Stop Planting Churches!!!

A few years back now, I was approached by a prospective church planter seeking to get an endorsement for the project. This person told me his plan of planting a church to attract and teach young people the Scriptures like what was happening at the church I was pastoring (the church I was leading at the time was made up of about 60-70% college-aged folk). To say that how I responded caught him off guard would be an understatement. Because of a core theological belief, I hold that God is a missionary and that the church should emulate that identity, my advice was, “Go home and take off your pastor hat. Put it in the closet. Then, put your missionary hat on. Spend your time reaching people with the Gospel of Jesus. If God allows you to reach young people with the Gospel, then you can put your pastor hat back on, but if you don’t start with your missionary hat on first, I don’t think you should plant the church.” It was obvious by this person’s crestfallen countenance that the advice wasn’t what he was hoping for.

Those who know me might find the title of this blog unnecessarily provocative, if not disingenuous. After all, I’ve spent the “lion’s share” of my 35 years in ministry catalyzing church planting, both locally and internationally. Over the years, however, as a result of my involvement in church planting in the region, I feel the need to qualify my commitment. I’ve been approached by scores of would-be church planters, looking for advice about how starting a new church might happen in Spokane. If I can be completely candid, over the last 15 years I have discouraged as many of those people as I have encouraged. The reason is, unfortunately, much of church planting is a replication of things that have gotten us into the dilemma we are currently in regarding the church. It’s been said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Statistically the trajectory of the church in the west, and in particular, the Pacific Northwest part of America is one of obsolescence. The church is shrinking faster than we can add new members or new congregations. The flood of younger people looking for the exit ramp out of churches grows at an almost exponential rate. There are many reasons for this, but in my humble opinion, one of the foremost reasons is our attempt to start churches, rather than to do mission both individually and as church communities.

Let me attempt to explain. Often times church planting devolves into starting worship services. While I have no problem with worship services, if we hope to do missional [1] church planting, I’m not sure that can be our primary target. If church planting doesn’t frontload or flow from mission, I am not persuaded there’s a need for any more of it, thus the title of this blog. We can just attempt to fill in churches that are already in existence. However, in the current missionary climate that we find ourselves in, there is an absolute and critical need for mission.  And we do know that church planting done in context, front-loading Mission, does make a difference. Tim Keller explains further…

“The vigorous, continual planting of new congregations is the single most crucial strategy for (1) the numerical growth of the body of Christ in a city and (2) the continual corporate renewal and revival of the existing churches in a city. Nothing else—not crusades, outreach programs, parachurch ministries, growing megachurches, congregational consulting, nor church renewal processes—will have the consistent impact of dynamic, extensive church planting.”Tim Keller

This is precisely why, those of us in the Pacific Northwest Movement (a group I help lead) have prioritized mission, rather than church planting. Church planting is important but is actually a byproduct of rightly doing evangelism and missions.

“Our mission is to identify, develop and deploy 400 missionary leaders to start reproducing self-sustaining churches in the Spokane area and extending throughout the Pacific Northwest and beyond.”Purpose Statement of the PNW Church Planting Movement

A new church being planted is actually the outcome of doing things that Jesus sent us to do, such as declaring the Gospel, caring for the poor, investing in the downtrodden, and standing against injustice (Luke 4). Starting new churches is not the primary goal, but the byproduct of being a “sent people” on mission (John 20:21). If we get that out of order, we find ourselves in the sad enterprise of continuing to domesticate the church in the US, thus propagating a model of church engagement that is distant from Jesus’ intention–more reminiscent of a club then a missionary community.

Ok, let me start over. I think we need to start new churches. Actually, I believe we need to start 100’s of new churches, but they have to, they must identify and live out a missionary calling. Those of us watching church stuff for a long time have heard about “The Christian West.” That may or may not have been true at some point in history, but the hard reality of our current era is the west has become the mission field and the church must courageously respond to its current reality. That is the commitment and hope of the PNW Planting Movement in partnership with Whitworth’s OCE.

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.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Follow Us on Social Media