For the past few years, I’ve been working primarily outside of the church, mostly in research or academic roles. The last time I served as a full-time senior pastor was in Erie, PA.
In my last article, I wrote about the last time I served as a senior pastor. I was a volunteer senior pastor at a new church in Nashville, Tennessee. I wrote about how we wanted to be involved in church planting from the first service— taking up our first offering and announcing we were going to be a church planting church.
At another church plant early in my career in Erie, Pennsylvania, we had a commitment to plant our first church within three years. (I had been told that was the optimal time— later, I would try to be involved from year one.)
It was through these experiences where I learned important lessons about what it means to plant churches in healthy ways, which is crucial for the sake of the mother and child church.
Sending People Out
Anyway, we had grown our church in Nashville from 3 to 400 after three years, so we decided to be bold. We decided to start two churches on the same day. We figured, if we’re going to start one, we might as well start another. Right?
It was bold, but we believed it was what God had called us to do, but in the first few weeks of planting two daughter churches, we sent many members of our church to the new churches. Actually, about 15% of our church were sent out— around 50 people.
An entire worship team went out to one church plant— and we were glad they did!
But there were times we were uncertain. People at the mother church were nervous, questioning if we’d made a mistake. We reminded them that planting had been a good idea and that God would work in all three of the new churches. But it was still a time of anxiety as we rebuilt.
Had we made a mistake?
You can probably predict how this story ends. God ultimately used our planting to grow all three churches. His math often looks different than ours, and somehow our mother church ended up growing more than both of the two new churches. Soon our church was thriving again and we felt great about our decision to be involved in planting.
We did not forget the lessons we learned, and the experience taught us the importance of intentionally planning our planting.
Clearly, I believe that church planting should be very strategic. When you start with a plan to be a reproducing church, you tend to become one!
It can take a few years before your church is ready to send out 50 key members, but you can be involved in planting from day one. You can promptly and eagerly create a plan for how your church is going to invest in another church. I firmly believe that at a point in each year, the church’s elders should sit down and devise a plan to be involved in planting. This should involve evaluating previous or ongoing planting, receiving feedback from members of the church, and creating a new plan that will help your church, the churches you plant, and the churches you assist in planting.
And hopefully that involvement can grow each year.
One common way to church plant is to use alternate years for planting—meaning that churches can plant a new church every other year and scale back their involvement in off years. In the years between, your church can help grow other churches in smaller ways, such as financial support or sending volunteers. This way, your church’s level of involvement can increase and decrease as your church evolves. The main point here is that your church continues to be involved with planting, even on years where a new church isn’t planted.
Of course, involvement can vary based on your church’s size.
For example, a church of 100 might be a part of planting a new church each year, and every third year they might send out some people to start a new church.
A larger church, on the other hand, might support a different church plant each year, while sending out people every other year.
Finally, a megachurch could be planting a new church and sending out planters and people each year.
This is crucial to remember: Church planting is always a sacrifice.
That’s what getting into a rhythm of church planting does— creates a pattern of outward thinking and ongoing church planting.
Planting a new church should be challenging. It should demand time, effort, and resources that stretch your church. It should require new people to step up as leaders and workers in your church. Ultimately, if it doesn’t feel like your church is giving something up for the sake of planting another, your ways of church planting should be reevaluated.
That sacrifice often causes others to step up into new ministry roles. New people take the place of those who left— but they still did leave!
We want to create church planting situations where we continually sacrifice over an extended period of time so that we continue to invest in our neighbors. Because, as we’ve talked about over and over again, the ultimate goal of church planting is to advance the Kingdom of God.
Ed Stetzerholds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, serves as Dean of the School of Mission, Ministry, and Leadership at Wheaton College, is executive director of the Billy Graham Center, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group.