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Church Planting or Church Renewal

First, let me tell you I believe in church planting so try to refrain from shooting off a comment or email before considering the rest of this post. I have personally supported church planters for many years and have led each church I have served to do the same. I know there are places and cultures where the only way to spread the gospel effectively is through church planting. However, in the little corner of the world where I serve, Northeast Tennessee, there are not many examples of breakout church plants. Even the ones who are healthy and growing appear to be doing so on the back of disgruntled church members from already existing churches. I have seen few examples of church plants that are fast-growing, self-sustaining movements. Let me quickly say I am personally involved with a couple of men who are planting churches. I don’t think it is because these men are not called or that they don’t work hard enough or even that it cannot work. I am just making the observation that for the most part, it is not working. From my perspective, there are at least a couple of dynamics at work here.

  • I think in today’s economy and culture, you almost have to birth a big baby. The days of a small group gathering in someone’s living room and word-of-mouth attracting people so much that it turns into a movement that results in a church seemingly are behind us. People are so busy and our lives are filled with so much information, it takes a large up-front investment and a lot of people to just make enough noise to be heard, especially in the Bible belt, where consumers can choose from every flavor of church. (I know we have to consider the moving of the Holy Spirit in that group. I am just writing from a purely pragmatic level.)
  • I suspect that many of the “church plants” of the Bible belt are in fact, just a gathering of people who want to do church differently or have become disenfranchised by the churches they previously attended. The very real danger there is that those same people have the propensity to again get unhappy with leadership. Where do they go then? It has been my experience that people who leave a problem one time find it easier to do the next time.
My reason for writing this post is not to suggest that we quit planting churches in the southeast, but instead to make two recommendations, each of which I will address in coming articles. When it comes to spreading the gospel in those places that have already been tilled for a while, I think we would be wise to:
  • Plant Bigger Churches – I earlier used the phrase, “birthing big babies.” Our denominational agencies and churches have been using a 70’s model of a church planter, and a maximum investment of $50-75 thousand over 3-5 years. I think we are going to need to build larger networks of partners that pay the planter’s salary for up to five years and give him funds and people to work with on day one. I think we need to strategically select areas for church planting and send a pastor and 100 people into that community from the beginning. Again, I will address the specifics of this in a coming article.
  • Utilize Existing Resources – We as Baptists are as proud of the word, autonomous, as we are of the word, grace. Yet, we use that word to keep from stepping into each other’s stuff. Most of the areas where we are planting churches in the southeast already have churches, albeit many are dead. Perhaps it is time to raise up a new generation of young church “revitalizers” and give our mission strategists training and encouragement to steer existing churches toward some of these young men as pastors. I think it would even be advisable to offer funding in those situations so there would be some accountability. I know it is hard. I have spent the last year trying to help revitalize a church. I have also been flatly turned down on an offer to negotiate a merger by a church that was so low, they were heading to bankruptcy. I never said it would be easy. I just said it might be smart.
To Be Continued…

One Response

  1. You are right. In the 50’s a small group could meet, save up some money, take a loan, and throw up a cinder block church building. Modern building codes and land prices keep that from happening anymore. Also, those who want to meet in old shopping centers or other retail space do not understand modern fire codes and building codes.

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