Recently I’ve been reading the book Total Church by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis. One of the things that they discuss quite a bit is Church Planting, and there was one section that I thought was so good I wanted to re-post it here.
Church planting is an opportunity to re-invent church along radical biblical lines. Much of the New Testament demonstrates that this was so even within the first generation of the church. It was the experience of planting churches among the Gentiles that led to the crucial gathering in Jerusalem (Acts 15). It forced the church to recognize the radical implications of the death and resurrection of the Messiah for their own understanding of salvation and the people of God.
I know of a church planted by a large evangelical congregation that brought certain assumptions into the endeavor. They created a staff team with a minister, assistant minister, student worker, pastoral workers, and an administrator. They bought a church building and a home for the minister. As a result they had an annual budget of around two hundred and fifty thousand pounds excluding start-up costs. They are doing great work, growing and exploring new areas of ministry. But if every church shares those assumptions, then most are not going to plant. Such an approach is clearly beyond the reach of most congregations. If past experience and tradition define what it means to be church, that will constrain church planting. Or church plants may run the risk of being clones – copies of sending churches. Unless we recognize this danger, church planting may in fact reduce missionary activity as smaller churches struggle to ape the programs of larger churches.
Often the main limitation to church planting is a failure of imagination. People cannot imagine how church planting might be done or how church might be done differently. People do not want to let go of the “success” their church has become. This may be because some do not want the risk, effort, and discomfort that church planting involves. But often it has more to do with their view of church. We have a notion of what a “successful” church is, and this involves a certain level of staff, programs, and activity. Church planting feels like it will involve letting this go, moving from success to lack of success.
We must not be driven by sociology or accommodate to our culture. But we need to take into account the new missionary situation in which we find ourselves. In the UK, broadly speaking, 10 percent of the population attend church regularly on a normal Sunday; 10 percent are fringe members, attending once every couple of months; 40 percent are “dechurched,” having lost contact with church within their lifetime; and 40 percent have never attended church apart from the occasional rite of passage. This new missionary context requires new approaches. Church planting cannot involve the uncritical replication of existing models. Church planting should be at the forefront of new ecclesiological thinking…Through mission the church can break free from external conformity to culture and internal conformity to tradition to rediscover the vitality of the gospel. Church planting is crucial to the health of the wider church. Good church planting forces us to re-ask questions about the gospel and church, to re-invent churches that are both gospel-centered without religious tradition and relevant without worldly conformity.
There need be no second-generation churches if the church is constantly reconfiguring itself through church planting. Second-generation “Christians” are those without their own living experience of the gospel. Second-generation churches are those who have lost their gospel cutting edge. It may be that a fiftieth church anniversary is not an occasion to celebrate the faithfulness of God but to lament the stagnation of his people. Far from weakening a sending church, church planting is a vital opportunity to refocus the life of the church on the gospel. The identity of the sending church should radically change. It cannot continue as the same church or repeat the same program. It must look again for new leaders to emerge. It must ask all over again how it will reach its neighborhood with the gospel.
(Chester & Timmis, pgs. 94-96)