what’s wrong with local church planting? just about everything

I told an old col­lege friend that I thought church plant­ing was unbib­li­cal and I’m pretty sure he thought I fell off the deep end. He quickly explained what his def­i­n­i­tion of church plant­ing is and asked how I could dis­agree with that. I had no qualms with his def­i­n­i­tion, but what he may not real­ize is that his def­i­n­i­tion is def­i­nitely in the minority.

Here’s my beef with the preva­lent model of church plant­ing. The whole thing is peo­ple putting the cart in front of the horse and very lit­tle reliance on the work of the Holy Spirit. Here’s what I see, and cor­rect me if I’m wrong.

A church is a body of believ­ers. All ele­ments within the church such as elders, dea­cons, build­ings, wor­ship teams, etc are all prac­ti­cal out­flows. How­ever, what hap­pens is some guy gets an idea that he wants to start a church some­where across the coun­try. Why not in his home­town or in a neigh­bor­ing state? That’s for another post.

So, he starts rais­ing sup­port, starts a blog (if he’s really pro­gres­sive), takes a “sur­vey trip”, begins writ­ing down a plan for the first church-​​done-​​right, fig­ures out a name with a great story/​biblical expla­na­tion behind it, finds some min­istry part­ners, and then fig­ures out a cul­tural strat­egy to get peo­ple into this great church that doesn’t even exist yet.

Therein lies the prob­lem. I thought a church was a made up of a group of peo­ple? Yet, you’ve already got a “church” and you’re try­ing to find peo­ple for it? That doesn’t sound like a church to me and def­i­nitely not a healthy way to start one.

Let’s con­sider for a moment per­haps some­thing a lit­tle more bib­li­cal. Last time I checked, the apos­tles were just going out, preach­ing the gospel. Some­times they stuck around for a few years, some­times they were just pass­ing through. They didn’t raise sup­port (though some churches sup­ported them). They had jobs and they made their own liv­ing as they trav­elled around. As men and women came to know the truth, they began meet­ing reg­u­larly, and voila! they had a church.

Going with the intent to plant a church and with pre­con­ceived notions about how it’s going to work is 1) unbib­li­cal, 2) will most likely dis­ap­point, 3) is harm­ful to the poten­tial real church body that you might have. I feel like the men­tal­ity of these church planters is “I’m going to go be a pas­tor or bust”. If it doesn’t work out, they either give up or go some­where else where they think it might work bet­ter which calls into ques­tion whether the Holy Spirit was really lead­ing in the first place.

Instead their should be a men­tal­ity of “I’d like to live here, work here, and while I’m liv­ing in this place, I will inten­tion­ally make God’s name famous.” That way, if you don’t see a con­vert in 5yr, it’s no sweat off your back because you didn’t come with the intent to build a “church”, you don’t feel the pres­sure of sup­port­ers with expec­ta­tions, and con­vert or not, you’re still accom­plish­ing God’s direc­tive for every Christian.

Sec­ond, these pre­con­ceived notions do not allow for the spon­ta­neous work­ing of the Holy Spirit among a church body. Instead of let­ting the church organ­i­cally grow, let people’s gifts come out and uniquely serve in the body, and the church mak­ing deci­sions among them­selves how they want their spir­i­tual fam­ily to func­tion; it’s all dic­tated by some guy who comes in think­ing he’s got the right way with­out real­iz­ing that the Holy Spirit is far larger than he can com­pre­hend and works in ways we have yet to see.

So, do I have a prob­lem with this model of church plant­ing? Yep…a big one. I’m more a fan of liv­ing life that glo­ri­fies God and mak­ing dis­ci­ples while you’re at it. Let­ting the out­flow of that hap­pen nat­u­rally and in God’s timing.

As a clar­i­fi­ca­tion, I rec­og­nize that most things are prac­ti­cal out­flows of a group of believ­ers, but some things are man­dated once a church has formed. These include elders, dea­cons, and the sacraments.

church fellowships are as bad as facebook

Most churches have “fel­low­ships”. No, it has noth­ing to do with Lord of the Rings. It’s the Chris­t­ian term for “hang­ing out”. Some churches have fel­low­ships weekly, monthly, quar­terly. Every­one gets together, brings some food, and they sit around and talk while the kids play hide and go seek in the church building.

As time goes on, peo­ple make their way from group to group and hop in on dif­fer­ent con­ver­sa­tions as pre­vi­ous con­ver­sa­tions become unin­ter­est­ing. As peo­ple leave, every­one smiles and wave good­bye, and the church lead­er­ship con­grat­u­late them­selves for another suc­cess­ful ful­fill­ment of Acts 2:42 (they devoted them­selves to the apostles’ teaching and the fel­low­ship, to the break­ing of bread and the prayers.).

How­ever, in the grand sceme of things, very lit­tle was accom­plished. No one knew Jenny had an unex­pected bill that she’s strug­gling to pay. Or Dean who is strug­gling with how to be a strong spir­i­tual leader in his home. And cer­tainly no one knows that Susan just lost her vir­gin­ity last night. Peo­ple don’t talk about that, fel­low­ships are happy times. Besides, between peo­ple pop­ping in and out of con­ver­sa­tions, no one ask­ing Susan insight­ful ques­tions about her life, and Dean not feel­ing com­fort­able pos­ing his ques­tion to 12 other peo­ple, noth­ing is ever said.

Peo­ple crit­i­cize Face­book for being the essence of fake friend­ships. Really, these church fel­low­ships have been rel­e­gated to noth­ing more than Face­book rela­tion­ships. Brows­ing sta­tus updates, being enter­tained by funny quotes and pic­tures, and then mov­ing on to the next pro­file page. Sorry, but that’s not true fel­low­ship. That’s not liv­ing life out with the body. Those aren’t qual­ity relationships.

Did you know most peo­ple can only main­tain 6–8 close rela­tion­ships. Yet we hang out with 70, 150, 1000 peo­ple at these fel­low­ships and walk away think­ing a very spe­cial rela­tional bond­ing occurred. It’s ok if you don’t talk to every­one in your church. That doesn’t mean you have any less com­mu­nity. Try­ing to talk to every­one and main­tain some con­nec­tion only takes away time from delv­ing deeper into a few lives.

So what does true fel­low­ship look like? Well I call it authen­tic com­mu­nity, and it hap­pens every day. Peo­ple call­ing each other, going out to watch a foot­ball game, see­ing a movie, com­ing over for din­ner, work­ing on a hobby. It’s peo­ple liv­ing reg­u­lar life…together.