Multiplication: Planting churches

The New Testament describes the church’s relationship to Jesus as a marriage. This is a helpful image because, as wonderful as marriage can be, it doesn’t always make sense.

The logical result of making disciples and developing leaders will be planting churches. Over the last few decades, we’ve unsuccessfully made “8churches” the goal. However, Jesus was clear that we are to “seek first the Kingdom.” Churches are God’s means for spreading kingdom life throughout the world. It’s a subtle, but important difference.

It changes the way that we plant churches. It changes our expectations for the churches that we plant. Here are two examples: one from a couple hundred years ago and one from a couple of decades ago.

Jonathan Edwards, America’s greatest theologian and revivalist, was voted out of his church after more than 20 years of ministry with a vote of 200-23. Why? Biblically educated, thoroughly doctrinal and reformed Puritan people wanted church polity their own way.

A couple of decades ago, the church growth movement emphasized growing churches over growing the kingdom (if I’m honest, I totally missed this early on during my ministry years). So we measured success by how many people were attending church instead of how many churches were multiplying.

It’s like marriage.

Sometimes husbands and wives use the same words but, over time, realize they have very different expectations. The really tough part is that sometimes you don’t know there are problems, until there are BIG problems. A lack of communication, financial inconsistencies and parenting pressures can slowly, quietly erode wedded bliss over a period of years.

An ever-steepening decline in the number of churches demands that we plant more and more new congregations. However, how we plant them will help determine how they impact the culture in the long run. Some good pre-marital counseling is a young marriage’s best friend.

Planting needs excellent assessment, missional training and consistent support.
Assessment means that planters clearly know the areas that prove their calling and the areas of improvement for their calling. When they say “I do,” husbands have a basic knowledge of what it means to be providers and protectors. However, they don’t know, can’t know, the amount of sanctification that marriage will require of them. Sometimes, I think the failure of pre-marital counseling in this area may actually be a plus! However, if they hang in, the joys of marriage and family far outweigh the required changes.

Planters need solid training.
For too many years, church planters have been handed a book and given a pat on the back. We need to train planters like we train international missionaries. They need to speak the language of their zip code. They must be able to understand the values of their local people groups. They need to understand core team development and have realistic timelines based on typical responses in their culture. When someone sits down with a wife-to-be and helps her see that her husband-to-be is a work in progress, that he’s not a finished product and that maybe he isn’t her dad, it’s a huge favor to her. It’s a small thing that can make all the difference.

Planters need support.
It’s imperative that a planter knows that someone is holding the rope for their plant. They need a sending church, a network of planters and a good coach. Now, having this web of support is NOT a necessity, but the likelihood of success climbs with each pillar. Young couples from loving families, who get great pre-marital counseling and are also blessed with good friends, have a solid foundation for their future. All of these aren’t necessary for a healthy marriage, but they all help.

That’s all. Called, gifted people, well-assessed with solid training supported by a network that’s holding the rope. Those churches can change the world. They can make kingdom disciples and multiply for the glory of God throughout the world.

It’s not easy. It’s incredibly difficult. That’s why it’s so rare…just like marriage.

But when it’s right, it’s a beautiful gift from God to the world.

Published August 11, 2016