I am a church planter—not just because I have planted churches, but because I believe in church planting. It is God’s design to grow His church on the earth. Church planting advances the Kingdom of God by taking the light into the darkness. It involves going to people and places that need to experience the love and power of God through Jesus Christ.
What makes church planters is not so much the act of planting churches or a trail of church plants, but the deepest conviction that church planting is God’s intended way to win the lost, to pastor and disciple those who believe, to train and equip the army of God, and to activate and send the Body of Christ into the world to plant more churches.
Things To Consider When Planting A New Church
If you’re planning to plant and pastor a new church, then here is a short list of things you need to consider before you set out.
- Who are you trying to reach? Where do they live? How do you plan to reach them?
- Will you need to do language studies before you start? Will vocational or professional training come first? Have you had any cross-cultural experience?
- Are there any churches in the area already? Do you know their story? Are you planning to build a relationship with them before you start?
- What’s the budget for your church plant?
- When will you begin? Who needs to know? How will you communicate it?
- What style of community church and worship service will you have?
- Do you have team members? Do you have a plan for developing launch team members? Do the launch team members know what will be expected of them? Who will lead the team?
- What kind of support can you expect from other churches and church leaders, such as within your denomination, movement, church network, community church, house church, cell group? What kind of accountability do those partners expect?
- Have you set clear goals? Have you set a timeframe for reaching them?
- Are you and your spouse in agreement on planting a church? How will the church plant affect your family?
Clearly, this list is not exhaustive, but includes some topics church planters, lead pastors, and launch team members need to carefully consider. Though there are various schools of thought about specific details of how to plant churches, these same questions are valuable.
Before we go further in talking about church plants, though, it might be helpful to have a shared definition of what I mean by churches.
What Do We Mean When We Talk About “Churches”?
I always go back to God’s word when there is a question about our understanding of such things. Let’s take a look at what the Bible says about churches and church planting.
The Idea Of Vine & Branches
In John 15:5, Jesus said to His disciples, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” Jesus was speaking about things to come, explaining that He was the source of all that His Father in heaven would do on the earth; if they continued to follow Jesus in everything pertaining to their life and work, they would see the results of His work through them.
But what does the concept of vine and branches have to do with churches and church planting?
Well, for a start, there is only one vine—not many vines, but only one. Jesus was not referring to denominations, movements, or what we call churches (of which there are many), but to himself:
The Son of God, sent by the Father, full of the Holy Spirit, to die for the sins of the world, to be raised from the dead, to send the Holy Spirit once ascended so that his work on earth would continue through his Body, the Church! What there are “many of” is branches. One vine, many branches. Simple, right? (I wish!)
Let me explain further: Since there is only one vine, there is only one Church. If we are talking about planting new churches, then we must talk about something that is not separate from or additional to the one true and living Church, that is Christ’s.
Planting A New Church Is About People
Planting a new church is actually bringing about church growth. We are not starting something “new” as if it doesn’t already exist. And to be clear, since Jesus is the vine, we are the branches. People, redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. People, born-again, Spirit-filled. People, called by name, set apart, consecrated, Spirit-gifted, mantled with the destiny and purpose of God, to advance His Kingdom throughout the earth! People.
As pastors and church leaders you will need buildings for the church to meet in, and equipment to facilitate the ministry—that is, running programs, holding worship services, having meetings—but none of these things together or separately are the Church. The Church is the people.
Don’t forget this, and if you truly believe it, then as you plant churches, keep restating what you believe with your life, for the rest of your life!
A Story About “Going” To Church
For a long time, a small group met in our house week after week, year after year, every Saturday night. Those were some rich times of ministry for my wife and for me.
Over the years, different people came, some to stay, some just passing through. One man who was a “regular” would be among the first to stand up at the end of each evening and say,
“Well, I gotta go now ‘cause I gotta go to church in the morning.”
As he moved to leave, I would meet him at the door and say, “Just remember, you can’t go to church, you can only be the Church!” He and I would laugh before we blessed each other and said goodbye.
This went on for some time until one night he got up in his usual manner, saying what he always said, but before I could answer he laughed and said,
“Yes, yes, I know, ‘You can’t go to church, you can only be the Church’.
As warmly as I knew how, I responded by saying, “No you don’t know, because when you do know something that God has revealed to you, it changes the way you talk and the way you act. It’s called, my friend, ‘transformation’.”
You can’t go to church because the church is not a physical address or a building on the corner of a city street. It is not a worship service, meeting, or program. The Church is God’s people. This is the truth.
