I often wrestle with communicating ECO's vision, culture, ethos, and DNA to the average covenant partner (member) in our congregations. Members will hear about ECO when their churches are considering affiliating with ECO, and during that time they have specific questions that need to be addressed. Yet in other circumstances it seems that our message doesn’t filter to the congregation.
I am, however, pleasantly surprised that when I preach or visit congregations, congregants will often reflect on ECO’s goal and desire to plant churches. I am not completely sure how this value has tended to stick more than others, but I am thankful that it is acknowledged and celebrated!
Our last value is Kingdom Vitality. It states, “We believe congregations should vigorously reproduce new missional communities to expand the Kingdom of God.” The term "missional communities" here communicates being both sent on mission from churches as well as planting new churches. Currently we have approximately 40 church plants in some stage of development in ECO. There are 12 official church plants that have been formally established. They are represented as blue dots on our ECO home page (www.eco-pres.org). These official church plants have been recognized by their presbyteries and the pastors who are planting are in validated ministry positions with those plants. There are also an additional 25+ church plants that are in various stages of preparation to begin a more formal church plant. We are thrilled to see this type of traction already occurring.
What I am finding is that church planting is one of those values that gathers a combination of excitement and fear. Churches realize the need to plant new churches but do not know how to help make this vision a reality. So, I am extremely thrilled to have Matt Lee join our staff as our National Church Planting Catalyst. Notice that we use the word “catalyst” in his title. We want to emphasize that in ECO it isn’t about planting churches from a denominational level. We believe that planting will be much more effective when it comes directly from established churches and networks of churches. Matt is going to help churches find ways to participate in local church planting. This model could of course involve directly planting a church. It could also involve partnering with other churches to plant churches, or having an internship opportunity to help a person gain skills for church planting while helping the established church move in a more missional direction.
Todd Wilson, a friend of mine who studies church planting and trends, made the following statement based on his research. “Thirty years from now, half of the people who attend church will be attending churches less than thirty years old.” Think about that for a moment. In 30 years, half the people attending church will be attending churches that do not yet currently exist. If his prediction is even close to accurate then we indeed need to vigorously be planting churches.
Sometimes there is a misconception that only large churches can plant churches. I recently met with a pastor of a church that had an average worship attendance of 150 people. This church has planted 13 churches in the last 15 years! Every one of our churches can be involved in planting in some way, shape or form. God is at work in ECO and we are so excited about the movement of missions among all of our congregations. In this new year, how will your congregation begin to live into our value of Kingdom Vitality so that we may continue to expand God's Kingdom throughout our communties and our world?