For the better part of ten years, I served as a consultant with the NC Baptist Convention – a denomination with over 4,000 churches serving over a million members. In my role with such a large and diverse group, I was honored to work with lots of church planters. In fact, I joined their ranks, helping plant two churches during that time.
Over and over again during my years of service with the NC Baptists, I would get pushback from pastors of established churches who puzzled, “Why would we start new churches when so many of our established churches have declining members? It would be better to reach people with the churches we have.” That’s an understandable sentiment when you serve a church that is failing to grow and you don’t know why (especially when there is a church planter with hat in hand asking for help).
The pushback assumes a simple economic model of supply and demand: with a limited demand for churches, why supply the population with more and more churches? That’s an easy model, but a wrong one; wrong because it fails to recognize the underlying reasons why pre-Christians and unchurched followers choose to connect with a new church rather than an established church.
Why should anyone consider planting a church? Here are three good reasons, followed by three poor reasons.
Three reasons to start a church:
- To reach an unreached people group. While we all long for a church of all nations, the reality is that most lost people are best reached by a community that is similar to the lost person. This is true of language groups (plant a church to reach Hmong speakers), geography (plant a church in a community or country without a local church), or core identity (plant a church to reach bikers or gang members or the homeless or the disillusioned rich). When God lays it on your heart to reach a specific people group, you have a wonderful reason to plant a church.
- To reach the de-churched in an ecclesiastically stale area. There are regions of the world with plenty of churches, but those churches are so ineffective that a fresh infusion of gospel-centered church life is needed. Usually these are churches in name only – they do not preach the gospel, express the kingdom through missions and ministry, or call their members to lives of Christ-centeredness. If God has called you to plant a gospel-centered church in an area where the Christians have lost their saltiness, be sure to follow His lead.
- To join God in a movement specific to a pre-church community that is emerging. There are times when God’s Spirit moves among a people to call them into being a church. Often these movements take the form of a Bible study or home church that is filled with a few strong believers who are infused with God’s Spirit in a mighty way and who need the leadership of a pastor who can help them mature into being an authentic church. If God’s people reach out to you to help them become a church, prayerfully consider doing so.
There are likely other good reasons to start a church, so be sure to share any others in comment section. Now, let’s consider three poor reasons for starting a church.
- Because you think you’ve got it all figured out. Trust me, the approach to church that you think is revolutionary is not. And whatever new or quasi-fresh approach to being a church that you’ve stumbled upon is not a good enough reason for starting a church. Innovation in methodology is good for the church, but that alone will not result in a healthy church plant.
- Because you cannot get along with the others in your current church. Yes, I’m talking about church splits. Most church plants are actually church splits, a reality that has an overall detrimental effect on the Christian witness in a community. If there is heresy involved, that’s one thing. But most churches split over opinions and preferences, not core theology or authentic Spirit-driven differences. It’s no wonder so many churches fail to mature, when they solve differences in such immature ways.
- Because you are well suited to draw current believers to your new church. The temptation is to scratch an itch that current Christ-followers have instead of addressing the deep and eternal need of lost people. I see this all the time: church plants that are designed for a sub-species of Christians and which siphon away a handful of believers from other churches. Here’s what this sounds like: “Finally, a church with true Reformed theology at its core and a classic approach to Christian education!” or “I’ve been waiting for a church that had great music!” or “We are going to be a church that makes the liturgy fresh and inviting.” If most of the people you “reach” are already Christians, you are not reaching.
What other good and poor reasons for starting a church would you add? What’s been your experience with church plants that worked well (and that went off the rails)?