Why Church Planting Must Be R Rated

In church planting the three most important words have always been and will always be: Relationship. Relationship. Relationship.

Why must church planting be R-rated? Because God is an R-rated God; His book is an R-rated book; His gospel is an R-rated gospel; and His church must be R-rated.

What do I mean by R-rated? R-rated doesnot mean religion, religiosity, ritualism, and rulebook based. Rather, R-rated meansrelationship based, relationship powered, relationship driven, and relationship prioritized.

In August 1969, two young barefoot flower children, hitchhiking outside Sacramento, California, asked a future church planter and passerby: “Do you know where there’s a park we can sleep in?”

Nineteen-year old Bible school student, Archie Brooks (founding pastor, Transformation Assembly of God, Friday Harbor, Washington), said: “Come with me; I will help you.”

Archie took us hoome with him. He was staying the summer with a Bible school friend’s parents. After dinner and a huge bowl of fresh peaches, the two hippies hit the backyard with their sleeping bags. Once they left, the wife told her husband: “Honey, those hippies are probably not married.”

He replied: “Relationship, Darling. These people are so far gone, one more night will not make any difference.”

But, oh, how it did — an eternal difference.

Philoxenos is the love of strangers. Jesus calls His church not only to brotherly love (phil adelphos), but to philoxenos love: to welcome shoeless strangers and to love them into the family of God.

Being R-Rated Puts Relationship in the Driver’s Seat

R-rated does not mean relegating relationship simply to be sitting somewhere on the bus. It means putting relationship in the driver’s seat.

Jesus was the most relational person who ever walked the planet. Since God is love and Jesus is God incarnate, who dares say otherwise.

Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He said, “Come and see” (John 1:39) and created His first core group. Does He not do the same through His churches and people today, especially in launching church plants?

The answer is yes.

Tragic results — When R stands for religion

True False

____ ____ 300,000 U.S. evangelical churches produced no growth over the last 20 years.

____ ____ In 12,362 U.S. Assemblies of God churches in 2007, Sunday a.m. attendance only grew by a total of 7,685.

____ ____ 444,918 2007 conversions left 38 U.S. Assemblies of God districts (out of 59) reporting a year-end minus.

____ ____ We planted 309 Assemblies of God churches (closing 258) in 2007 for a net U.S. gain of 51 churches.

Something important is missing in the American church when 50 million U.S. evangelicals produce no growth.

We have traded our R-rated birthright for a pot of affluenza. I call this vitamin R deficiency.

In 1914, 314 people launched the Assemblies of God in Hot Springs, Arkansas, saying: “We dedicate ourselves to the greatest evangelism this world has ever seen.”

Ninety-six years later, how can it take on average 1.5 U.S. Assemblies of God churches an entire year to produce a growth of 1?

Champion National Football League Coach Vince Lombardi is famous for telling his lagging team: “Gentlemen, this is a football.”

It is reported that a 300-pound lineman followed Lombardi’s saying with: “Coach, could you take it a little slower.”

Let me slow down and spell out some basic R-rated specifics.

Developing a Missing Theology of Relationship: Relation-ology

Bible schools field a panoply of scriptural emphases: biblical inerrancy, the Trinity, Virgin Birth, divinity of Christ, and Christ’s atonement. Nonetheless, we lack a theology of relationship. This is what I call Bible-based relation-ology.

Ask believers for words to describe God. They say omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, and holy. God is love, righteous, unchangeable. God is light. God is a jealous God. But would the R word appear on the list?

What does such picayune emphasis on relationship in our theology reveal? We are not teaching an R-rated, effective, and truly biblical faith.

The God of the Bible is the God of R — relationship.We serve a God who, in His Trinity essence, is a community. We serve a God who, is an eternal relationship. He is the God who in the very beginning said: “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness” (Genesis 1:26).

The missionary church planter, Paul the apostle, wrote in Ephesians 3:14,15: “For this cause I bow my knee unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family (pas patria; all family, all relationships) in heaven and earth is named” (KJV). Not only is the Scriptures God’s personal, relational love letter to humanity, God intends for the church to transmit it relationally to others.

