Do you know the children’s rhyme that goes like this, “here is the church, here is the steeple, open the church, where are the people?!”

The rhyme is dead wrong and most leaders would echo the same. The church isn’t the steeple it’s the people! However, our actions and words sometimes defies our theology. The assurance and complacency of Christendom permitted the association of physical remnants, like the cathedral, as the literal church. This kind of thinking has permeated the realm of current church planting tactics.

Lately, the  language being used by church planting organizations includes the popular moniker “CPM”, which stands for “church planting movement”. It seems everyone in the church planting business wants to launch some type of multiplying effort that springboards into an uncontainable movement.

I want to suggest this type of thinking needs to be challenged and CPM language should be eliminated. Here’s why.

1. Church Planting Movement theory has largely been developed outside of North America in regions where observable multiplying growth occurs. China, India, some countries in Africa, and parts of Latin America, are places where the the Gospel was dormant and the right conditions for multiplying growth existed (and still do). CPM theory itself emerged by observing these trends. What CPM theory is not, however, is a prescriptive model on how to plant churches.

CPM theory describes what works abroad. What we have done in North America is largely translate that theory directly into a model for application. But here’s the problem: that model depends on cultural conditions that we largely don’t have in North America. Albeit eroding, we still exist in a world where there’s a saturation of Christians by identification and therefore mathematically do not have enough people to spill over into any exponential movement.

2. By focusing on church plants we are still thinking within a lens of Christendom. We still believe what worked in the past will work today so long as we get the leadership question right. But this merely helps establish a form of clergyhood, not disciples.

[tweetthis remove_url=”true”]We still believe what worked in the past will work today so long as we have the right leadership. #churchplanting[/tweetthis]

We start with the institution and then pray we can find the right strategy to attract people inside. Some churches circumvent this by simply sending 100 of their own people into a new church transplant. There’s nothing wrong with church transplanting, but when we start with the institution we have already lost. When the prevailing culture is shifting to a post-Christian era, the church needs to START in post-Christendom, not launch in Christendom in hopes of attracting lapsed Christians or transfers, then figuring out how to interact with people who don’t look like them (we’re terrible at this by the way).

I’m fairly convinced (and am wiling to be wrong) that we will not observe a church planting movement in North America for generations. That doesn’t mean our work is lost, but it does mean adjusting our language. Picking up more attention, even in the spaces and places where CPM works, is the DMM movement, or rather, the disclpleship making movement.

I wrote a vignette on this topic earlier: ‘Build into People, not Steeple‘. Start with disciples, and maybe after a decade groups of them will gather corporately (some would call this ‘church’). This is the kind of patience we’ll need to start with in the post-Christian era.

What do you think? I would love to hear some responses to this and whether or not it’s the way forward.