Lessons on Church Planting from NYC

Steve is the pastor of Soma Spokane and a member of the Pacific Northwest Church Planting Movement, a church planting network which aims to identify, develop, and deploy missional church leaders in the region and foster a culture of collaboration across the city of Spokane.

A cohort of 20 leaders from the Pacific Northwest Church Planting Movement recently spent 5 days in New York City on an immersive learning tour of churches, church plants, and church planting networks. The goal of the PNW Movement is to collaborate across our city to equip and send out church planters and church plant teams. We’re learning together how best to do this, and on our trip to New York met with a variety of men and women endeavoring to do the same. What did we learn?

Faithfulness And Fruitfulness

We landed in New York close to midnight, but I immediately felt the pace of the city, as if I was behind schedule and a deadline was looming. Almost every church planter and ministry leader we met with described how the City gets inside you, forming a way of being that leaves you harried and exhausted. Often that exhaustion is spiritualized — “putting it all on the line for Jesus” — when in reality it is a rejection of the rest that Jesus offers. I was repeatedly reminded how easily it is to preach justification by faith while living justification by work hours and ministry efforts, neglecting our souls and our families in the name of Jesus. The NYC leaders all spoke to their need for ancient practices — Sabbath, for example — that put hard stops and boundaries around their lives, creating space to cultivate the presence of God and to live a sustainable pace. Genuine fruitfulness in ministry is always the the overflow of faithfulness to Jesus — “apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

Deep Formation Over “Doing Church”

Church leaders in New York report that approximately 30% of their churches turn over every year, after 5 years its 50%, and after 10 years a full 80% of their church has come and gone. That’s a startling statistic, especially if you’re endeavoring to make disciples, raise up leaders, and multiply churches. In that kind of an environment, church leaders cannot simply run programs and execute slick church services — they have to prioritize deep formation in the way of Jesus. Churches have to be counter-formational, endeavoring to help people build a kind of spiritual resiliency that helps them to flourish in the city. I thought often of Daniel in Babylon where he learned a way of being faithful to his God while present in the godless Empire. He used his gifts to serve the city while resisting the Babylon-izing influence of the city. The kind of disciple of Jesus that can survive, let alone flourish, in the city will not be formed in a 90-minute service on Sunday. Deeply shared life in community, corporate rhythms of life and spiritual practice, and intentional equipping pathways are the only way of “doing church” that will make a dent in the city.

Partnership Over Competition

The scale of New York — from the crane-your-neck sky scrapers to the sprawling tangle of the subway — was a dizzying experience for me. I found it hard to get my bearings, and spent most of our time trusting that others knew where we were, where we were going, and how we were getting there! Similarly, the church planters and leaders we met formed a loose but interdependent network of kingdom ministry. There was a great deal of trust in one another and a posture of humble gratitude for the work each was called to do. The leaders share resources, people, and buildings, generously sharing best practices for reaching a diverse and unchurched city. In a place like New York City, there are too many people to reach and too much kingdom work to do for any church or leader to go it alone.

The highlight of the trip, for me, was the depth of relationship built amongst the 20 of us who travelled, learned, and played together. We represented a diversity of church traditions, models, and convictions. There were veteran church leaders with over 40 years of experience and wet-behind-the-ears church planters just figuring things out. Some had planted churches, others were revitalizing churches, and others were serving churches across our city, working on everything from the crisis in Ukraine to racial reconciliation. Each had a story of hope and heartache as they were endeavoring to be faithful to Jesus and his disciple-making mission. While our differences are abundant, what we share in common is so much greater: a clear-eyed passion to make Jesus known and see his kingdom come, in Spokane as it is in heaven, through the planting and revitalizing of churches. We want to see a real movement of disciple-making, church-planting, kingdom-demonstrating followers of Jesus take root and flourish in our region.

Are you interested in planting a church?

If you’re feeling called to plant a church, we would love to talk with you. The PNW Movement is actively looking for those called to plant. We have wide range of training, mentorship, and residency opportunities available.

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