9 Reasons NOT to Plant a Church in 2012
Why church planting may no longer be the best vehicle for evangelism.

"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.


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:

January 18, 2012

Displaying 1–10 of 27 comments

Kim Bontilao

April 19, 2012  8:14pm

Our mandate is to Go and Make Disciples (Matt 28:19) while it is Jesus' job description to build His Church (Matt 16:18). Wonderful article brother.

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Dan B.

April 16, 2012  12:22pm

Great article. I'm wondering if #7 is what really has caught the attention of the church/seminary establishment.

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February 24, 2012  10:40pm

I see the whiny old guard is out in full force. Andrew hits the nail on the head. This IS the church - what it was meant to be.

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Paul Goodner

February 07, 2012  1:52pm

I am a missionary and someone who devotes themselves to helping God's people learn the commands of Jesus in order to Start churches. I think it is always important to evaluate how we work and minister. If there are people out there trying to incorporate a North American model of church planting cross-culturally, there will be difficulties. The author brings up some very valid concerns about the methods that have been used in the past as well as currently. I believe what is the best method is to work at disciple making first and foremost. Then work with God's people at those disciples making disciples. Let the congregations determine how or if they can pay their pastors and what buildings they like. Bi-vocational pastors have been around for a very long time and in some cases unpaid pastors as well. In North America and perhaps others places we have built these mega-buildings that we call churches. Is this model cost effective? Are we reproducing disciples? Are we replacing ourselves in order that they may reproduce? That is what Jesus did. Much food for thought, God Bless.

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Richard M

February 03, 2012  10:19am

Mike Gantt - Acts 2 to is about giving your finances and possessions to help the poor and needy in the church. Acts 4 and 5 is the same. 1 Cor 9:14 is about supporting those who preach the Gospel - i.e. evangelists, missionaries. And if the church just paid those, how many more would be in the Kingdom?! That leaves 1 Tim 5:17-18 and what Paul means by 'double-honour'. It could mean financial, but scholars are divided on it. Many suggest - if it is financial - then it is more in line with an honorarium than a salary. So what is does not referred to in any of these texts is a paid professional pastor. Elders in the early church may have been pastoral - they may also have been evangelists or teachers. Many of them would have been tent-makers, just like Paul. Therefore, for you to dismiss the article based on the texts you quote, underlines I'm afraid your ignorance of their original meaning. For the record, I think there are many valid points in the article to which I would add one other - many have used church planting to empire build, rather than Kingdom build. As a result, many wonderful opportunities have been missed. Blessings to all!

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Ed Crenshaw

January 26, 2012  4:54pm

Reports of the death of the local church (including those to be planted) have been greatly exaggerated. I've been hearing such reports for years, always with a reference to areas where church planting is difficult (usually China). The reports usually include a reference to the "fact" that local churches as we know them are not based on the New Testament and are a Western phenomenon (along with our emphasis on large churches). The reality is that in much of the non-Western world church planting continues apace, and church growth is astounding. Maybe the desire to bash local churches (and "traditional" plants of local churches–especially if they separate us from our tithes) is a Western phenomenon.

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Nathan Teigland

January 26, 2012  1:45pm

There is a quote most, I believe, contribute to Augustine that goes something along these lines, "the church is a whore, but she is also my mother." From one who has been largely critical of the institutional church yet am a follower of Christ because of her, I understand the sentiment. I agree that we need to be engaging the world missionally, carrying out our faith to impact and proclaim the promises and hope of the kingdom of God where he has placed us into positions of influence. However, I have a hard time when I hear of a church in my area spending over 8 million dollars on a sanctuary renovation to better proclaim this kingdom message, or when a church spends similar amounts building a cafe so that it is more convenient for people to be there and not have to leave (and engage this world) to go get lunch. If we could all simply learn to follow and obey as true disciples, perhaps we wouldn't need to spend so many resources to pretty up the package. Besides, it wasn't Christ's appearance that drew people (Isa. 53:2), it was His Truth and authority, right?

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Dan S.

January 25, 2012  3:32pm

Church planting is so 1997? Actually, it's a bit older than that if the New Testament accounts are any indication. Ironically, I can't think of any missional endeavors that can be considered "more sustainable, more holistic, more measurably transformational Kingdom solutions" than the local church in its globally diverse forms. Granted, the church's shortcomings have been well-documented, but what other voluntary association of individuals and family members across all ages and backgrounds meets weekly, year-round in almost every nation on earth and has a 2000-year track record of resilience and adaptation? No military empire, financial corporation, altruistic non-profit or humanitarian movement has demonstrated the long-term viability of God's Kingdom as embodied by his called-out community, the church.

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Bev Murrill

January 25, 2012  2:52am

The truth is, the ecclesia are the 'set apart people' and a church is a body of people who are set apart to 'be' the body of Christ in whatever context they feel called to. It's too easy to say that church planting is passe and that missional activity is the way forward. The truth is, Missio Dei is about God's heart to the world. I agree with Tom Morey when he says that starting something isn't the same as getting it to work long term. I am a church planter, working on helping develop leaders who can go into their own world to establish an aspect of the Kingdom of God. What a church looks like differs according to need but in the end, God's people are a worshiping people, a sacrificial people, an innovative people and each generation finds new ways of establishing God's Kingdom in a way that reaches the new generations we are called to. Honestly, though I appreciate the thoughts expressed here, in many ways the article is built on semantics... in danger of causing division rather than appreciation each of the other. We're all called to different ministries... so that 'through the Church the manifold wisdom of God can be shown to the world and to the principalities and powers of darkness'... live and let live, if that living means giving all we have to the purposes of God as we understand them to be for us.

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charles stone

January 24, 2012  5:55pm

very insightful especially with our changing culture

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