On Church Planting

I love church planters. They really are a unique breed. Anyone who would launch out on their own to navigate the waters of societal indifference, institutional competition, and sustained discouragement  in efforts to start a church deserves some respect (Or pity. Maybe both.) I get to meet a lot of church planters from across the country, and they are invariably passionate and highly motivated.

I always ask how far into the process a planter is. The brightest-eyed always answer in terms of months; the more haggard of the bunch in years. Others still will answer in depth, as in “About up to here.”

I never ask how many people participate in the church plant. I think it’s a terrible question that only perpetuates the “numbers= success” mentality. I love to ask planters about the challenges they’re experiencing. Most are struggling in some way or another, and many don’t have anyone to talk to about those struggles. You’d be surprised how many of them have no peers to talk to about behind-the-scenes ministry-related stuff. Lots of them have wives that just aren’t into the whole thing. Most are struggling financially. Assessment and accountability can help with some of these things, but you’d be surprised how much springs up only after the planter is well into the church planting process.

On the international mission field, those who work among the unengaged, unreached people groups in undeveloped places are considered the “elite forces” of the missionary world. They work under constant opposition, threat of persecution, and with daily physical hardship. Theirs is important work, but not because it’s difficult. The value in their service is their obedience, not their sacrifice.

As much as I love church planters, I don’t like the way we’ve glamorized what they do. When we treat church planting as the ultimate accomplishment in Christian ministry, we make it into something that actually competes with our obedience. People who have no business planting churches pursue it for the sake of the challenge and the status it brings. Others walk away from ministry completely when they don’t see the results they were expecting. For every Rick Warren and Mark Driscoll there are hundreds (thousands?) of, well, me.

I worked hard for several years to plant a church (actually, a movement of churches) in Western Europe. I had a great team, good accountability, a sound plan, and a passion for God’s church. Through our work, we saw lives transformed, community formed, and the gospel proclaimed among unreached people. In the end, we didn’t see God do what we thought He was going to do. I certainly couldn’t plant a church and God, for whatever reason, didn’t.

You may be surprised that I don’t feel like a failure (anymore). I learned a lot through my experience, and I know that my obedience matters more than my accomplishments. I realize that my plans and strategies don’t guarantee results. I also came to realize that I’m not a church planter. In fact, none of us are. God plants and builds His church. We’re just the means by which He doe it.

The Counterintuitive Church (pt.2, The Gaps)

PREVIOUSLY: The Counterintuitive Church

Despite the Church’s current tendency toward extreme pragmatism, much of the life that Jesus calls us to is counter-intuitive.

But that doesn’t seem to stop us from depending (almost entirely!) on our human logic when it comes to our missiology. Why is that? Why would we assume that a counterintuitive God would leave us to do things in ways that make sense to our rational process?

As a church planter begins to think about where (geographically) to begin, he almost always looks at where there isn’t a church. The thinking, I suppose, is that you don’t want two churches side by side (except, I suppose, in the Bible Belt, where neighboring churches often fight over parking space). So the planter looks as a map of the city, and decides to focus on the next largest area that doesn’t have a church. It just makes sense to do it that way.

Same thing with missionaries; they look at unengaged people, unreached groups. They assign people to villages that have no (known) evangelical work. It makes the work manageable to look for the gaps and fill them.

Churches are obsessed with the gaps. We want to know what we’re not doing, and then do that. No program for recovering cross-dressers? We feel like we need one. No church for the tattooed-and-pierced crowd? Light some candles and call it good. It just makes sense to start with need and then come up with a solution to meet that need.

But that’s not how God did things in the scriptures. I’m not convinced it’s the way He does things today, either. It didn’t make sense to Peter that God would tell him (in a dream) to focus his ministry on the unclean (and undeserving) Gentiles. It didn’t make sense to Paul that the Spirit would prevent him from going to Asia.

What if God is calling you to plant a church in a neighborhood that already has several? Rather than compete, you might see your work as a demonstration of Christian unity. What if God wants your church planting team to focus on a people group that is, statistically, “reached?” He, in His wisdom, might use your ministry to send members of that “reached” group to take the gospel to the unreached.

My point is this- the gaps aren’t the best place to start. God is the best place to start.

NEXT: Distribution

Multi-site Church is Bad Missiology

Your church cannot be missional and have video venues.

There, I’ve said it. I know it’s contrary to what Mark Driscoll and Matt Chandler and others are saying and doing. The multi-site trend continues to grow among churches in the United States. It’s been discussed and debated at length in the blogosphere. Perhaps the best discussion took place back in 2006 on Steve McCoy’s blog, Reformissionary. In the comment stream of the post, Darrin Patrick, the pastor of The Journey in St. Louis, shares his struggle with his church’s decision to open multiple sites.  is a fan. Craig Groeschel has raised multi-site church to an art.  Popular leaders such as Mark Batterson and Ed Young are growing their churches by leaps and bounds by opening up “alternate sites” across the country and around the world. According to Third Quarter Church Consulting, there are over 2,000 multi-site churches meeting across the country.

Video Venue ChurchMost multi-site churches are made up of distinct locations that share one pastor, and/or leadership team. In the early days of multi-site, the preacher would preach a sermon at one location, and then drive (or even fly) to a second location to present an encore presentation of the sermon. With the rise of video recording technology, many satellite campuses would watch a pre-recorded version of a sermon. Nowadays, preachers are streamed live onto screens across the country. The idea behind the multi-site church is this: a church starts out small, and grows. They fill up their meeting space, so they start to hold multiple services over the course of the week. Maybe they relocate or build a new building. People are driving in from miles away to attend. The next logical step is to open up another location.

Multi-site church is a logical and efficient solution to a problem brought on by bad missiology.

1. It perpetuates the celebrity pastor mentality. Your oratory skills may be out-of-this-world (they’re probably not),  but do you really want your church to be built around you? Many multi-site churches start with “hey, the pastor can only do so much.” Why not disciple young leaders to preach and teach? Why not dispel the myth of the rockstar preacher by intentionally limiting your influence to the behind-the-scenes equipping of leaders?

2.  It promotes Christian consumerism. Rather than put in the work that it requires to be the local church, many resort to opening a Fellowshipchurch.com franchise. It may be what people want, but wise church leaders will prefer to give them what they need. They need a pastor who knows their name, lives in their community, and can be available for them personally.

3. Realistically, your church has become two when you decided to hold multiple services (especially when these services are designed to appeal to different demographics). What reason (other than the pastor’s ego) is there to insist that these are “one” church? “One church in many locations” is only the illusion of unity. Why insist that every new spin-off church be part of the same brand?

4.  Multi-site church breaks the missiological principle of indigenaity. Rather than allowing each new fellowship to reflect the culture in which it is planted, multi-site locations instead export with them the culture of the “mother” church. I know that some churches try to help this by having a local worship team or support staff, but rarely are satellite locations allowed to stray too far from the formula.

For the record: I’m not against sermon podcasts or broadcasts. God used these sorts of resources maintained my team spiritually on the mission field. I’m also not trying to criticize anyone in particular. If a church is led to multi-site, I want them to be successful and to prosper. This is not intended to tear down anyone. I really am a big fan of many multi-site pastors, and hope I don’t offend any of my multi-site friends with this post. Nevertheless, as a missiologist, missionary, and missional believer, I felt the need to say something.

By the way, Bob Hyatt wrote a great article on multi-site church at Out of Ur.

Be sure to watch for my next post, “Your Sound System Is Where You Went Wrong.”