Are there reasons not to plant a church?

TallSkinnyKiwi has posted 9 reasons not to plant a church at his blog. He mentions that there has been a shift away from planting churches in a traditional way towards:

launching more sustainable, more holistic, more measurably transformational Kingdom solutions.

And in some of these pioneering initiatives he claims

Some church planters are delaying the worship service piece of the pioneer missional ministry for as long as possible and sometimes indefinitely.

There’s plenty in his post that resonates with me as as pioneer minister in the UK. Briefly, his nine reasons are:

  1. Lack of Biblical Precedent. [this is a dubious one]
  2. they concentrate too much on numbers and ignore “more vital signs of a transformed society”.
  3. They mostly attract de-churched people or those with a Christian background, failing to attract those who are truly unchurched.
  4. They can fail to take the gospel effectively into a new culture (he even mentioned sheep-stealing).
  5. Too meeting-focussed resulting in a consumer mindset.
  6. Maintains a high institutional recognition (a problem in some countries).
  7. They are resource intensive (a problem in a recession)
  8. Mostly are middle-class or wealthy, ignoring the poor.
  9. If the Church already has a bruised reputation in a context, encouraging people to join a new one is a hard sell.

Some of these are clearly not applicable to our situation (#6 and #9),  #4 is subjective and I could argue over the first one too. Others can clearly be a problem for a traditional church plant (particularly #2, #3 and #5). So we agree that a pioneering style can grow up a more incarnational church.  However, I do not believe that ‘delaying worship indefinitely’ is the right move. (I’m struggling to think of a single situation where it might be). It just depends on what you mean by ‘worship’.

It is true that taking a long time doing the ‘kingdom’ stuff is important, setting down roots, building and serving the community. We have not started a worship service yet as whatever we would have started would have reflected the preferences of the Christians in the Core Team rather than whatever might have been most appropriate for the wider community. However at some point I envisage that something approaching ‘church’ will have to start. This comes down to a couple of reasons, some of which are down to the language and definitions that we use.

I am busy building relationships, serving people in my community, and getting into all sorts of interesting conversations. There are are a small group of people who are interested in taking the next small step. I am very conscious that the next step is not to usher them into a worship service and get a ‘bum on a seat’ but in taking them on a journey of discipleship. At some point when, by the grace of God, they are ready to consciously follow God, they will need a regular way of expressing their worship. What form this will take or when, I do not yet know, but I’m sure it will be required to maintain the onward growth.

Therefore if you define church as a community who are journeying toward Christ and are reading the scriptures, praying, and celebrating the sacraments (in whatever form), at some point a group that is doing that which has come out of pioneer initiatives will become ‘church’. As a matter of definitions, is this not planting church from seed (instead of by graft)? At some point church will emerge.

As with many pioneers, we are ‘focussing on a wider range of transforming Kingdom activities’. This is great, but it all depends again on what the pioneer means by this – again a robust definition is required. Kingdom Work is not just opening up a soup kitchen, looking after the poor, campaigning on matters of justice. Although they are all good things to do, they are not Kingdom Work unless, in some sense, they are pointing people towards Christ (not necessarily through words). Some churches have, for years, been positively and actively engaged in the communities and have done great things, but have neglected to “speak of the reason for the hope that they have” (1 Peter 3:15) and have failed to give adequate opportunities for people to explore the substance of the Christian faith. One church I once visited, I remember the vicar being very downcast as the council were now providing most of the support services that the church used to offer, and he was a little as a loss of what to do next. Yet he had never thought of giving opportunities for people to understand the faith. Transformational Kingdom Activities must have both aspects in them.

Models of church planting depend entirely on the context you are in. The UK is currently in an era of post-Christendom. We used to be able to call ourselves a Christian Country, in some sense, and most people identified themselves as Christians and many more went to church. Society is more pluralistic and people have a diminished sense of allegiance to any institution.

This means that traditional evangelistic programmes will not be as effective, as TallSkinnyKiwi rightly pointed out. However there are still segments of society where a traditional church-planting model is effective. HTB in London has planted over 20 churches around London in the last 15 years. Each time they send a pastor and a group of 50 people. It is undeniable that people still become Christians this way and that the new churches have a positive impact on the surrounding community. This method certainly wouldn’t work in my context but it seems to be working among a section of the population there. They will still need pioneering initiatives to go alongside those planted churches and reach sections of society that their traditional model is not reaching, as no single model is all-encompassing any more.

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