I'm in the middle of a series of blog based partly on the ideas in my book with Warren Bird, Viral Churches describing qualities necessary for a church multiplication movement in America. While my first two points (parts 2 & 3 below) were focused on mindsets and actions that pastors had to embrace, I believe the next two points, which are focused on denominations and networks, are just as important.
Let me make it clear that I believe in denominations and networks. I am a leader in my own denomination, and I think denominations can be great assets to church planting. In order to be so, however, I think there are two mentalities they need to adopt: let churches lead and welcome the planter.
Let Churches Lead
Denominations are the tool, not the goal. The goal should be the planting of gospel-centered, theologically like-minded churches. Denominations should be asking, "How can we partner with the planter? How can we come alongside the church? How can we endeavor to do that together?" When they don't, and they instead try to lead, church planting simply becomes a denominational effort. Churches are less likely to take ownership of it because it's projected on the leadership above them.
As part of our recent research that led to the publication of Viral Churches, I publicly indicated that the most effective mid-size denomination in church planting right now is the Baptist General Conference (recently renamed to Converge Worldwide). In the last twenty years, they have doubled the size of their denomination through church planting.
The Missionary Church, a descendant of the Mennonite tradition, is a leading small size denomination for church planting. And, Redeemer Presbyterian, part of the PCA, is a leading church planting church in the US. Based on our research, what do all three share in common? The denomination gets behind the individual church and exists to serve the churches as they engage in church planting.
When denominations lead, local churches do not "own" the engagement in church planting. They think that it is the job of the denomination, rather than the church. When that is the case, local churches see church plants as competitors sent by the denomination. On the other hand, when churches own the task, and churches plant churches, they are engaged and own church planting.
When churches plant churches, they take it seriously--they have "skin in the game." They take it more seriously, sending their resources and loving their planters, and church planting is more effectively done.
Want church planting?-- don't drive it down from the denominational "top;" instead "provoke" the churches to "love and to good works (Hebrews 10:24) so that they own it locally.
Welcome The Planter
Denominational support should be given not only to the churches, but also to the planting pastors leading them. Historically, this has not been done. In fact, I would say that some denominations are even hostile towards church planters. There is an old Japanese proverb that says, "The nail that sticks out gets hammered down." All too often the relationship between church planters and denominations results in something akin to a menial task in seventh grade woodshop.
In some cases, the problem is that the most successful church planters are often the most controversial. This shouldn't be too surprising. By their very nature, church planters are entrepreneurial, non-conventional mavericks. It's what allows them to do so well on their church planting assessments. Post-assessment, however, we suddenly become shocked and astounded when we discover that they are difficult to supervise and don't follow directions well.
If we want church multiplication movements, we need to make heroes, not villains, out of church planters. The choice to do this is critical, because what you celebrate, you become. If denominational meetings are a gathering of controversy and argument, boycotts and investigations will be the focus, not church planting (or anything else for that matter). Choosing to praise a church planter's ability to innovate creatively within the system, rather than attempting to get them to fit neatly within it, is a choice that can go a long way. The alternative is that if planters are beaten down enough they will simply leave. Trust me--I have the names.
Fifty years ago, people had a denominational connection from which they could not disconnect--they had denominational tribal loyalty. This is no longer the case. They don't have to stay. Some of the fastest growing evangelical organizations today are the independent, interdenominational church planting networks. Why? These networks welcome the planter while some denominations see church planters as competitors to the established churches, rather than co-laborers in the same field.
The only thing worse than having a denomination full of church planters is to have a denomination not full of church planters.
Denominational leader, I understand that church planters can drive you nuts. I admittedly was one of the worst. Terry Robertson (now my denomination's leader for the state of New York) was such a key to my ministry journey. Terry understood that his job was to welcome the young, stupid planter, in this case me . . . a 21-year-old, ministry expert (because I was the smartest man who ever lived at 21), with the scraggliest, ugliest beard anyone ever saw (my attempts to look older). I moved to Buffalo, NY to live among the urban poor, and while most pastors said, "Who is this nut job coming to plant a church?" Terry said, "Let's give him some space." He welcomed the planter.
Planting Churches Matters
If churches, and their pastors, take the lead in church planting, and support them along the way, the end result will be churches planting churches that plant churches.
If denominations will welcome the planter, then denominations will thrive as planting-friendly places.
Don't let your church or denomination be a dead end on the Great Commission highway.