same language is spoken, there are incredible differences.
Consider generational differences. Congregations that are effective in reaching baby boomers are often not as effective reaching Generation X. I discovered this while I was pastoring a primarily boomer church. Dieter Zander, one of our interns, had a vision for reaching people in their twenties. He said the established church did not relate to younger people. The music was too slow and too soft. Sermons about marriage and raising kids and other boomer topics did not relate to single, young people. So, New Song Church was established and grew to 1,000 people, reaching people primarily from Generation X. Most of these people would not have been reached by our boomer church.
New churches can be started to reach every segment of society. The diversity of harvest requires a diversity of churches to make disciples of all people groups.
New Churches Release New Leaders
Jesus said, "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few" (Matthew 9:37). Church planting provides an opportunity to raise more workers for the harvest. When I graduated from seminary, I spent several months looking for a ministry in an established church. When nothing opened up, my denominational leader approached me about starting a new church. Many leaders realize their full potential by establishing new churches from unchurched people.
Ways To Start New Churches
Decide how your church will be involved in church-planting ministries. There are numerous ways to help start new churches.
We should not send unqualified people as church planters. Careful assessment of the character and competencies of potential new church developers is important. However, my experience in over 20 years of church planting has confirmed that God calls pastors for existing churches and church planters for establishing new churches. Lets not overlook the potential for a greater harvest by finding, developing, and releasing new leaders for church planting.
New Churches Increase Growth Potential
Christianity has always expanded through the multiplication of churches. The Book of Acts records how Christianity expanded to the uttermost parts of the world using this method. And this has been true throughout every generation. The church is only one generation away from extinction. You and I are Christians because those who preceded us faithfully reproduced their churches through church planting.
HEALTHY CHURCHES GROW AND REPRODUCE
Schwarz confirmed that healthy churches are growing churches, making more and better disciples in loving obedience to Christ. His study also showed a clear, positive correlation between the quality of a church and the number of churches it had planted within the last 5 years. Hardly anything demonstrates the health of a congregation as much as the willingness and ability to give birth to new congregations. The opposite is true as well. Hardly anything is a more clear indication of illness than structures that hinder church multiplication, or at best permit it as an absolute exception.3
Reproduction is a basic principle of life for all organisms, including the body of Christ. Churches are not designed by God to be unfruitful; they are designed to grow and reproduce other churches. As churches multiply, the potential harvest increases proportionately. Yet, many pastors and church leaders make excuses about their congregations lack of involvement in church planting. Smaller churches think they need to get bigger before giving birth. But a small church with a vision for reaching the unchurched can train workers for the harvest. Tom Nebel, pastor of Community Church in Whitewater, Wisconsin, planted a church in a nearby town when his church attendance was 125. The new church had its first worship service on the Sunday the parent church celebrated its third anniversary.
Larger churches often get distracted with other things and forget the harvest. Since God has entrusted more resources to larger congregations, more will be expected in terms of investing to reach the harvest. Starting new congregations is one of the best ways to reap a greater harvest and maintain evangelistic effectiveness. Rick Warren, founding pastor of Saddleback Valley Community Church, while growing the congregation to over 10,000 people, started at least one congregation every year.
Every church can, and should, be a strategic player in fulfilling the Great Commission through starting and multiplying new congregations. Church planting is the most effective way to advance Gods kingdom.
Set your eyes on the world, just as Jesus directed His disciples when He told them to begin in Jerusalem and go to the uttermost parts of the earth. Seek the Lords guidance as you develop a strategy to multiply congregations in loving obedience to Christs command.
1. David Hesselgrave, Planting Churches Cross-Culturally: A Guide for Home and Foreign Missions (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1980).
2. Christian Schwarz, Natural Church Development: A Guide to Eight Essential Qualities of Healthy Churches (Carol Stream: ChurchSmart Resources, 1996), 4648.
3. Ibid., 69.