An Organic Process for Church Planting
The goal is just enough structure to provide a way forward without squelching Spirit-led adaptability.
At this point, you may be wondering, What is the actual process of starting a new church? While the context of church planting is very different from place to place, there is an organic process of church planting that is applicable to a variety of different contexts.
An organic approach to church planting offers enough structure to maintain order but is flexible enough to change with the ongoing needs of the church as it grows. An organic understanding of church planting will require church leaders to rethink current church systems and structures in biblical terms. In this chapter, I want to explore the tenets of organic church planting. The following seven phases for starting new churches are what I believe to be the foundation of such an approach.
SEVEN PHASES TO CHURCH PLANTING
Discerning: Hearing God’s Call
Church planting begins with a clear sense of hearing God’s call. Any other motivation, no matter how good it may be, is not enough. Therefore, it is essential that before anyone begins planting a new church they must hear God’s call. In Acts 16:9 (NIV), we are told that “During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’” Immediately afterward, Paul redirected his steps and left to establish the church at Philippi. In the same way, we must also hear God’s voice to receive assurance of His calling to church planting.
Here are a couple of thoughts for hearing God’s voice. First, pray for God’s voice and direction in church planting. He may speak through a still, small voice in your heart in prayer. A lot of people see prayer as a monologue rather than a dialogue. Don’t just talk to God; stop and let Him talk to you. Be patient and listen. Second, God speaks through ordinary everyday events and circumstances. Never underestimate small things that happen from day-to-day to confirm His calling, because the Lord may be using them to speak to you. Last, God might use somebody else to speak to you, even when you least expect it. Sometimes God may use someone you already know; other times He may use a complete stranger. The Bible is full of stories and examples of how God speaks through others to share His Word. Don’t be afraid to ask God for direction in your life. He speaks to those who are willing to ask and listen.
Praying: Building a Prayer Team
For Christians, every new endeavor must begin in prayer. Therefore, intercessory prayer is essential to the foundation of starting a new church. According to Webster, to intercede means simply, “to go or pass between; to act between parties with a view to reconcile those who differ or contend; to interpose; to mediate or make intercession; mediation.” If you are going to be planting a church, you will need an intercessory prayer team to bathe it in prayer from the very beginning. Start praying now! As you move forward, gather an intercessory prayer team to pray for you, the new church, and the community in which you feel called to plant. Identify people who have a passion for prayer to lead this vital ministry.
There are various ways that you can seek to integrate prayer into the life of your church plant. First, make prayer a priority in everything that you do from the beginning. Start with a prayer ministry that can saturate your church plant and the community you serve in prayer. Establish prayer teams to pray confidentially with people. Start a prayer chain of people to regularly pray for you, your church, and the needs in your community. Last, pray that God will give you the right opportunity and words to say to others as you reach out into the community. These are just a few ways to ensure that all that you do as a church proceeds in a manner that seeks to serve the will of God.
Engaging: Getting to Know Your Community
Holistic church planting happens by getting to know the community and context where you feel called to start a new church. It begins by recognizing the needs in your community and getting to know the people God is calling you to reach. What is unique about the culture and context of your city? Who are the people that you will reach? Who are these people? Where do they live? Where can we find them? They are not numbers or mere statistics, but they have names, faces, and feelings. More importantly, they have real needs that can be helped by the church. You will never know what the needs of your community are until you begin to get outside of the four walls of the church and get into the community. It is amazing how little Christians actually interact with non-churchgoers, especially people from different ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds.
Matthew 9:36 tells us that when Jesus went out into all the cities and villages, He saw that the multitudes were weary and had compassion on them. As Jesus went into the community, He saw the needs of the people. Likewise, when you get into the community, you will begin to see what the needs of the people are. When you begin to canvass the city and assess these needs, you will see many people with tremendous wounds all around you. Get to know your unchurched neighbors and their families. Find out their interests and their passions.
As you become an intimate witness to the people around you, make a personal inventory of the needs, and then you will be able to guide your new church’s mission in a way that meets the needs of your community. There are a number of ways that you can do effective community ministry that is missional. Depending upon the need in your community, your church can start an art ministry to reach local artists, start a food pantry, serve meals to the elderly, offer literacy training, or start an after-school program for at-risk youth. Community ministry shows people in the community that you care. Use the demographic worksheet in the back of the book to help you understand and know more about the community where you feel called to start a new church.
Preparing: Developing a Strategic Plan
Now that you have prayed and begun to get to know your community, the next step is to develop a strategic plan. Church planting doesn’t just happen; it is the result of a planned process. Therefore, developing a strategic plan is essential to starting a new church. In Luke 14:28–30, we find Jesus speaking about the importance of planning. He says, “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish’” (NIV).
Jesus’ words are especially applicable to those who feel that God has called them to plant a church. We must count the cost before starting a new church. Many church planters write a church-planting proposal that helps guide the direction of the new work and helps others understand the vision. Such a plan answers questions like, “Why start a new church?” Who is this church going to reach? What kind of church are we going to plant? How and when will we plant this church? What will make this church different? What is God asking this new church to do? Developing a plan that answers these and other questions will help you accomplish the vision of starting a new church. Use the strategic plan in the back of the book to help you and your team prayerfully think through the next steps of the church-planting process.
