The answer to this question is actually quite simple yet the discussion within our context makes it complex. I take my lead from Dr. Timothy Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York who has written a brilliant article on this very question. Following are excerpts from his article, Why Plant Churches? (2002).
There are numerous responses to the question worth considering.
- “We already have plenty of churches that have lots and lots of room for all the new people who have come to the area. Let’s get them filled before we start new ones.”
- “Every church in this community used to be more full than it is now. A new church will just take people from churches already hurting and will weaken everyone.”
- “Help the churches that are struggling first. A new church doesn’t help the existing ones that are just keeping their noses above water. We need better churches not more churches.”
These statements seem like common sense to many people, but they rest on several wrong assumptions. The error of this thinking will become clear if we ask, “Why is church planting so crucially important?”
WE PLANT CHURCHES BECAUSE WE WANT TO BE TRUE TO THE BIBLICAL MANDATE
Jesus’ main calling to his disciples was to plant churches not just to share the faith. The Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) is a call not just to “make disciples” but to bring them into the community of faith via “baptism” so they find accountability, teaching and the blessing of being members of Christ’s body (Acts 2:41-47). And if disciples make disciples then the church (the body of Christ) should continue to grow.
A true disciple of Jesus (someone who acts like and has the character of Jesus) makes other disciples who do likewise. Disciples are missional, always working within the context of culture where they find themselves, seeking to be the presence of Christ in order to point people toward him through word and deed. This is why a leading missiologist like C. Peter Wagner can say, “Planting new churches is the most effective evangelistic methodology known under heaven.” Note that the call of Christians is to point people to Jesus not a church (building/place) or an event at said church. The church comes from the gathering of people seeking Jesus together and being his representation in their community.
WE ALSO PLANT CHURCHES BECAUSE WE WANT TO BE TRUE TO THE GREAT COMMISSION
The reality is new churches best reach new generations, new residents, and new people groups. Long-established congregations develop traditions (such as time of worship, length of service, level of emotional responsiveness, sermon topics, leadership style, emotional atmosphere, and thousands of tiny customs and mores) that reflect the sensibilities of longtime leaders from the older generations who have the influence and money to control church life. New churches are not hindered by such structures so are able to be more fluid in their approach to reaching new and disenfranchised groups of people.
New churches best reach the unchurched — period. Dozens of denominational studies have confirmed that the average new church gains most of its new members (60-80%) from the ranks of people who are not attending any worshiping body, while churches over ten to fifteen years of age gain 80-90 percent of new members by transfer from other congregations (Lyle Schaller).
There are many reasons for this but most significantly is this, as a church ages institutional pressures lead it to allocate most of it’s resources and energy toward the concerns of it’s members, rather than toward those outside its walls. This is natural and to a great degree desirable. Older congregations have a stability and steadiness that many people thrive on and need. This does not mean that established churches cannot win new people. In fact, many non-Christians will be reached only by churches with long roots in the community and the marks of stability and respectability.
On the other hand, new congregations, in general, are forced to focus on the needs of the non-members, simply to get off the ground. Because so many of a new church’s leaders came very recently from the ranks of the unchurched, the congregation is far more sensitive to the nonbeliever’s concerns. Also, in the first two years of our Christian life, we have far more close, face-to-face relationships with non-Christians than we do later. A congregation filled with people fresh from the ranks of the unchurched will thus have the power to invite and attract more nonbelievers into the church’s life and events than will the members of the typical established body.
WE PLANT NEW CHURCHES BECAUSE WE WANT TO CONTINUALY RENEW THE WHOLE BODY OF CHRIST
Church planting helps to support the renewal of the existing church in various ways:
- New churches bring new ideas to the whole body.
- New churches are one of the best places to identify creative, strong leaders for the whole body.
- The new churches challenge other churches to self-examination.
- The new church may be an “evangelistic feeder” for a whole community.
Overall, supporting church planting is about kingdom-mindedness. As the body of Christ we desire nothing more than to see Christ’s kingdom reach to the ends of the earth. And if starting new churches and renewing established churches is going to do that then we should put our energies and resources toward that end.
’til next time