Improving the Supply Side of Church Planting

It’s tempting for Church Planting strategists to approach it from the demand side – to identify “gaps on maps” and write recommendations for what sort of church would be best in that context. It’s the fruit we want to see. And it’s exciting to dream about. I’ve read exciting reports recommending X number of churches be planted by 20YZ. But let’s take a break for a minute from marking “future fruit locations”, and look at our roots. If they are healthy, might not the fruit look after – and indeed locate – itself?

The immediate source of church planting has two main factors: Firstly, a growing discipleship pool. That is, the number of existing disciples (that’s the size of the pool) multiplied by the maturity of the existing disciples (that’s the depth). Only as that pool expands can it really overflow into net church multiplication. All the more reason to continually encourage our pastors in the often unspectacular task of making strong disciples. But hey, we already do that, don’t we?

The second main factor of the “supply side” of church planting is the will of churches to release disciples for planting. Parents can become very attached to the children they rear (especially the good ones!) and it’s hard to let them go. In churches there are many reasons to keep your best leaders.

But just as in families, it stunts the process of development to full maturity (and eventually tips over into dysfunction) if maturing disciples aren’t encouraged to establish and manage their own household and themselves become spiritual parents.

Fostering a “Sending” Culture

Counter-intuitively, the second of the two factors listed above feeds more strongly into the first than vice-versa. That is, if a church says “We can’t release strong leaders until we have developed more”, it is unlikely to ever release leaders or make more. That church’s leaders retain their ministry roles and the ones that could potentially step up to their level of leadership are diverted to other areas of less-demanding leadership. Many find that their leadership potential is in more demand in other spheres and move their energies there.

On the other hand, if a church says “We encourage our strong leaders to seek God as to how and where He might want them to start new churches or serve elsewhere” – this choice of attitude creates a flurry – a stream – of discipleship deepening (factor 1). Leaders who are quite mature are challenged to become very mature – because God may want to kick them out of the comfortable nest. And those who aren’t yet at their level of maturity are challenged to stop admiring the “quite mature” and to emulate them, because when they leave, “you’ll need to step up into their role in the family.”

Churches have a strong tendency to only develop the leaders they need. Let’s take musicians as one example. A church may have two excellent guitarists who play alternate Sundays. There are a number of other novice guitarists in the congregation, who look on admiringly and think “I could never do that. Thank God for Garry and Barry.” No one in the church expects or even thinks of the novices playing – except maybe in children’s church. The church has what it needs.

But suppose the church decides to plant a church, and send Garry or Barry. Or suppose even that the pastor raises the possibility of sending some of their best leaders to plant a new church. Not only do Garry and Barry need to ask “Is it I, Lord?” – but one or more of the novices are prompted to take guitar lessons and get tips from Garry and Barry, because next year it will be them on the platform. This is true not only of musicians, but of elders, preachers, small group leaders – all kinds of ministries – and true of discipleship generally. “I’d better grow up, because the family will need me.”

People pay a lot more attention to teaching if they think they will need it in the short to medium future. 15 year-olds pay close attention to how adults drive, because they are thinking “next year that will be me.” Before that, they are just passengers. This is how a training-sending culture feeds into a deepening of the discipleship pool.

So in a sending culture, a dynamic is created instead of a blockage. It grows the pool of discipleship to overflowing. It’s great for disciple-making. But it’s counter-intuitive because it’s a risk for churches. It’s a big risk for pastors. This is where the strategists have a role to continually remind pastors of the clear kingdom principles, that it’s more blessed to give than to receive, and those who want to save their lives will lose them, but those who lose them for my sake and the gospel will find them.

We have an unspoken, default sense of “what success is”. In some churches and denominations it is spoken explicitly: Growing churches. We need to point out that aiming for church growth stunts our growth. Even focusing on “church health” can create self-centred, ironically unhealthy churches. A woman focused only on her own well-being would never consider pregnancy, child-birth and parenthood – having kids takes years off your life! We need to tip over the culture until the assumed aim is productive churches – churches that make disciple-making disciples.

If we can tip over the existing culture to redefine success (as multiplication rather than growth), then this will do far more to stimulate church planting (in our state and around the world) than any financial or logistical supports we might consider. These are secondary, tertiary. It’s not resources that we need – it’s clear vision.

• Why are most churches satisfied with growth rather than multiplication?

• Do churches that send, train harder? Do they really grow more?

• How can CP strategists convince and help pastors to create a sending culture?

Andrew Turner is Lead Pastor of Glen Osmond Baptist Church, and Church Development Facilitator for the Baptist Churches of SA. Andrew is currently at the Crossover National Baptist Church Planting Consultation in Sydney with Baptist church planters from across Australia

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