The Most Important Role of Denominations in Church Planting
Everyone around me knows my passion for church planting. I've lectured on it, speak about it at conferences, help provide resources to church planters through Newchurches.com, written books about it, and write about it regularly on The Exchange.
In the last few weeks alone I've posted an interview on church planting with Jonathan Falwell, a series by Daniel Im on church planting trends (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3), and some church planting secrets I've learned over the years.
It's important to remember a very important group related to church planting: denominations.
Denominations play an important role in facilitating church planting. Not all church planters are denominational, but most are. So, they need to find ways to relate well to their denomination. For the purpose of this article, I will focus on how denominations need to make some changes in order to help promote church planting among their own churches.
So what’s the most important role of the denomination at the national level?
I recently was asked to give a talk at a meeting of a denomination’s national leaders. The denomination has a strong headquarters, but weaker districts, and my answer was tailored to their situation, but the principles apply. (For example, talking about national leaders as “generals” in a “headquarters” won’t make a whole lot of sense in many denominations.)
Be an Advocate and Standard Maker, Not the Doer of All Things Church Planting
The most strategic and important role of the denomination at the national level is to be an advocate for church planting. A national denomination can create national standards and goals for church planting in assessment, coaching, funding, and training. But there is also the need for contextual application of those standards in the various locations where the churches are planted.
If you drive along an interstate in the United States, you will notice signs that welcome you into a new state. The road is virtually, though not completely, the same. For example, the speed limit might have been 75 in one state, but changes to 65 in another. It’s the same interstate, but a different jurisdiction decides the speed limit.
If you are observant, you may notice in some instances the color of the road changes slightly. That’s because the national government sets the standard for the highway, but the products used in meeting the standard are locally determined.
There is freedom at the state and local levels to make contextual adjustments. These variances can be recognized, accredited, and approved at the national level. In church planting, as in road construction, some things are not done best from the national level.
When a leader from headquarters begins to direct church planting on the ground it can seem too distant. Don’t misunderstand: we need national leadership and voice. However, planters both desire and need regional, not national leadership. (Depending on the denomination, that could be a district leader or even a national employee who lives and knows the community.) If church planting is not led locally, it lacks a sense of ownership and loyalty.
Even so, church planting needs national promotion. Even today it’s not normal for a denominational leader to promote church planting. We need more, not fewer, national leaders speaking up about church planting. (My own denomination has made great strides here lately.)
Denominational leaders on the national level should be cheerleaders for locally-led church planting efforts, that they set the standards for, but help local leaders, to accomplish. The local leaders should know both the context and the planter involved.
Promote With Systems & Resources
How can a denomination effectively promote church planting on the national level?
The denomination best advocates church planting when it provides proven and effective church planting systems and puts its resources behind them.
The denomination would be best served by inviting church planters to help guide the creation of the systems. Planters will be more inclined to get behind the systems if the soldiers on the spiritual front lines (church planters who understand the needs) inform the generals at headquarters (denominational leaders who have the power and the resources) so they can equip, empower, and enable church planting at the local level.
Even though the polity of one denomination may differ from another, the best church planting systems are developed and accredited nationally—with input from the planters using the systems—and then applied locally.
Yet, the most imporant—and often lacking—role of the national leaders (not just church planting leaders, but all national leaders) is to champion church planting—often and loudly. Ironically, that will be controversial. (Most people will not come right out and oppose church planting, they will oppose it through other complaints about process, personalities, or more, but the result is the same—it is opposed.)
However, trumpet planting anyway, and partner with or place local leaders to do it well.
It takes partnership and trust, but supporting planters well makes it worth the effort.