For most institutions, the extent of their church planting know-how amounts to “have a service and they will come”. A tactic that starts in skinny jeans and ends in a soft-launch. Which is fine, but denominations can’t all be using the same strategy. I suppose they could, but that would lead to widespread stagnation…which may explain a few things. I digress.

I was recently in Washington D.C. and caught the tail-end of the Missio Alliance conference across the street in Virginia. I was at the final morning plenaries which were nice but not particularly innovative (some of the sessions apparently were). They are trying to become one of the mainstream gatherings on reimagining contemporary (white) evangelicalism. Not so much deconstruction, but a space to pose new questions particularly around mission.

But I wasn’t in D.C. for the conference. I was there for a meeting with the V3 Movement tribe. Some of you may be familiar with their work of catalyzing and building church planters. I am a regular contributor on their blog as well. One of the questions they are pondering, and a key component to their planting program, is how to develop movements in our shifting culture.

On Movements

Movement language itself isn’t new. The biggest church planting conferences centre around the prospect of starting movements. The main thinkers and speakers set the bar high and aspiring planters pine to achieve “movement” status. Yet movements, particularly exponential movements, are essentially non-existent in Western contexts. In pockets, particularly in areas where people still have a Christian memory, launching Sunday services may work. But this approach isn’t working en mass nor is it leading to the aforementioned movements.

What then needs to be done to build the next generation of planters and pioneers? Two thoughts.

One, re-calibrate what we mean and measure when referring to “movements”. If it’s exponential growth most plants are failures. If it’s generating kingdom momentum in people groups and neighborhoods then there are more options. One of the markers of competent leadership in a post-Christian context is the ability to contextualize ministry. This process leads to an understanding that church function in the new culture won’t produce the same “results”. Leaders are learning that chasing numbers is no longer an indicator of success.  (In my book, Thrive, I talk about the mechanism of how movements get–well–moving.) Without the metrics, micro movements that see the revitalization of hubs and neighborhoods not only count, but are worth learning from.

Two, we need new pathways of development and systems of support. As institutions fumble along in search of incremental change, boots on the ground (sort of speak) are re-imagining new pathways by taking ideas and living them out. Re-imaging systems of organization and development requires pioneers to test and prove concepts. The exercise is not merely to survive in a new culture, but thrive unto movement state as well. We won’t get there by simply iterating the practices from church industry. Rather, new practices are necessary.

Examples of New Practices

This isn’t an exhaustive list, rather a glimpse into new planting/movement strategies.

  • New mechanisms and approaches for collaboration. That includes faith-based and secular organizations.
  • New ways to build future leaders. Also new ways to identify who those leaders are. That means no longer the seminary grad, but culture leaders instead.
  • Continued building of local parish and vision (moving away from commuter models).
  • Re-imagining how gatherings take place in new cultures (it’s not in a Sunday sit and consume format).
  • Expanding our ideas of what constitutes (or “counts”) as church.

Is this list for everyone? No. But that’s the point. Leaders tied, or unwilling, to move outside of institutional boundaries and norms need not apply. But for the rest of us, the next generation of leaders, this is the start of a new way forward.

Culture Shifts in Planting is Widespread

Here’s an interesting takeaway from my time in Washington. Questions on re-imagining church planting and even faith aren’t exclusive to V3. I was surprised how similar the conversation and questions were to the ones I’m having at home. An organization I’m launching with friends called Mosaic Ministries, is asking and exploring the same stuff. New practices, pathways, systems, etc. This is particularly noteworthy because the two organizations exist in completely different denominations, different context, different countries even, yet are trying to solve the same questions. This strikes me as an indicator this exploration is an unfolding kingdom movement for our age. One that seeks to join the unfolding hope in our neighborhoods and cities.