October 17, 2017

Riffs/CEC: The Antidote to the Coming Evangelical Collapse- Church Planting

UPDATE: What matters more? Being recognized by the ECUSA or the Anglican Church in Africa?

The Falls Church has a new daughter congregation and is starting more: A story of church planting in the new Anglican communion in Virginia.

This story of a commitment to church planting among the newly freed Anglicans in Virginia makes me very, very happy. This is the antidote to the coming evangelical collapse: church planting and a lot of it.

Listen my confessional, Reformed, Lutheran, Anglican, etc brothers and sister: this is what must happen. Church planting that plants churches that plant churches. It will revitalize your church. It will put your priorities right. It will make the process of discipleship and Christian education come into sharp focus. It will keep your leaders from becoming ecclesiastical vegetables. It’s a very good thing. Do it.

What really excites me here is how this is the influence of Keller’s work at Redeemer Church on the newly liberated Anglicans. Do you have any idea what it is like to talk church planting in many mainline and older denominations? I’ve observed it up close and I’ve heard it over and over. When the “we own it all” denominations are given a choice to plant a new church or prop up an older one, they seem to have almost no idea why it is the better thing to act like Christians and plant the new church.

The diversion of leaders, resources and energy to existing churches is only wise when those churches are committed to sending and sustaining. If they want to “soak” up those resources, it’s an installment on a doomed future.

New churches will attract new people. Young churches will have young people. Future oriented churches will have a future. Missional churches will create missional leaders. This isn’t advanced math.

There’s a theory behind church planting. It rejects the idea of trying to fill up existing churches before building new ones. Old churches are often “closed clubs” that don’t attract new residents or young people or “the lost,” says the Rev. Johnny Kurcina, an assistant pastor of The Falls Church. Besides, population increase far exceeds church growth in America. This is especially true in cities.

As an Episcopal Church rector, Mr. Yates began thinking about planting churches 20 years ago. But the bishop of Virginia “wouldn’t allow us to discuss it,” he says, fearing that new Episcopal churches would lure people from older ones. In 2001, he was allowed to plant a church, but only a county away in a distant exurb.

So God bless the Falls Church. May they plant 20 and every plant start 20 more. How great this is for Anglicanism. Ask the AMiA!

Comments

  1. I wasn’t referring to you. Sorry.

  2. As long as church planting is part of “Go and make disciples….” and not “Go and increase the number of church members (and feed the ego of a particular charismatic leader)….” I agree it’s absolutely vital to the life of the church, both new and old. However, I’m not convinced that what’s going on at Falls Church is part of the former and not the latter. But I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt for the time being.

  3. Dave N:

    What is your evidence that Falls Church planting churches is an exercise in feeding the ego of a charismatic leader?

    And is charismatic a bad word? Biblically speaking?

    peace

    ms

  4. Tom Schwegler says:

    KY boy, I agree with your notion of involving the young with “adult” things as they grow up. The United Methodist church I grew up in was fairly decent at this, sponsoring choirs for all ages and employing grade school children as acolytes on a rotating basis. I wasn’t just a spectator until I turned 18; I had a role. And I’m convinced that finding my place in the church as an adult has been easier because of it.

    The challenge for any young person is to make the relatively sudden transition from being a student to an adult. As students, we spend much of our lives with people our own age, both at school and at church. However, the moment we leave school, we’re abruptly classified as adults and lumped into the same peer group as our parents and their friends. This is a tough transition, especially for the unprepared; those who are used to the comfort of a group for their specific age range may feel neglected, abandoned and/or out of place in the church.

    When I was a junior in college, I realized that I had little idea how to interact with the “adult” departments of a church, and I knew I wouldn’t be in InterVarsity forever. My first step towards a solution was to join the choir at the campus church I attended. In older, traditional churches, the choir is often a good, multi-generational sample of the active membership. And joining one wasn’t really a stretch, because the Methodists had taught me the finer points of singing in a choir; I was prepared.

    Austin, since you asked about a more liturgical setting, I hope this qualifies as a partial answer. Liturgy offers a number of avenues (music, Scripture readings, lighting candles, etc.) for participation that a younger person can perform, under the supervision and guidance of adults.

  5. OK… I’m skeptical about the way this new move by TFC (The Falls Church – their actual name, fwiw) is being portrayed here, because it seems to be about denominational growth. (Also fwiw, I very nearly became a member of TFC a few years back, before leaving VA for my home state.)

    I’m really not convinced that church “planting” is the solution to much of anything – unless, as another poster suggested, it’s about going and making disciples. But starting new churches to get a clean slate? Forgive me if (in my possibly blindered Lutheran opinion) that sounds redundant and – to be honest – a little foolish. I can see it happening organically, which – as I understand it (and I might well be wrong) is not what you’re talking about here. You seem to be saying that it’s important to go out and deliberately start new churches. To my mind, that seems a way to increase fragmentation of the body of Christ many times over.

