Many people misunderstand why I feel so passionate about Church-Planting. If we take a moment to discuss some issues that are often forgotten, you may understand better why Church-Planting is founded upon solid missiological principles when pursued wisely under God’s Holy Spirit.
There are large fast growing churches here in the U.K. but when we take a survey of the average it makes for challenging reading.
The average C of E has 54 attenders, the average Pentecostal Church has 129 attenders but the average size of a Church (all denominations) in the U.K. is just 84 people. The average age however is 62!
If you pursue traditional models of church planting it will be very expensive and very difficult to grow even a few churches larger than 50-80 persons.
Many difficulties and cultural issues prevent most churches from growing larger than “average” size. Among those are a leader’s spiritual gifts, personality, work ethic and interpersonal skills.
Average people do seem to be able to start and lead churches that average 10-40 people. This seems to be the average size God grows most churches to. Let’s face it; the facts of God’s kingdom are that the gifting of many church leaders and the situations they face make it difficult to grow a church beyond 70 people. If we face the fact that most churches in the world are small, and that this is how God usually works in His churches, then we know that the normal pattern is to have small churches – thousands and thousands of them!
So, why pursue Church-Planting?
We are starting normal-sized churches, with God’s normal people. Almost every church starts small. Why should leadership or missionaries bear the burden to raise large amounts of money for each church plant to try to become large or support a full-time pastor when many will not? If the church is to grow large and have full-time staff that should largely be a factor of whether the church members can do that from within in a self-supporting and self-sustaining manner.
Which will bring God more glory: To work to start many small churches, or to start and grow only one or two large churches? It is churches planting churches by average believers that seems truly amazing! When that happens rapidly in a number of venues, we call that a Church-Planting Movement. What would happen if every church started a church or two every year?
Professionalisation of the ministry has produced high quality teaching, worship and ministry, but has often left the congregation behind as passive listeners. In a Church-Planting mindset, the congregation is mobilised and unleashed to be the cutting edge, of kingdom advance.
The future will be won, not by the most educated and erudite, but by the masses of believers who are summoned and equipped to take up the mantle of kingdom advance. This is the key to world evangelisation. If we are to see Church-Planting prosper in the U.K., it will only happen when we learn how to equip the masses of believers, who make up the body of Christ, to be disciple-makers and church planters. Most of this untapped group are currently at rest, watching the paid professionals carry out the work of ministry.
Centrifugal vs Centripetal
Do you know how centrifugal force works? The term has its origins in two Latin words meaning “centre” and “flee.” Centrifugal forces push objects outward away from the centre. Centrifugal forces are at work in Church-Planting. Rather than joining a central, mother church, churches spin out to form new bodies of believers within the communities that they eventually reach for Christ.
Contrast this with centripetal forces, which characterise our Western church model. In the West, there is little incentive for a pastor to spin off church members into multiplying new (yet small) congregations of believers. The very life and health of the Western church model depends upon attracting and keeping as many new, or old, believers as possible. The salaries of the pastoral staff and the financing of programs and buildings depend upon it.
This centripetal model is not without merit and has a definite role, but it is usually antithetical to the Church planting mindset.
When a Pastor casts a vision for multiplying new churches, the response more often than not is, ‘We have enough churches already.’ Many people believe we just need to grow existing churches and that new churches may be in competition with existing ones.
Pursuing a model that needs money to exist often leaves out potential members who have little or no money. Such possible members could include immigrants, inner city unemployed or underemployed, college students and youth. If our church model depends upon funding from our members then it will always be at a loss in reaching the poor, the student, and the disenfranchised.
The Church-Planting has flourished among the poor and disenfranchised because it has overcome the money obstacle. For this to happen, though, three things had to occur:
- Removal of overheads.
Remove the funding demands of full-time professional church leadership and buildings. While all of these things are good, they create a centripetal force within a church that invariably works against multiplying new communities of faith.
- As the work of the church gets disseminated throughout the church, so too does the sense of ownership of the church’s life and mission become widely held throughout the church body.
- There is a need for full-time workers, but these full-timers are not the house church or small church pastors and ministry-staff members. Rather, they are the overseers and catalysts, those who oversee multiple house churches – teaching, training, and developing leaders while catalysing new streams of house church multiplication.
What will it take to see Church Planting become effective again? It will take a return to the pioneering spirit of our predecessors who saw an entire continent in need of Christ rather than a single church or denomination in need of expansion. The great pioneers of the faith would plant several churches at a time, raise up young men to be their pastors, and continue to plant.