"Church planting is the most effective form of evangelism under heaven," said C.Peter Wagner. I know he said that. I was there. I was a young [and good looking] Seminary student sitting in his classroom when he said it.
It was a welcomed idea, proven scientifically more effective than trying to expand older church structures. Back then, there was little argument against it and the idea was embraced by mission societies and church denominations who played it out in their strategies all through the 90's and also during the noughties when the thinking became mainstream rather than rebellious. I was part of that movement the whole time.
But now it's 2012 and while some young, enthusiastic people are out there planting churches like its 1997, others are focusing on launching more sustainable, more holistic, more measurably transformational Kingdom solutions.
One of the biggest trends in church planting that I observed in my recent 30+ country trek is the SHIFT AWAY FROM planting churches towards NOT planting a church at all but focusing on a wider range of transforming Kingdom activities. Some church planters are delaying the worship service piece of the pioneer missional ministry for as long as possible and sometimes indefinitely.
- At our gathering in Prague, some of the key leaders of the Europe church planting movement a decade ago told us they had already moved into launching monastic type communities and less ecclesiocentric models of ministry than church planting.
- In USA, some of the most innovative new Christian communities I came across did not launch or host Sunday worship services as part of their ministry portfolio.
- In China, I met a young "church planting" couple who have started ministries in over a dozen cities but refuse to start church worship services. They told me that starting a church starts a long and arduous battle with the Chinese government that they have avoided by starting missional enterprises, Kingdom businesses and concert-like events . . . but NOT churches.
- Same in Indonesia. One group had started hundreds of communities but avoided Sunday worship services and refused to construct church buildings, which have a habit of being burned to the ground in that country. Real church happens when the conditions are right, they told me. They would rather seed a potential garden than plant a church.
WHY THE SHIFT?
There has been some disillusionment with the church planting movement, even after it has purged itself of its 80's church growth pragmatism. I have talked with many of these leaders and have added some observations myself. Here are some of the issues:
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