There’s a saying that goes, “America may have a black President, but it will never have a poor President.”

There are, like it or not, fewer opportunities available to those with fewer resources. The same notion applies to churches. For example, conventional church planting is not an enterprise readily available to poor churches.

The predominant methods most North American churches use to plant are largely inaccessible by the majority of churches.

This should be a red flag that our models are amiss.

Quite simply, planting churches is extremely expensive, but thankfully this inhibitor reveals the opportunity necessary to innovate.

I was recently at a church planting conference where the host organization was continuously pumping their A,B,C,Ds of church planting. The format itself is not a problem, but it’s probably one of the most expensive methods to employ. The sad part of this particular conference was that it was the only model celebrated despite caution from the main speaker.

Most church planting models seek to replicate convention and not necessarily innovate. You know the norm: identify a charismatic leader, assess them to see if they meet the right qualifications, spend time developing their skills to be a traditional lead pastor, give them tools to survive after launch. All along the way someone is paying for the person to go through the program, and for the supporting cast of developers.

This doesn’t include the exorbitant cost of a bible degree (generally required for all church planters), and the ongoing cost of holding weekly services (most of us have done away with the need to outright purchase a new building, but that doesn’t stop us from pouring resources into the weekly event.)

In an age where the church is disintegrating, there are few alternatives to traditional church planting being explored.

I’ve blogged about the cost suggesting in some instances a church plant might be a quarter million dollars in the red before launching the first service. Assessments, training and development, salaries, new building or at least rent money, new equipment, etc., all add up.

[tweetthis]The average church can’t afford to church plant in the average way.[/tweetthis]

But that’s just to start, the only way to afford the ongoing costs associated with traditional church planting is for large churches to cleve off a critical mass of people to send in what is effectively a church transplant. It’s the only way to pay ongoing expenses of a model centered around lead pastor and Sunday service.

There’s also an issue when we silo leadership development to a few para-church organizations. Congregations may differ but leaders are cut from the same measured cloth.

With the renewed interest in church planting, which is great, what cost are we willing to bear? Some argue that it’s the best way to evangelize in a new post-Christian culture. I would argue merely duplicating identity of the sending church, repackaged in a ‘cooler’ format, doesn’t address the fundamental issue we’re still ignoring: DISCIPLESHIP.

[tweetthis]The proliferation of consumer Christianity has come at the expense of embodied discipleship.[/tweetthis]

Along with church planting there is a complementary resurgence for discipleship. Leaders know what’s missing but struggle to reflect characteristics that mobilize their congregations into deeper Kingdom participation.

Thankfully, the New Testament model of church planting was exactly the opposite–there weren’t many church planting initiatives (if at all). Rather, we read about people planting: the intentional and long term embodiment of the Gospel into households and neighborhoods. Rather than a church planting movement there was a discipleship making movement.

As the old saying goes, “pursue life unto life and make disciples first, then a gathering church may emerge.” It doesn’t seem to work well the other way around.

Discipleship first, and maybe you get a church. That’s a method of church planting we all can employ, and the cost is effectively nil.