You Don’t Have to Leave the Church to Start One

A few months back, I attended a church planting conference and saw my old friend, “The Lone Ranger Church Planter.” You may know him (or her). The Lone Ranger Church Planter speaks at nearly every church planting conference. His jeans are perfectly cut; his flannel shirt half unbuttoned, revealing a tattoo. Like the single friend among married folks, he delights in pointing out how free he is in comparison to those tied down denominational folks. The key to his success? No structure holding him back. He left the church to plant a church. The nerdy denominational ministers sit wide-eyed in their denominationally logoed Dad-Polos, dreaming of what that kind of freedom might be like.

A Better Way

This narrative of leaving church structure to start something new did not develop in a vacuum. There are countless stories of committees and denominational leaders saying “No” to young, passionate pioneers. Yet, there’s a fresh vision blowing—even through those in the Dad-Polos. A vision is emerging in which the traditional church and creative church coexist and feed off one another. It’s been happening in England and it’s catching on in the United States of America.

The Fresh Expressions movement has transformed the atmosphere of mainline British denominations. The Church of England has adopted a new motto, “High accountability, low control.” They’ve moved from saving dying congregations to starting new forms of church. And while it might be shocking to the Lone Ranger, denominational structures, when used to create new forms of church, are actually quite effective.

One British researcher, Canon Dr. George Lings, said, “Nothing else in the Church of England has this level of missional impact and the effect of adding further ecclesial communities.”

Let me offer one example. I was recently introduced to a fresh expression called ‘The Industry’ in Chula Vista, CA. Francisco Garcia-Velasquez, Associate Pastor of First United Methodist Church – Chula Vista, launched a music venue aimed at the local hardcore music scene. Their church now boasts hand bells and hardcore shows. Fresh expressions of church are emerging within the boundaries of mainline denominations and are reaching folks the traditional churches simply were not.


As mainline denominations continue to adopt a ‘principled and careful loosening of structures’, we will see a rebirth of the mainline here in the United States. So, this fall conference season, remember that you do not necessarily have to leave the traditional church to innovate from within. What might happen if you invited your existing congregation to participate in the mission of God while starting a fresh expression of church?

The Fresh Expressions model is a unique pitch. They’re inexpensive (often costing nothing), they only require a few leaders to launch, they meet in the community so they do not do not compete for church space, and they’re reaching people that would not go to your church and therefore not competing against existing services at your church. While not everyone at your church will want to go to a fresh expression, they can all think of someone they love who is not going to come to their church, but might go to a fresh expression of church. What fresh expression is God stirring in you?

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