This fall our Thursday blogs are focused on the five shifts we've identified as significant for living out the mission and vision of ECO. Every third Thursday, Dana Allin writes specifically about one of these shifts, and then the following two Thursdays we hear from people within the ECO community who are living out that particular shift in their local contexts. Read Shift One, Shift Two, Shift Three, and Shift Four.
Most of the ECO churches and leaders I talk to admit the primary question asked of their leadership is centered around the “Addition/Subtraction” mentality. Questions such as,
“How do we get more people to join the church? How do we get more people involved in leadership or ministry in the church? How do we prevent members or attendees from subtly leaving through the back door of the church?”
These are all appropriate and understandable questions! However, if our focus is only on questions of addition and subtraction, then we will miss the exponential growth potential characteristic of a movement. If the church is an organism, and every healthy organism multiplies, then the church should do the same! Throughout history, several articles have been written about the many reasons we need to plant churches. Let's look at a a few reasons for why we need to plant churches.
1. Planting is the biblical mandate to start new churches. We notice in scripture that there was always a call, not to just make converts, but to make disciples in the local church body. When Paul writes his letters, we see there are often multiple churches in the same city.
2. New churches are the best way to reach new people. The average established church will reach one new believer per year for every 100 church members. The average new church reaches one new believer for every 12 members. There are a variety of reasons for this, including the fact that new churches can reach new niches of culture that established churches have a harder time reaching effectively.
3. A church will likely become healthier if it plants a new church. When a church is preparing to plant another church, they often grow healthier in the process. Think of a couple getting ready to have children. They often do things like get their life insurance in order and baby proof their house, right? The mother cuts alcohol and coffee out of her routine and prioritizes appropriate nutrition. When a new church is planted, the culture of the existing church changes. There is new energy toward mission. There is a multiplied effort toward leadership development and discipleship, as well as a preparation of structures that allow for multiplication.
4. New churches provide great laboratories for new ways of ministry. New churches can easily experiment and innovate without the common push back “we have never done it that way.” However, when a new church tries something and finds success, it’s often incorporated into established churches. The small group movement is a prime example that was popularized in church plants in the 1980s. Within ten years, small groups were trying to be incorporated into existing churches.
5. New churches are best at using new disciples. In established churches it usually takes awhile for new potential leaders to break in and actually use the gifts and skills God has given them. Sometimes it’s perceived that all ministry positions are filled and often it takes a great deal of time to build trust with the potential new church leader. A new church can more easily and more quickly involve new people in ministry. Of course, there are challenges involved when incorporating new people too quickly, but more often, we find new churches are able to involve individuals easily and effectively.
1. Look for those with entrepreneurial and evangelistic gifts and passions within your congregation. Cultivate their gifts and passions, and encourage them in the area of church planting. I notice that leaders from any network or denomination with a church-planting culture are always on the lookout for new church planters.
2. Send people to church planting assessment. We have people come to assessment because they want to examine whether or not they have the gifts and call for church planting. Current pastors, seminarians, or perhaps people involved in para-church ministry may attend ECO’s church planting assessment. Assessment will not only determine a “yes or no” to church planting, but it will also highlight the areas of growth that might be required for church planting (as well as emphasize the strong points of a candidate!).
3. Begin to dream about a church plant. As an individual congregation or with others in your presbytery, you may begin to have a vision for church plant(s) in your area. All of our ECO churches have access to MissionInsite: a great tool to use when surveying demographic trends in your area, as well as determining the kind of church needed in your area.
4. Support church planting. There are ways we can support church planting at the national level, but planting will be much more effective when churches in a given geography will support local church plants. If every church in ECO gave 5% of its budget to a local church plant, we could support 80 plants—about half the number of our actual number of churches at this time!
5. Pray. Jesus looked out on the harvest and He was moved with compassion as He told His disciples to pray that the Lord of the Harvest would send out workers into the harvest. (Mark 9:35-38) If you are like me, you like to get to work! But the Lord calls us first to pray. Please join others and me in praying for the Lord of the Harvest to send out his workers!