    And I simply don’t see anything in the NT that leads me to believe that “church planting” per se is of anything like vital importance. Following Christ, yes. But starting new churches in areas that are already full of churches??? Maybe if you were in Tajikistan, yes. But the US and Canad?

    I’m sorry, but this seems to be more about American culture and our need for making more and better things than it does about the life and health of the body of Christ.

  6. Okay, church planting is fine and it works in many church denominations but before that is to happen in the mainline churches, and evangelical churches, the Holy Spirit must move. It’s the Holy Spirit who gives God’s people the motivation to bring others into God’s kingdom and renew them within.

    I’m not sure if a total collapse will happen. Maybe a partial collapse. But God will redeem the old and make things new again. I believe that is God’s way (in my opinion).

    Kevin

  7. Kevin, you put it far better than I did!

  8. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    What matters more? Being recognized by the ECUSA or the Anglican Church in Africa?

    Anglican Church in Africa. No contest. Third World Anglicans have their heads screwed on straighter re the Gospel than the ECUSA Sponging about. Maybe it has to do with them living harder and grittier than the Spongs.

  9. I wonder iMonk if this conversation might find some fruit if posed to the Liturgical Gangsta’s. “What is the Church and how should it be?”

    I suspect you would get much more profound understandings of the Church than from the defunct Evangelical ecclesiology that either “spiritualizes” it all or reduces it to “believing everything the same.”

    “Headless Unicorn Guy” – I think very few would disagree with you (although of course I personally know godly Bishops in TEC and even moderate liberals who display the fruit of the HS more so than most conservatives) Not all, or heck, even most of TEC agree’s with Spong and rogue Bishops. But whatever, it’s easier to judge.

  10. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    As I understand it from this posting and threads, the idea behind “always planting churches” assumes a church (in the sense of a specific congregation) has a finite lifespan. The older churches ossify and die from old age (like one my writing partner is currently watching die) and must be replaced by new, freshly-planted churches.

    While this does make some sense, it also emphasizes a continuing problem in American Evangelicalism: No Historic Trace.

    Without a historic tradition or other congregations to interact with, each new church plant is in danger of making the same mistakes and having to reinvent the wheel — sort of a “know-it-all” institutional adolescense. Or fall prey to the “fresh new idea” which is really an old mistake (which they are too young to remember).

    Or at the very least, end up as a caricature of Protestantism: The myriad of One True Churches with only recent histories, each claiming descewnt from “33 AD” and claiming all the others are heretics and/or apostates. No coordination, no acknowledgement that the others are even distant relatives in Christ, only infighting with no sense that they belong to the same historic movement or tradition.

    The Third-world Anglicans who started out this posting seem to have a good starting position in this whole affair. They belong to a church (Anglican) with a historic trace and tradition, and their Third World influence is a lot less likely to go off on weird Spongian tangents which are more like theoretical indulgences of idle rich. Third Worlders come from a survival mode and cannot afford to indulge theoretical fantasies. They have to live in a Reality Check.

  11. Scripture commands church planting. It’s normative.

    Evangelicals always got this right and it’s one of the reasons the mainlines are dying and deserve to do so.

    Listening to a debate on what to do with a PCUSA church plant in Lexington changed my life on this subject. Of all the things that the PCUSA was and is getting wrong, what I heard that night that resulted (later) in the closing of the plant was the most moving.

    Ministerial and denominational self interiest. THAT’s your Americanization of the Gospel. Going to the poorer neighborhood, offering the Gospel in an evangelical wasteland…that rocks.

    ms

  12. iMonk, I’d *love* to see the Gangstas take on this topic. My hunch is that those of us who grew up in other traditions (i.e., not SBC, or evangelical in the sense the word’s being used here) have a very, very different take on all of this. (I know I do.)

    “Church planting” sounds like it has plenty to do with salesmanship and packing the house. As Headless Unicorn Guy said above,

    The older churches ossify and die from old age (like one my writing partner is currently watching die) and must be replaced by new, freshly-planted churches.

    While this does make some sense, it also emphasizes a continuing problem in American Evangelicalism: No Historic Trace.

    Amen to that.

  13. Scripture commands church planting.

    Not meaning to be difficult, but could you point me to the passages where this is commanded? I don’t know if this is just a semantic thing or not, but… I simply don’t see it.

    IMO, the commands to love God, one another, and one’s neighbor as oneself far outstrip all else. Being as Christ seems to be the focus, not building or “growing” a religion.

    As for the idea of churches getting old and set in their ways (so let’s start another), I have never understood this way of thinking and probably never will – no offense. It just seems so contrary to Scripture – even common sense – to me.

  14. e2c

    Well the first thing I’ll say is that someone planted the church of every person here who is questioning church planting. Sort of sawing off the limb you are setting on.

