I’ve written a lot on church planting. One of the things I’m continually reminded of is that as culture changes, so too does our strategy and methodology for planting churches. If we are focused on reaching people for Jesus, then we must be willing and able to plant churches which most effectively do that.
As I continue to look at church planting, let me share just two trends I’ve noticed over the past few years, but also talk about their counter trends as well.
Trend 1: An Emphasis on Urban Centers
A number of major denominations continue to emphasize church planting in urban centers. Part of the urban trend is because people are going back to the cities. Church plants follow people. And church plants in urban centers must deal with serious issues of gentrification, poverty, and marginalization. As people move back to cities, some people are pushed out, which creates more tension that the Church must speak into.
Unfortunately, with the urban focus has come a less organized urban focus among the urban poor. Although there are exceptions, what's happened is that strategically, denominations and their resources have been focusing on more of the following the people to the city instead of planting among those who have been there for decades.
The good news is that there's always a flow of under-the-radar, economically depressed, marginalized people planting churches reaching other marginalized people. There are people who feel the Spirit move them and they go plant a church.
A note on counter trends: If church plants follow people and a trend is towards urban centers, I must also say that there are now movements in the rural areas to counteract the high emphasis on cities. When urban centers become the focal point, those in rural areas almost become a counter trend. There is an emerging movement, including a new institute we are launching at the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism, to plant and care for churches in rural areas.
Trend 2: An Emphasis on Multicultural Churches
A second demographic trend has to do with the kinds of people that come to a church plant. The predominant model for churches today is the homogenous, monocultural, we-all-look-alike kind of church plants. The reason is that it's easier to reach people like us. It’s called the Homogenous Unit Principle.
People want to decry it, but the reality is that people prefer to come to Christ without crossing social, economic, and racial barriers. We see that in African American churches, Anglo churches, Latino churches, etc.
However, a trend in church planting today is putting a high emphasis on developing a multicultural model. There is something rightly gained when people see and experience a multicultural church. Even unchurched people say, "There's something better than a monocultural experience."
I support (and encourage) this trend!
Yes, it is easier and faster to plant a predominantly African American church or a predominantly Latino church. It is slower and harder, but in many cases, a better reflection of the kingdom, to plant a church that is multicultural.
Caveat: We must be careful as we work towards multiculturalism in our church plants. People of color and/or those in marginalized communities are likely not sitting around saying, "I wish I could be around more white people." The church becomes an expression of their indigenous place—the place they can be the leaders, the place they can set the worship. One of the dangers of egalitarianism (not in regards to gender, but in regards to a spirit of “let's all be together”) is that it dilutes the unique cultural force of the Black Church or the Latino Church, where that is the place where many feel at home and empowered.
We must ask ourselves, “What does a multicultural church planting focus look like?” We must be at a place where we value those from different background and perspectives. Many of us would find it refreshing to be under the leadership of someone of color or someone from a different historical or cultural background. The trend towards multicultural church planting must embrace distinctness in diversity and value what each person brings to the table.
A Few Final Thoughts
We must continue to observe and consider new approaches to church planting and stay open to the Spirit’s leading. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. Trends come and go, but the one trend that should endure is that we plant because people don’t know Jesus and because our plant will allow for the good news to be preached contextually and clearly.
Church planting is simply planting the gospel and seeing churches birth from that planting. As they are born, they are born within a context, be it urban or rural, multicultural or more monocultural. Occasionally, it’s good to see where we are going as a trend, but also to note the counter trends and caveats as well. God can be at work in more than one place at a time!
Ed Stetzer holds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, is Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group.