We’re all familiar with the Great Commission, Jesus’ instructions to go out and “make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19-20). These instructions were the driving force behind the growth of Christianity.
Church planting is an essential part of our commission to make disciples of all nations. Yet, church planting is never explicitly named in the Bible.
But the New Testament writers never really needed to define church planting—in the same way fish do not need to explain water and humans do not need to explain air, the Bible writers never needed to tell people to plant churches. At the time the Epistles were written, church planting was a constant, ongoing event; it was a regular part of life for Christians who spread the good news around the world. The Epistles gave churches a doctrine to follow, and the Gospels gave the narrative of Jesus.
So, why should we care about church planting?
Well, first there are biblical reasons.
In some ways, the history of church planting began with Paul, who went to new places and shared the story of Jesus, primarily with the goal of sharing Jesus with new people. Paul planted, and in some cases the grew the church, and the expansion continued. By the second century, bishops started to send people into rural areas to plant more and more churches.
This theme of sending people or resources into new areas in the hopes of starting a new church is, of course, what we now refer to as church planting.
If we really think about it, there has been no great move of God without either a proceeding or accompanying move of church planting. For example, during the Second Great Awakening, churches came first and people followed. New Christians appeared after churches sprang up in states like Kentucky, Indiana, and Tennessee.
Second, a theological reason.
Scripture tells us that “through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (Eph. 3:10). Simply, the church is God’s instrument. God uses the church to teach us and to help us grow in our faith, so it’s only logical that with more churches come more opportunities for the gospel to reach new people.
Third, a sociological reason.
There is sociology behind the development of new Christians and church planting: people like new things. Years ago, I started a church in Pennsylvania. We grew to about 400 people coming regularly in three years, and we decided to plant two daughter churches in the area.
We invested in these new churches, sending people to lead bible studies and hiring new staff members to grow the new congregation. On the Sunday that the two new churches launched, our church lost about 80 people. The church planter at one of the new churches even convinced one of our worship teams to join their new church. It was a perfect example of people being attracted to something new.
If we understand the theology and sociology of planting churches, it only makes sense to ask the next question: How do we plant more churches for the glory of God?
Part of church planting includes simply allowing God to do his work. When 80 members of our congregation joined our daughter churches, God filled the roles they’d left behind by empowering new people to step up. Although we lost an entire worship team, we rebuilt piece by piece and our church continued to grow. Within the next few years, our church grew beyond our expectations.
God’s math is often different than our own math.
If your congregation is weary about planting an entirely new church, there are small steps that churches can take to begin the journey of church planting. There are always opportunities to serve as a “mother church” to another group. You can offer financial resources, maybe by giving a percentage of your church’s finances to another.
You can also offer services, such as leaders for Bible studies or volunteers to run events. Yet another option is to partner with a church outside of your cultural context. By doing this, it introduces your church to new people, and it allows for your congregation to serve in a new capacity.
Regardless of which direction your church is currently moving towards in its church planting goals, we must remember that the main goal of church planting is to share the love of Jesus through our work.
When we keep that fact at the center of all we do, God will be rightly glorified.
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.