My Story Of Planting A New Church
Years ago, when I set out as lead pastor to plant and pastor my first church, the District Superintendent of the denomination that I was with said, “We are sending you to another city to ‘organize’ as a new church.” It was his way of explaining a church plant.
He was right—it took a lot of organizing as well as personal effort to plant that church from scratch!
From the time we “went public”, there was no turning back: No Sundays off, no excuses for not delivering weekly sermons and Bible studies, meeting with the launch team, counselling church members, doing weddings and funerals, worship service preparation, etc. Planning, scheduling, organizing? You bet! But all that activity, and all my performance did not create or sustain His Church. Organize a church into being? I think not.
What you end up with is a Christianized organization with its members and regular activities. What is needed—what every church planter and launch team needs—is a revelation of Christ’s Church by the Spirit of God, preferably before stepping out to plant a new church.
What we say or how we talk so often expresses what we think. When our thinking changes, then how we talk changes, too. If information is meant to inform, then a revelation of the Spirit is meant to transform. Jesus was not trying to inform his disciples with regard to His Church, He was imparting a revelation to them. Later, on the day of Pentecost when the disciples received the Holy Spirit, their transformed minds understood things that they could only know by the Spirit.
As a consequence, they talked differently—no longer confused and scared by Jesus’ bewildering departure, but clear-minded and emboldened by an infusion of the Spirit of God. Peter’s response to the gobsmacked crowd that day would mark the beginning of a transformation that continued in many others who repented, believed, and followed Jesus.
One Church, One Church Planter
So what’s my point? The point is that it is actually wrong to think that you can plant something that already exists. As Jesus explained, just as there is only one true vine, there is only one true Church. And there is only one Church planter! He said, “My Father is the gardener,” and He has planted His Church through His Son by the Holy Spirit. The Bible makes it clear that Jesus’ Church already exists and will prevail on earth until the Lord, Himself, returns.
This brings us back to our definition. Church planting (“new” implied), is really about the Church being fruitful.
There is no new vine to be planted, there are just branches to be grown. The growth is the Lord’s work in us and through us. He causes us to bear fruit, rather than we make ourselves fruitful (or productive) in his name.
When God works through us in marvelous and miraculous ways, then He gets the glory and the testimony belongs to Him, rather than to man. Remember, as the scripture says, we are all, “like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5). The house is God’s work. “Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain” (Psalm 127:1).
And so, when it comes to church planting:
- The planting is God’s
- The building is God’s
- Even our ability to bear fruit is His!
When we understand this by a revelation of the Spirit, then our transformed heart and mind come into alignment with the heart and mind of God.
Without this kind of alignment, any new work that a man or woman begins will end up being more about their good intentions—and falsely founded on the idea that they are starting a new church. Truly God wants His Church to grow; however, we must carry a revelation of His Church in our hearts and minds in order to remain in Jesus as we step out to do His work. All church growth depends upon this, as apart from him we can do nothing (John 15:5).
So what we really mean when we talk about planting new churches is adding branches to the true vine that will, hopefully, bear much fruit. But adding a new branch is not like building an extension onto your house.
The only way this kind of branch is added to the vine is when an individual repents, believes in Jesus, and follows Him. It is the individual, not a community church, that is added to Jesus. The new believer, then, becomes another branch in the living vine, with great fruit-bearing potential.
This is key to pastors and church leaders understanding what is “new” about church planting: It is not about the nation or the city or the town you go to. Nor is it about the building or equipment or programs or worship services you run in your church plants.
It is, ultimately, about each individual you reach with the gospel who gives their life to Jesus and is born again by the Spirit of God. A dead stone that is now living! That is what makes things new.
But what about the re-grouping, re-branding, re-packaging of the saints?
What about lead pastors discipling those who are already “in Christ”?
What about training and equipping, activating and sending?
These are all good, necessary and important, but this is not new church planting, but rather shepherding believers to maturity.
The chafing point in this is that we can work hard and spend huge amounts of resources caring for and being pastors to those who already believe in Christ, yet never see them become fruit-bearers in advancing the Kingdom! In fact, we might dare to conclude that the fruitfulness of the Body of Christ when it comes to church growth is a measure of our own ministry. And the cutting edge of the Church will always be in reaching the lost with the gospel of God’s love and forgiveness through Jesus Christ—in one word: evangelism.
Our challenge is to do both well, that is, to pastor the Church in such a way that they are activated and sent out as “fishers of men”. Any other reason for church planting suggests we’ve failed to understand the apostolic and prophetic foundations of the Church (Ephesians 2:20).
Advice for would-be church planters? In the words of Ed Stetzer, “Don’t let your church be a cul-de-sac on the Great Commission highway.”