I’ve been reading Peyton Jones ‘Churchplantology‘ over the last few days and it has been percolating my thinking around this area again.
One of my genuine frustrations and bewilderments with my own denomination has been the absence of purposeful church planting over the last 30 years.
I remember back when Bob Clark and Phil Bryant were in partnership, both promoting, calling for and intentionally focusing on church planting. We may not have planted a heap of churches, but we did plant some and we did get some stuff done. I recall attending a church planting conference in 1996 led by these guys and it was catalytic in my own formation. Intuitively I knew this was what I wanted to do – but I had accepted a job in the hills as a youth pastor – which funnily enough eventuated in a ‘church planting’ type of project among young people.
But it seems church planting has dropped off the radar, for the most part. I remember asking a question about this at a recent pastor’s gathering – ‘why is no one planting churches?’ and the honest, fast response was ‘because it’s hard work!’
Maybe true – but some people are built for it and if we don’t pursue it we can expect them to do something else or go somewhere else. Some cars are built for serious 4wding – the diff lockers, winch, 4 inch lift and suitable tyres all say ‘built for purpose’, yet so many of them spend their life on the blacktop. In a similar vein I think there are some folks who are just created to pioneer, risk, create and repeat. Yet they find themselves trapped in the confines of a steady as she goes meat and three veg church.
As I observe what is happening around the place I see a fair bit of ‘campus planting’, (or franchising – to be more blunt). I see ‘revitalisation’ of dying churches happening, but I see precious few fresh starts, focused on a people group, or a locality and I wonder why…
My theory is this. While churches may speak about planting churches, while they may dream about and even vote on it at church meetings, churches just don’t plant churches. Church planters plant churches.
Churches don’t plant churches – church planters plant churches.
I feel like it’s as simple as that. But because our systems and processes have become so unbelievably regulated and bureaucratic most church planters either leave or find themselves trapped between wanting to kick off a new initiative while seeing a truckload of paperwork every step of the way.
I appreciate that every era has its’ struggles and perhaps in the 2020’s the ‘barrier to entry’ we need to ‘suck up’ is not persecution but paperwork. Perhaps we just need to accept that this is how it is in this culture and move on.
But – if that is going to happen then someone has to find a way to free the church planters / apostolic types from creating risk assessments, filing incident reports and the like and let them get on with tilling the soil in the community, nurturing and training teams as well as creating frameworks for new church communities to thrive within.
It was 20 years ago that we first experimented with new expressions of missional community and church gatherings as we went to Brighton with our Upstream crew. Back then we were considered too different or too non-conformist by most people wanting a Sunday church to join with all the bells and whistles of kids programs and good music. Our team eventually shrunk as people moved on and we closed it down. But maybe post-covid we may be able to re-imagine again what churches can look like. We may be ready for a fresh tilt at re-thinking mission and church for a very new era.
At the end of the day conservative institutions that focus on maintaining the status quo (your average local church) will never be the catalysts for new initiatives. There is too much comfort to lose. But if we can identify and unearth the next generation of apostolic leaders and inspire them with what may be possible, then maybe we can capture their imagination before they kick of a business venture or some other entrepreneurial activity.
Bruce Jenner and Les Watson were very instrumental in planting Pilbara churches back when we had a Home Mission Department, headed by Bruce. Who also planted Mandurah I think. We used to see a lot of them back in the early Pilbara Baptist dsys.
Yes – it seems we have focused on growing ‘big’ these days rather than replicating and spreading
My Dad was a church planter. He passionate about seeing people come to know Christ. It was hard, hard work. It was all about relationships and checking in with people asking how they were going.
His method of church planting included door knocking the area handing out the first chapter of books (John Dickson books, Cloud and Townsend books) then going back and giving the next chapter.
He was not good at following protocols, he photocopied the books he handed out!
The Uniting Church was the only denomination in WA that seemed to be serious about exploring fresh expressions of church which is why I left the denomination I had been in for 40 years more to work deliberately in this area. We are not using the franchise model but are encouraging churches to explore new ways of being church
Thanks Rob – great to be still doing the work when you are at ‘retiring age’!!
In the time when Baptist churches in WA had a Home Mission department the whole denomination supported the concept of church planting. Funds were made available to purchase land as new areas were opened up and financial support was available for workers to move into these areas and grow with the developing community. Queensland had a great initiative called ‘Mission to Queensland’ in the which planted many new churches in regional communities. In the beginning of Baptist churches in WA William Kennedy was instrumental in planting many churches in the Great Southern area of our state and he travelled from place to place on a bicycle! I believe Acts 1:8 still applies.
Interesting how times change – might be opportune for us to revisit it all again
Hey Hamo, always great to engage with what you’re thinking and seeing. I wonder how much capital it takes in 2020s to start a church, fund a church planter through to self sustaining community? It was drummed into me at college the risk of burnout and I wonder in the 2020s do church planters have capacity work part time and plant a church? I’m sure there are some, I wonder if they are sucked into a franchise movement because of the support that’s generated when a church says ‘we’ll cover the red tape and admin, we’ll fund you to do the rest’. I don’t think that’s a bad way of doing it as long as each church community is a genuine expression of its environment. But Macdonald’s approach is popular for a reason, it’s a tempting quick win.
Hi Andrew- I really believe that a bivocational team could plant a church very effectively and the cost is quite minimal.
The assistance of a sending church is helpful but I fear our imagination of ‘church’ has been so formed by the ‘attractional’ model that we fear anything less than kapow is a failure
Quite seriously – this is why I wrote the book I did. It can be done 🙂