Relationship is God’s registered trademark. Relationship was in the beginning within the heartbeat of God. Our God is a knowable Father — a God of love who delights in relationship, community, and connection.

The God of the Bible is the God of covenant.Covenant is relationship. Whether it is Enoch walking with God into heaven, or, Abraham the friend of God, or David a man after God’s own heart, the Old Testament overflows with R-rated men and women who were drawn to know a God who longs to be known.

Hebrews 11, the faith hall of fame, mentions innumerable men and women who by faith subdued lions, saw Jericho’s walls fall, and won battles. Their faith was spelled with a huge R for relationship, not intellectual knowing. Furthermore, the God of the Old Testament promises a future new covenant of an intimate knowing with His people.

In Jeremiah 31:31,33,34 the prophet writes, “ ‘Behold, the days are coming,’ says the Lord, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days,’ says the Lord: ‘I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, “Know the Lord,” for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,’ says the Lord” (NKJV).1

Ezekiel says, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you. I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statues, and you will keep My judgments and do them” (Ezekiel 36:26,27, NKJV).

We have received a distortion of the original relational Hebrew faith. It has been diluted from a strong, life-changing R-rated, relational faith into a weakened, Greek, neo-gnostic philosophical belief. But faith must be spelled with an R. The God of the Hebrews was the God of individuals: God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the God of _________ (insert your name). He has incorrectly been mistranslated into the God of a cerebral, knowledge-based, cognitive faith.

The original R-rated relational faith has morphed into a mental counterfeit. The result: We over-use the words believe and faith in place of the word relationship. Then we wonder why millions say: “I tried it; it just did not work.”

A person can say he has faith in Abraham Lincoln. He can believe in him and agree he lived, yet have no relationship with him because he never met him. The same applies with our Lord Jesus Christ.

A person can have faith or believe in a philosophy or thing, even have faith in the chair one sits on. You may believe in a chair, but you do not have relationship with a thing, like a chair.We can only have relationship with a Person.

By avoiding the word relationship, we default to the word believe, and yet culturally translate believe as “mere mental assent.” The disconnect is huge and lethal. The Gadarene demoniac knew who Jesus was. He screamed, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?” (Mark 5:7).

Some salvation calls leave Romans 10:9 wide open to being mistaken as a mere mental, nonrelational belief. “Confess with your mouth … and believe in your heart.” The word believe (pisteo) is easily mistaken as mere mental belief. We see from James 2:19: “Even the demons believe — and tremble.” Misunderstood thusly, even Satan himself is a believer. He knows in his heart and confesses with his mouth that Jesus is Lord — but not his personal Lord. The key issue is not belief or faith; the key issue is relationship.

God’s program is relationship, but most church programs are programs. God’s program is salvation in Christ, and salvation in Christ is a relationship.

God is not a program. Jesus is not a Bible quiz. Jesus is not a book, nor mere words on a page. He is not a religion, and He is neither Christendom nor Christianity. Jesus is a person, and the only way to truly know a person is through a relationship.

Religion is Teflon®; Relationship is Velcro®

Knowledge, programs, and religion at their best are smooth, like Teflon®. Relationships, like Velcro®, have hooks and loops to create connections. And like Velcro®, relationships do not easily come apart.

For any church, but specifically a new church plant, Teflon® is the kiss of death because Teflon® does not stick. Every new church plant must be triple R–rated.

Jesus, the Lord of the Church (and every church plant and planter), is the promised Redeemer in Genesis 3:15, where God vows to Satan: “He will crush your head.” He, not an it; a person, not a program; a relationship, not a religion; a who, not a what.

Our theology of church planting, of the Great Commission, and of God himself must get out of What-ville and back into Who-ville.

When God asked “Adam, Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9), that was a relational question.

God’s words to fallen man were a call back into relationship. Before Adam’s fall into sin, there was elation in the relation. After the Fall, Adam and Eve’s need was for re-elation — reconnecting into relationship.

