I recently had a delightful time meeting with a group of church planters and pastors who have a vision to plant churches across rural and small town areas. Now if you’re thinking of planting traditional types of churches, that can be overwhelming in a rural context. So rightly, their core strategy was not to focus on the planting of churches but on the making of disciples– recognizing that the byproduct of disciplemaking is churches. Even though it might be a very small handful of people that meet in Jesus’ name, that’s still a full-fledged church. Networked together with lots of other groups, it would be a regional church.
Jesus told us to make disciples in the power of the Spirit (Matthew 28:18-20 and Acts 1:8). When you make disciples, churches (gatherings of believers) is the result — and these groups can be connected in a variety of ways. So how do you make disciples when you have very little by way of resources and none of the churches started may be big enough to support a pastor? You’ll need to raise up bivocational ministry leaders that aren’t being supported at all. That’s how church can be done with a lack of people and resources.
Think of it this way: if you raise up two or three incarnational bivocational missionaries, you can send them out to different regions or towns. You network them together with each other and a coach to help them free up time and energy to live incarnationally on mission. They have times together– maybe monthly– for mutual learning and training, like a team. Then they go back into their communities and make disciples. As groups form around each of these missionaries, they meet separately as churches, then come together periodically for worship– as a regional church. Sometimes in these smaller settings people need to have a group celebration and feel a part of something that’s bigger than what they’re experiencing on their own.
When someone is serving as an incarnational missionary, there’s less connectedness so network leaders have to help them build it. The work of an incarnational missionary is isolating and lonely and discouraging because the nature of that type of work is that it’s slow going. The people doing it need a way to stay encouraged and to stay connected to something bigger than just their own ministry– a support network that allows them to keep going and maintain focus. This support can involve elements such as 1:3 cluster coaching, online learning communities to share and connect, and a monthly gathering to worship and pray. Every situation is different. They key is supporting and networking together for a healthy movement… even if it’s spread out.