“I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow.” (1 Cor. 3:6)
The theology of Church Planting in our western culture is skewed. I fear that we have been drawn away from the disciple-making heart of Jesus. Since I started this journey towards Church Planting I have noticed issues that must be addressed. I have come to believe that “Go and make disciples” is not actually the mission of every church planter. Whether it is conscious or a blind-spot, the mission has been altered to “Go and build my church”.
What will it take for us to refocus on the heart of ‘disciple-making‘ over the goal of ‘church building‘? This is not just for church planters, it’s for every believer to seek the Lord in.
The original “church planters” such as Paul, Barnabas, Silas, Timothy, and others, approached the task primarily from the disciple-making commission of Jesus. Jesus did not send them out to build more “temples” for people to worship in. He sent them out to make disciples and to teach them to obey everything He commanded. (Matt. 28:19-20) Do our buildings full of attendees actually obey everything Jesus commanded?
Paul’s strategy was to approach the public places and to preach the gospel while he reasoned with them. Paul planted the gospel of Jesus into those who would listen, gathered converts, equipped leaders, and then commissioned them to carry on the work and multiply. This whole process for Paul took over 2 years in Ephesus just to plant a small group of believers. (Acts 19) A church planter, according to Pauls example, is; “someone who makes disciple makers”. Church planting should not be about making more churches, it should be about making more disciples of Jesus.
Our current church planting models aren’t even working. Out of new church plants in the last 10-15 years on average only 50% last more than 4 years. The number one factor for this is financial. This has driven most church planters to strategically seek out higher economic areas. According to Barna research, almost 60% of churches are planted within more wealthy suburban areas. Church plants in rural or urban areas are almost 60% more likely to fail within 4 years. What does this say about our theology of church planting? It says that we are more concerned about building churches then we are about making disciples of all nations.
Discipleship is not a program. It’s not one of the goals of the church, it is the central mission of every believer. The purpose of discipleship is to bear fruit and making disciples is the main fruit. If a gathering of believers functions with this in mind and depends upon the Holy Spirit to “go and make disciples” then the growth of believers in any given city should multiply. But the growth of “gathering” in western church plants steadily decreases over the first 4-5 years according to N.A.M.B. and Ed Stetzers research. One of the driving factors is that most church plants are constructed with a large group of “church hoppers”.
While there are pockets of evangelism driven church plants in our country the majority of church plants attempt the “Church Parking” model. Church Parking is gathering attendees into a building parked on a corner of town somewhere. It’s simply put; “setting up church”.
I spent the summer under the training of one of the major Church Planting organizations and I was disappointed with their focus. The goal of their model is to gather a large amount of money and people (intentionally homogenous much like the graph above). This “critical mass” is supposed to attract more people into your building. Then once you get them in the doors you will have a Pastor share the gospel and get them to come to a membership class. Is this really disciple-making? While Jesus did regularly attend the Synagogue on Sabbath, he spent the majority of his ministry making disciples in every arena of society. He made disciples at parties or wells, in markets or homes, on hillsides or streets.
The Western Church has taken on the instant approach. Few churches value the process of planting and watering. They expect quick results and look for the best bang for their buck. Most 20-30-year-olds want the cars and homes now that took their parents 30 years to earn. Most young church planters have the same drive. They want the big church to happen quick. Jesus was never about quick gains. He took 3 years to invest in a group of knuckleheads in order for them to be properly ready to make disciples. Jesus was interested in multiplication, not addition.
Oswald Chambers speaks about how Jesus handled the temptation of the immediacy. “Jesus could have brought the whole thing about suddenly (John 6:15); but he did not. He withstood Satan and took the stupendously long way.” It is the model of Jesus that matters most in Kingdom work. But Chambers describes the tension between God’s way and our way, “We want to hurry things up by revivals. Over and over again we…say, ‘It must be done quickly -‘”. Our drive to arrive at quick success has warped our theology of disciple-making. It takes time for someone to grow from a new believer to an obedient follower, and finally to a multiplying leader.
Jesus wouldn’t cut it in most modern church planting organizations. Sure Jesus had some stellar moments when he gathered 5-6 thousand people for an event, but his preaching was confusing and offensive. He didn’t have a building. He didn’t utilize a hip worship band. He didn’t offer a really attractive children’s ministry. And, after only 3 years he was left with just a handful of followers. Apparently, his church plant failed.
But Jesus was after something far greater than gathering watchers, he was only interested in empowering workers. It was a handful of disciples, both men, and women, who he personally commissioned to change the world. Our culture doesn’t need more churches parked on street corners we need more believers to be disciple makers. Imagine if churches were planted out of evangelism. Imagine if small groups were intentionally focused on making disciple-makers. Imagine if each believer would personally take on the commissioning of Jesus like those early disciples did.
So what can you do? Jesus would say, “Go and make disciples of all nations.” It’s up to you and me to pioneer a return to the first love of Jesus; making disciples. Stop inviting people to a service and start inviting them to a Savior. Preach Jesus in the public places as Paul did. Plant, water, and watch God bring the harvest!