Models of Church Planting
Church has to be planted, not cloned.
For many people, the topic of church planting can drum up images of a single way of starting a new church. However, I would expand the definition of church planting to include many different forms of birthing new faith communities. As I mentioned in the introduction, when it comes to church planting, one size doesn’t fit all. There are many different types of new churches that are contextualized to a variety of different settings and cultures. Over the last ten years, I have had the privilege to work with many of these different types and models of church plants and each one is unique in its own fashion.
With regard to the diversity mentioned above, no one model is better than the other. Each one has the ability to be used by the Spirit as it adapts to fit a specific context. Neil Cole reminds us, “The answers are not found in our models, methods, and manmade systems but in the truth of God’s Word and in being filled with the Spirit of God.”2 In order to best represent this diversity of models, I have written out a shortlist of several different types of church plants. Many of these models are focused on rapid multiplication and can be adapted to a variety of contexts. As you continue to explore church planting and your intended context, you will want to ask yourself, What type of church will I plant?
Different Models of Church Plants
Conventional Church Plant
The model that I title “traditional church planting” is a typical or established model of church planting that is focused on bringing together a large group of people for a worship gathering in a local community. I refer to this as a conventional church plant because it is one of the most common types of new churches. It often starts with a lead church planter who gathers a launch team of people prior to opening the church’s worship service to the general public. While the traditional church plant meets in a larger worship gathering once a week (typically on Sunday morning), the church will also typically have small group meetings in peoples’ homes throughout the week.
The launch team represents the foundation of the church and is composed of a core group of leaders. The launch members may join the team because of personal connections with the lead planter or they are sent from a sponsoring/mother church. The launch team members often serve on different ministry teams within the structure of the new community according to its mission plan. Typically, the conventional church plant model will require raising a significant amount of money for staffing, equipment, marketing, and facilities. The lead planter of a conventional church plant is often professionally trained and is usually either a full- to part-time paid staff member of the church. For more information about a conventional church-planting model, you can read Ed Stetzer and Daniel Im’s Planting Missional Churches and Aubrey Malphurs’s The Nuts and Bolts of Church Planting.
The simple/house church model is typically a small group (5 to 20 people) that either meets in a home or another kind of intimate space such as a coffeehouse or even a local pub. These churches are called “simple” because they don’t require the extensive staffing, buildings, or budgets that larger churches demand. Planting house churches is nothing new. From the very beginning of the Christian movement, we can see that the churches in the book of Acts were home churches. All across the globe, house churches naturally multiply rapidly as they focus on making disciples in intimate community. A wonderful example of a house church movement is Fuente De Avivamiento (Spring of Revival), which is led by my friend Dr. Iosmar Alvarez in Lexington, Kentucky. Prior to coming to the United States, Iosmar was a veterinary doctor turned church planter from Cuba. Since planting in Lexington, they have started nearly one hundred house churches that meet across the city!
While some house churches are autonomous, many are a part of a network of people meeting in homes throughout a city or geographic region. In some cases, the individual home churches are connected to a larger group of churches that meet together periodically in a collective setting. Personally, I know of several church planters who are planting simple house churches across their city. This model requires very little funding and resourcing as there is no need to purchase or rent a meeting space and the leaders of home churches are oftentimes bi-vocational. For more information about a simple/house church-planting model, you can read Neil Cole’s Organic Church and J. D. Payne’s Missional House Churches.
Another form of church planting that is beginning to take root in the United States and other countries is called missional communities. A missional community is typically a midsize group of people, about the size of an extended family (20 to 50 people) who are united around a common mission and living out gospel community in “a particular neighborhood or network of relationships.” Mike Breen has been an innovator in leading missional churches for more than twenty-five years. According to Breen, a missional community places a “strong value on life together, [and] the group has the expressed intention of seeing those they are in relationship with choose to start following Jesus through this more flexible and locally incarnated expression of the church.”3
Many missional communities focus on living as a community together on mission in a decentralized, organic way to reach a city or community for Christ. Rather than inviting people to a service, they go to where the people are. Missional communities are rooted in a local parish neighborhood. In this sense, they are much more like a family of believers living out their faith incarnationally. One of the churches that I am helping with is a missional community. The church meets once a month for a corporate gathering, while the rest of the month the church meets in missional communities in local neighborhoods across the city of Lexington. For more information about missional communities you can read JR Woodward and Dan White Jr.’s book, The Church as Movement: Starting and Sustaining Missional-Incarnational Communities.
A model of church planting and multiplication that has really taken off in the last few years is the emergence of satellite/campus/multi-site congregations. This happens when an existing church opens new locations to expand into a different part of their city or geographic region. Some satellite/campus/multi-site congregations are even in another state! An example of a multi-site church is The Orchard in Tupelo, Mississippi. The Orchard was planted by Bryan Collier in 1998 and began with twenty-four people who met in a furniture warehouse with the goal of reaching people that no one else was reaching. “Our passion for church planting comes from our passion for lost people,” Bryan said.4 Seventeen years later, The Orchard has multiplied exponentially, with multiple sites in three communities, and averages 2,400 in weekly worship. They are already planning their ninth site!
Multi-site congregations are churches that progress from having one location to having multiple meeting sites so that they can reach more lost people. Some multi-site congregations are video venues that televise the teaching pastor from the main site to others, while other multi-site congregations have their own teaching pastors. Each location will typically have a site pastor who acts as the leader for that particular congregation. While they may be separate congregations, multi-site churches often share the same name, branding, financing, and even administrative support staffing to bring unity and continuity between each site. Multi-site congregations are one of the ways the Lord is using existing churches to reach beyond their local context! For more information about the multi-site church-planting model, you can read Geoff Surratt, Greg Ligon, and Warren Bird’s The Multi-site Church Revolution.
