As I look out at today’s church planting landscape, I am convinced that it’s time to return to and take a fresh look at church planting tools and processes. That’s why I’ve begun work on a new book, tentatively titled The Church Planting Journey.
However, I do want to be clear on one point: the basic principles of church planting haven’t changed. You could still take the old Church Planter’s Toolkit and, with some cultural translation, figure out what to do.
The principles haven’t changed—but a lot of other things have. The world around us and the situation in which we are planting has changed. The possible ways the church can look have changed. The way the church is perceived from the outside has changed. We are now planting churches in a world that isn’t looking for churches. It’s not (usually) that people are hostile to churches, just that they have no category for them.
This translation isn’t just for the culture outside of the church, either. It’s for current planters and pastors as well. The way we think of the church from the inside has changed, as has the vocabulary we use. The questions younger leaders are asking have changed. Here’s just a sampling:
- We wrestle with the definitions of church. What makes a church a church? Sometimes this question has to do with structure: Does ten people meeting in a living room count? Does people watching a screen at another location count? The way we do church has changed dramatically, with a proliferation of structures and models.
- The functions of church are also in question. What is a church actually supposed to do? Deliver sermons? Serve the poor? Encourage Christians? Reach non-Christians? Develop leaders? Make disciples? Provide the sacraments? What is the nature of church?
- Financial and leadership questions come into play as well. Can a church planter really expect to make a living at this in today’s world? To what degree does a “professional” leader differ from a lay leader? Who is “in charge”? Is anyone “in charge”?
- What expectations do Christians have of church? What expectations do non-Christians have of church? What expectations do pastors and planters have of church? And what do we do when those expectations inevitably conflict?
Why not make it easier on today’s planter and do some of this cultural translation up front? Certain principles that were well-known 30 or 40 years ago have gotten lost through backlash and are now being discovered and put out through different language. In that sense, there is nothing new under the sun. Yet at the same time, everything around us is new as the culture around the church in North America has shifted dramatically.
Increased intentionality is needed in today’s context. Planters still need to be hands-on and relational in their communities—more so than ever, in fact. Our current approach needs to be intensely organic and personal, but at the same time planters need to be more intentional about setting up organizational dynamics so they can reproduce.
Organic and organized are not opposites; they are mutually necessary. For organic beings to reproduce, they must be inherently organized. What’s missing from many current missional applications is the underlying structure being organized in a way that makes it truly replicable. We need to pay attention to the dynamics of an organism that allow it to grow and reproduce.