Discipling: Making and Maturing Disciples
New churches play an important role in our spiritual growth and development as disciples and followers of Jesus Christ. While modern models may tend to value quantity, these churches should not simply be concerned with growing numbers, but with growing members through discipleship. Spiritual growth and discipleship happen in a number of ways through the local church. However, one of the primary ways the church makes disciples is by providing a place for people to hear, learn, and study the Word of God within the context of Christian community under godly leadership.
New churches can become a school of Christ that helps people become disciples and grow in their faith in a variety of ways. New churches can offer training and small groups that help Christians grow and learn to apply the Bible to everyday life. When I was a new believer, my church helped me learn to read my Bible and encouraged me to pray and to share my faith with others. Learning about God’s Word within the context of a new church allows people to ask important questions, dialogue, and learn from other believers who have more wisdom and experience.
Worshipping: Gathering Together in Worship
A new church is birthed as people begin to come together to worship, pray, and learn God’s Word. In its earliest expression, the church meant a group of individuals who had come together to worship in the name of Jesus Christ. As we have already seen, the church is not the building, but the people who come together to worship and serve God. This doesn’t have to be in a traditional church building but can take place in a living room, coffee bar, school cafeteria, or under a tree.
As Christians, we don’t just gather to stay together but to be prepared to go back out into the world in mission. The worship gathering actually feeds us and prepares us to be missionaries to the world in which God has called us to live. Theologian N. T. Wright described this connection in the following way, “The link between worship and mission is so close that many prefer to speak of them in terms of each other. Glad, rich worship of the God revealed in Jesus invites outsiders to come in, welcomes them, nourishes them, and challenges them.”4 The God we worship when we gather invites others into the worshiping community of the church. Therefore, a new church is a gathering of believers who come together to worship God and then are sent back out into the world on a mission to invite others to come and join in worship.
Empowering: Releasing Servant Leaders
New churches should seek to inspire a servant revolution by developing leaders from the very beginning of the plant. While modern models may tend to value quantity, new multiplying churches should not simply be concerned with growing numbers, but with growing servant leaders. But where do we even begin to do this? This whole process starts with empowering and releasing disciples to serve God and others.
Service is foundational to being a Christian. By recovering Christian service and providing opportunities for those around you to put others before themselves, you can create a culture that values serving. An organic process should find ways to help people grow as disciples by using their gifts and talents for God in a way that will bless others and make the community a better place. By using the gifts that the Holy Spirit gives, believers grow and mature in their faith. As a church, we must find ways to recognize the gifts of the congregation and empower them to put these gifts into action.
Unfortunately, our individualistic society has caused us to neglect the need for putting others above ourselves. For our culture, serving is revolutionary because it goes against the natural tendency toward self-preservation and elevation. Service calls us to selflessness as opposed to selfishness. The mind of a servant constantly looks around and asks, “What can I do for others” instead of “What can they do for me?” We find this mindset pervading the life of Jesus. He set the ultimate example by living out this mantra: “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45 NIV). As disciples of the greatest teacher, Christians must strive to be like Jesus, our perfect example. By engaging in faithful servanthood, we, as the body of Christ, become Christ’s representatives to a lost world.
As a whole, the church should be an army of servants who are making a positive difference in their families, community, and the world. As you lead your church in discipleship, find creative pathways for people to connect to your church through serving. With a commitment to servant leadership, we are bound to witness a revolution that will transform our community and demonstrate the love of Christ for the world to see!
Multiplying: Churches Planting Churches
Finally, don’t just plant a church, but plant a movement. Begin with a vision to multiply everything, including disciples, small groups, and more churches. From the very beginning, cast the vision to be a multiplying church that makes disciples and plants more churches. There is no happier time than when a family is getting ready to have a baby. Sadly, many Christians and new churches will never reproduce themselves. The result is that they take their faith and legacy with them to the grave. And nearly 80 percent of all evangelical churches in the United States have either stopped growing or are in decline! What does this mean? Simple: the church in North America is not multiplying. As you consider church planting, why not plant a reproducing, disciple-making church that multiplies itself by planting more churches? We don’t just need one more church, we need churches that will be multiplying church-planting churches.
Throughout this book, you have seen how every church is different and that no cookie-cutter approach to church planting will succeed for everyone. However, in spite of this diversity, we see that successful churches do embrace key common tenets that are foundational to the success of every plant. What we see is that the process of planting a church is organic. It begins with hearing the call from the Lord and then proceeds by getting to know the community and building relationships with the lost and unchurched. The goal of this entire process is to make disciples of Christ and bring them together in a worshiping community and teaching them to multiply. As you start your church and implement these core values, don’t stop! You must continually implement these foundations and create a culture of multiplication. By planting churches that plant new churches, we can better ensure that the legacy of a congregation will live long beyond its founding stages.