Multicultural/Multiethnic Church Plants
With more than 337 languages, the United States has become the most multicultural and multilingual nation on earth. The challenge of reaching the numerous people groups is a result of the growing diaspora of people from other nations who have come to North America. These men and women are often difficult to reach due to various language, cultural, and ethnic boundaries. As we witness the globalization of North America, the nations on continents such as Africa, Asia, and South America are beginning to send missionaries to re-evangelize the West through church planting! British author Martin Robinson talks about some of these church planters from developing countries who are now coming to the West.5 They have come from nations like Brazil, Haiti, Mexico, Nigeria, Dominican Republic, and Ethiopia, just to name a few. As we view the very culture that surrounds us, we are instantly confronted with examples of a global issue.
As the West experiences globalization, a growing number of new churches are beginning to focus on reaching people from various nationalities and ethnic backgrounds. For instance, in many urban contexts, church plants will have to cross racial, cultural, and socioeconomic lines to reach their communities. One example is Anderson Moyo, who is pastor of a multi-ethnic church called Sheffield Community Church in England. Originally from Zimbabwe, Anderson has a heart not only for Europe, but also for the diaspora people of Africa who have come to England. He says, “We hope to train not only Africans, but emerging leaders from across the world as our denomination expands to new frontiers beyond the Western hemisphere.”6
The apostle Paul reminds us, “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings” (1 Cor. 9:22b–23 esv). Multicultural/multiethnic church planting points to the beautiful picture promised in Revelation, where people from every nation, tribe, people, and language praise God in unison with one another. This portrait is essential to the Christian faith and no matter what kind of church we attend or are thinking about planting, we should all find ways to reach across ethnic, racial, cultural, and economic barriers. Multicultural/multiethnic church planting will be the future of church planting in North America and around the world. For more information about multiethnic church planting, you can read Mark DeYmaz’s Building a Healthy Multi-ethnic Church.
Fresh expressions are a new form of church planting in which I have become actively involved in recent years. The Fresh Expressions movement began in England more than a decade ago and has resulted in the birth of more than three thousand new communities alongside existing churches in the UK. It is beginning to take shape in other countries like the United States, Australia, Canada, and Germany. A fresh expression is “a form of church for our changing culture, established primarily for the benefit of people who are not yet members of any church.”7
Every fresh expression is different because “there is no single model to copy but a wide variety of approaches for a wide variety of contexts and constituencies. The emphasis is on planting something which is appropriate to its context, rather than cloning something which works elsewhere.”8 While each fresh expression of church is uniquely different, they come into being through principles of careful listening, service, contextual mission, and making disciples. God is using fresh expressions of church! According to the Church of England’s research of the last two decades, they found the following: 40 percent of those who are a part of fresh expressions have no previous church background and for every person sent at least another two and a half are now present. That’s a 250% increase over time!9
There are endless examples of fresh expressions, such as dinner churches, biker churches, cowboy churches, even surfer churches like the one we started in the Outer Banks, North Carolina. For more information about the Fresh Expressions model of church you can read Travis Collins’s Fresh Expressions of Church and From the Steeple to the Streets or visit http://freshexpressionsus.org.
Church planting entails creating a new congregation where none existed before, but a close relative of church planting is replanting or re-missioning existing churches. Replanting happens when a church that is in decline or dying decides to face their state and dares to start over again for the sake of advancing the gospel. Graham Singh, the executive director of Church Planting Canada, calls this a movement of “dead alive churches.”12
Replanting requires churches to surrender and create a new identity, empower new leaders, and reach new people for Jesus. Rather than selling their buildings, in many cases, older churches are opening their doors to allow new churches to be planted within their buildings and thus becoming a midwife for new churches. Replanting may also mean that a church sells its building and puts that money back into church planting. The reality is that very few churches have the honesty and humility to admit that their effectiveness is over and even fewer have the courage to do what it takes to replant. As you seek to participate in God’s mission, pray and ask God if He may be leading you to guide existing churches in the direction of replanting. For more information about replanting, you can read Mark DeVine and Darrin Patrick’s Replant: How a Dying Church Can Grow Again.
Strengths and Weaknesses of Models
Regardless of the approach or model, church planting is one of the greatest ways to make disciples. In the end, starting new churches will require Christians to think outside of the box and to engage their culture with the gospel of Christ in fresh new ways. Theologian Francis Schaeffer reminds us, “Every generation of Christians has this problem of learning how to speak meaningfully to its own age. It cannot be solved without an understanding of the changing existential situation which it faces.”13 We should all share in the responsibility of impacting the nations for Christ through planting new churches, establishing fresh expressions, or replanting existing churches.
As we close, it is important to note that there are strengths and weaknesses of church-planting models. A model is simply a tool to accomplish the goal of starting a new church. Don’t confuse a model with a cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all way of planting a new church for every context. Every context is different—what works in Africa may not work in Ireland, etc. What works in one place may not work in another. Every context, every church planter, and every new church is different. Therefore, you must take into consideration the context and culture of the community where you are seeking to plant the church, as well as the unique gifts and calling of the church planter and their teams to decide what model works best for you. No one model of church planting is right or wrong, because each church plant is unique. Many times new churches are a hybrid of various models and influences. The important thing is that you ask the Lord to guide and direct you in what type of church He is calling you to plant to reach unchurched people in your community.