Many people confuse relationship with programs.Who orders an 8-ounce parsley?. We consider parsley a decoration, fluff. However, our culture (and unfortunately our theology as well) treats information and programs as the steak, and relationship as the parsley. In God’s values the reverse is true. Relationship is not the parsley; it is the steak.

We must reparadigm our entire program to God’s program.God’s program is relationship; unfortunately, for most churches, programs are programs. Until we reparadigm, we will find it hard to believe that relationship truly is the steak. Relationship is not the side vegetable; it is the main course and Jesus himself is the meal.

Until we learn to value relationship as the center of God’s plan, we will never order the appropriate R-rated portion of relationship God desires us to enjoy and operate in.

Relationships and Church Planting

Jesus is the Lord of His church. He is the church’s Founder. He alone envisioned her, loved her, purchased and washed her in His own blood. It is up to Jesus Christ and Him alone to define His church, His churches, and by what method His churches are to be planted and built.

Mark tells how Jesus planted His first church: “He appointed twelve … that they might be with Him” (Mark 3:14). He utilized a relationship-centered discipling style. Thus, when He was no longer with them, He was still recognized in their midst, hearts, words, and actions.

Jesus chose to do life with His 12 disciples, knowing this would mark the depth of their beings. Jesus relationally birthed and planted His first church, through the original Twelve.

“Come and see,” Jesus said as He gathered His first core group recorded in His first words in John’s Gospel. They came and saw: “It was about four o’clock in the afternoon when they went with him to the place, and they stayed there the rest of the day” (John 1:39, NLT).2

Jesus created a small group — a core group — of His Twelve, because He knew relationship (and life-change) occurs in small settings. He chose to do life intimately with His 12 disciples. Since Jesus himself was His curriculum, rather than a set of beliefs, He imparted himself into them.

This imparting is seen later in Acts 4:13: “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, … they realized that they had been with Jesus” (NKJV). Mark 3:14 produced Acts 4:13.

Commitment Does Not Produce Relationship; Relationship Produces Commitment

The linear business-world formula that commitment produces relationship has left church leaders asking for more commitment, but often not receiving it, especially from volunteers.

However, people are asking their leaders for more relationship. Commitment does not produce relationship: R produces C.

If church is a building, then who needs relationship?

But if church is a family, then relationship is everything.

The U.S. evangelical church, according to Barna, is descending from its current 20 percent of U.S. population toward Europe’s 2 percent.

Jesus never intended church to be called a building. Calling the church a building is like calling people 2 by 4s. We have accepted a cultural definition of church as a building rather than a family. We need Lombardi’s basic training camp definition: “Gentlemen, church is relationship.”

What is a church, particularly a new church plant, called to be \or provide? ?The thing people are missing and craving in their daily dysfunctional homes, families, marriages, and work is relationships. By satisfying this need, church plants will reproduce and grow, the same way healthy, loving families do. The desperate felt need in society is for vitamin R.

The Western church has seen the R factor whittled down to a minus. In the agricultural age, multiple generations lived together in small towns and the R factor was huge. In the industrial age, some generations moved to the city and the R factor dropped. In the information age, further national mobility drastically dropped the R factor to a dysfunctional minus. Churches, especially church plants, must be an R-powered entity and family.

Wise church planters (and pastors) become not CEOs, but CROs — chief relationship officers. Church planters and veteran pastors must honestly ask: “Is our church an R-rated church?” When we invite people to come to church, it must be to a family, not to a building, program, or event.Relationship must be the event.

General Motors failed to stay R-rated with its customers. By not listening and by disconnecting with its people, GM reported a $8 billion corporate loss several years ago. By creating huge cars, instead of the quality and smallness people wanted, their congregation turned to Japanese automakers.

Ask yourself: Why did I get saved? The answer will ultimately come down to the same reason why all church planting must be R-rated.

In real estate, the three most important words are Location. Location. Location. In church planting (and all Kingdom work), the three most important words have always been and will always be: Relationship. Relationship. Relationship.

Jesus built and planted His first church on relationship; it is God’s program and it must be ours. He is not about to change it for us. Jesus is the ultimate High Priest of relationship and of church planting.


1. Scripture quotations marked NKJV are taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

2. Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved.