I believe language matters. When we come to the table to set vision for the future, the meaning behind our words matters. Words like ‘church planting’ or ‘discipleship’, require clarity so any direction moving forward is both inspiring and achievable.

Church that talk about growing, or maintaining a church that has life, will include questions around the two ideas of healthy ‘discipleship’ and new ‘church planting’ initiatives. Both are mechanisms to go deeper in faith, and to grow communities through conversion.

The last part is worth focussing on. There are many denominations and churches talking about mechanism to grow, but essentially nobody is growing via conversion growth. The type of conversion growth seen in even the largest churches is nascent at best, and is a reflection of how little current strategies work, and how small current vision compels change.

Let’s talk about church planting specifically. In my city,

Generally, the successful church plants, the ones that have lasted beyond year 3, are not new starts, rather, transplants from a large sending church.

Here’s the point, if church planting is all about sustainability then church transplanting is the way to go. If church planting is about living out the Gospel beyond the confines of the building walls, then what we have is woefully inadequate (a nicer way to say ‘broken’).

Our language needs an honest reflective re-assessment. Here are some thoughts to consider on re-vamping our language around church planting.

  1. What is the purpose of church planting? Is it to reach new people? If that’s the case, then creating a new service won’t help. A new package for the same stuff will only appeal to lapsed or existing Christians. If you look at the evidence this is why contemporary evangelical churches are doing OK, they’re good at meeting the right demand of consumer Christians. New services aren’t effective at attracting never before churched people. If it did, ‘build it and they will come’ theology would still work.
  2. We have a problem when the primary questions surrounding the possibility of church planting revolve around sustainability. The reason why sustainability dominates is because it’s SO expensive to plant.
  3. The reason why planting is expensive is because we generally only use one approach. Train the already trained male lead pastor, maybe include some training for a team, and teach them to run a service. Send 100 people for critical mass, and if you do the training and assessments right, the ‘plant’ will be OK. This is why, with this current model, there will never be a North American ‘church planting movement’–the cost is simply too high.
  4. New outreach ministries is not church planting. Doing something for immigrants or social outreach, is not church planting. It’s an expression of church, it’s programming, but in itself is not church planting. It could, by a long shot, amount to the potential of a new church plant, but ministries are ministries, don’t boast that they’re something they aren’t.
  5. We need more models, and specifically models that have a lower cost. Expect that these attempts will also be smaller. One potential win would be to leverage existing small groups that are centered in neighbourhood, and reinvigorate them with a theology of missio Dei.
  6. Church planting, and church planting coaching by association, requires practitioners. No amount of book reading will help you for the real deal. And the real deal, by the way, doesn’t have to incorporate all of the headaches of running a full blown church body. Church planting at present is a bi-vocational endeavour more often than not.
  7. Church transplanting is OK, but we need to be honest with calling a spade a spade. The development of leaders from within the local church is critical, and cleaving off a group of people for a new attempt in a new place is also critical. Church transplants perhaps become their own ‘plant’, but the ultimate goal isn’t to recycle Christians, but see the fruit of transformation and new believers. FOLLOW THE FRUIT. Transformations and new believers are indicative of a real church plant doing Kingdom things. (In that sense, count the testimonies in your baptism services to see how many ‘unreached’ people you’re actually reaching. It’s not many.)

To expand on point 7, I do believe big churches should regularly release 100 people to start something new in a different location with different identity but same Gospel. Ignoring this possibility is a pure example of building the cathedral. Churches that are noticing a bit of a decline, even if they’re big, seem to have a knee-jerk reaction to centralize their function. This is a vein attempt to retain power, and retain the relic of Christendom. (As an aside, it’s also really poor leadership if you can’t figure out a way to build competent leaders to build new communities. It’s speaks volumes of the vision of the CEO if he can’t build or discover replacements.)

Large churches should transplant on a regular basis. It’s a fantastic way to increase and participate in the Kingdom in our midst. It’s also not possible if the large church wants to do cathedral things, like capital projects.

In our changing world we don’t need ‘more of the same’. It’s time to come to the table with all the ideas rather than the ones that take the least amount of risk relying on existing Christians. Our vision should go beyond the confines of the church walls and into the places where God’s Kingdom is already at work.