I caught up with a denominational field worker recently and he mentioned that he was visiting one of the healthiest churches in his denomination.
"Really, are they interested in starting new churches?"
"They have no interest at all."
"Then how can that be a healthy church?"
The fruit of a healthy apple trees is not just apples—it is more apple trees. Where there is life there is fruit, growth and reproduction. That's how God has designed the world in which we live and minister.
Healthy churches reproduce. They reproduce disciples, leaders, ministries and new churches.
Let's look at three good reasons why healthy churches should reproduce themselves. Those reasons are biblical, historical and practical.
In Matt 9:35-10:23 Jesus looks out on the crowds with compassion and prays for, trains and sends out workers for the harvest. In Matt 28:18-20 we are commanded not to rest until there is a community of disciples in every people group in every geographic location around the world.
God has no other strategy than the multiplication of churches across the globe.
The church does not equal the Kingdom but it is the vanguard and pointed to the Kingdom of God and is at the very centre of redemptive history.
Evangelism and church planting may not represent the totality of what God is doing in the world but it does represent the heart (Eddie Gibbs).
The growth of the Kingdom cannot be equated with the growth and multiplication of churches, "Yet the mission of the Kingdom must be performed through the visible churches . . . ." (John Bright).
One of the signs of the true church, is the participation in the movement of God to gather individuals and nations into the church. (Charles Van Engen)
As Leslie Newbigin states, "An unchurchly mission is as much a monstrosity as an unmissionary church." Mission without the church is not mission at all.
"By losing contact with the tangible, local, social, relational group of worshiping believers, this kind of mission became social activism but not mission." (Charles Van Engen)
The church has always been one generation away from extinction. Every church was planted by someone. Do you want church history to stop with you?
John Wesley said, "The world is my parish." Why? Not because he had a "nice" pastoral concern for everyone. He was not the sort of guys to have over for a cup of tea if you needed a pastoral visit.
He was an apostle. Local church leaders tried to keep him out of "their territory" and prevent him preaching to "their people" even though they neglected to minister to those same people.
What did Wesley do? He went and preached anyway. He preached standing on his father's gravestone to thousands because the local clergyman had forbidden him to preach in his father's former church.
He preached in the fields to tens of thousands of ordinary people because clearly forbade him to preach in their parishes.
So Wesley retorted, "The world is my parish!" God does not respect parish boundaries.
There is a denomination that has written into its rules that no one can plant a new church within 15 kilometers of and existing one. In suburban Australia how many tens of thousands of unreached people live within 15 kilometers of churches that have had decades to reach them but been unsuccessful.
Wesley knew of no parish boundares. Jesus knew of no parish boundaries. God does not honor them. The world is our parish. Every location, every people group needs more churches not less.
What are the practical reasons why we should be committed to church planting? Here are just four:
i. Church Planting raises up a new generation of leaders who have to trust God.
Church planters, team members, small group leaders, musicians, children's workers, sound system operators—all of these positions and more need to be filled. New leaders and workers are raised up because there is on one else to do the job.
Back at the sending church they have recovered from the loss of leadership, if they were healthy, within six to twelve months. Others have risen to fill the gap. A healthy church can give away 10% of its people and leaders every two years to plant churches. Unfortunately the vision of too many existing church leaders does not extend beyond their own parking lot.
Some leaders struggle to release control. They are threatened by people away. Such an attitude is totally out of step with the model of leadership that Jesus demonstrated. What they need is to play back the tapes of every message they have ever preached on giving and tithing and apply it to giving people away for church planting.
A new generation must have the chance to rise to the challenge. A new generation has to learn to trust God for themselves.
ii. Create new winseskins
Rick Warren has said, "it takes all sorts of churches to reach all sorts of people."
In today's world if we want to preserve what we value we have to constantly change is a paradox. The church of the 50s cannot reach the generation of 21st Century. Every new church gives us a fresh opportunity to reinvent how we do church while conserving the essentials of the gospel.
When we planted our first church we did crazy things that had never been done at back at our parent church. We had no traditions to offend. We took with us the heart of a great church and put it in a new package for a new generation.
This needs to happen for every generation and cultural group. God speaks our language. The church must look different in every culture. That is the beauty of the Incarnation.
When our parent church sent me out to plant a new church they guaranteed my salary for a year. But they stopped paying it within a month. The new church stood on its own feet and has gone on to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years without the need for any outside funding. A healthy church provides for its own needs, it raises up its own leaders and reproduces itself.
Church planting is a self-sustaining, self-reproducing model of evangelismâ€”without the need for central control. It's an organic, "green", sustainable strategy!
iv. Proven results
Australian research reveals that new churches:
show the strongest signs of vitality
have higher levels of newcomers
are more likely to retain the children of attenders
achieve higher levels of attenders who
have a strong sense of belonging
discuss their faith with others
invite people to church and
feel they are growing in their faith
Peter Wagner agrees when he states: "Church planting is the most effective form of evangelism under the sun." So does Lyle Schaller who says: "Denominations that are planting churches are growing. Denominations that are growing are planting churches."
God is about church planting
Is your life, your ministry, your money and your limited time aligned with God's purposes for reaching a lost world by intentionally developing godly leaders who multiply fresh, authentic churches?