    How is the Great commission not a command to make new disciples who will make new churches? What is Paul doing if not planting who knows how many churches? What are we seeing in Acts if not church planting? What’s Paul saying in Romans 15:18-21? What’s Titus doing in Crete? What is the church in Antioch doing in sending out Paul?

    If churches don’t plant churches that cross cultural barriers and plant churches, what am I reading?

    I’m not comprehending the “maybe we shouldn’t plant churches” bit. In my county, churches are dying right in front of us. I’m puzzled as to what else could be done if not plant some new churches.

    Maybe I’m dense. Help me here.

    peace

    ms

  15. Hi iMonk,

    Thanks so much for your reply!

    I don’t think making disciples = planting churches. Maybe it would help to know that the church I grew up in is now well over 200 years old? (Meaning the specific local church my family attended; this is in a rural area and my mom’s side of the family have been members for nearly 200 years…) People come and go, but the “going” is more about (literally) either moving away or dying. I think you’ll find that the sacramental churches (for lack of a better term) have a different view of this whole issue – though I’d be the first to say that I think it’s likely a multifacted “view” rather than a sort of block vote. (If that makes sense.)

    Again, I wonder how the Gangstas would respond to all this? It would be interesting to see.

  16. Just to add: I think the focus for many of us who come from “non-evangelical” churches is more on “one holy, catholic and apostolic church” (cf. the Nicene Creed). How that’s understood and interpreted seems very different from the way folks in your tradition view “church” and “churches.” (I think, anyway.)

    I’m also thinking that many of us view “mission” and “missional” in a very different way from folks who are in the SBC and/or similar churches. I’ve heard about many mission churches over the years, but there really is no imperative to go out and “plant”/establish more actual churches. This is one of many things that made my head spin when I 1st started hanging out with evangelicals, and 30+ years down the pike, that’s still true. 😉

    In essence, I think it might come down to an emphasis on literally being the church as opposed to a focus on how to replicate churches. Hope that makes sense!

  17. e2c:

    I’d say that this is a major difference between how evangelicals and catholics read the Bible.

    I would suggest that the processes and actions that lead to discipleship do not equal the sacraments as any of us understand them. Discipleship is a work of the Holy Spirit, but one that takes place in a human process of imitation and progressive learning/transformation. The atmosphere of a large catholic church is heavily oriented towards the church dispensing the sacraments in the name of Christ and the members then living the Christian life. The evangelical version, for all its criticized individualism, is heavily weighted toward developing disciples through education, discipleship, ministry – all in some way related to the growth and health of the church.

    The Catholic view of these matters has always seemed to me to be just fine if one is clergy or religious. But as laity, there seems to be a deficiency in the area of discipleship in favor of the effacacy of sacramentalism. “Oh I don’t have to do that. I’m not a monk.” And I’ve heard similar sentiments on our side as well.

    Whatever our theology, it can’t be argued that new church plants don’t foster discipleship. They do, and if anyone reads the Barnes piece this whole discussion came from they will see exactly what I mean.

    I would think that many serious Catholics would love to be part of a new church plant and the “ground up” aspect of rethinking all the basics that goes with it.

    peace

    ms

  18. iMonk, I wasn’t talking about the RC church – I’m Lutheran and grew up in the Lutheran church (LCA).

    so when I talk about “sacramentals,” I’m also referring to Protestants – like all churches that fall under the Anglican heading, as well as the various Lutheran synods.

    I think this is less “either/or” than “both/and.”

  19. Forgot to say that I believe several previous posters have made the points I’m attempting to make with more brevity and eloquence.

    As for the article on The Falls Church, I think one of the reasons Yates and others are so gung-ho on starting new churches is really simple: the diocese owns the buildings and property of all the existing ECUSA churches in the area – though IIRC, TFC actually was able to settle with the diocese and owns their building and property now.

    I’ll end by saying that these new churches are probably going to turn into “closed clubs,” too, over time. That goes with the territory. While I appreciate what you’ve said about trying to renew a dying church (the difficulties involved), I wonder if people in these shiny new churches are going to be having the same objections and complaints in 10-20 years’ time? My guess (FWIW) is “yes.”

  20. billTuba says:

    Michael,

    Long time lurker (2 years) first post.

    Michael said

    “But as laity, there seems to be a deficiency in the area of discipleship in favor of the effacacy of sacramentalism. “Oh I don’t have to do that. I’m not a monk.”

    This has been largely addressed by many lay movements within the RC Church Post Vatican II (Opus Dei, Communion and Liberation, Charismatic Movement – and others). VC II being the beginning of of the renewal is 40 years underway (yes badly implemented at first but under current Management this too is being corrected). If you did not know the RC Church has raised at least 250 non-religious to the Altar (many in recent years) – worthy models all.

    Anyways the following sentance :

    “I would think that many serious Catholics would love to be part of a new church plant and the “ground up” aspect of rethinking all the basics that goes with it.”

    Not so sure about that though it ‘sounds’ good.

    A ‘serious’ Catholic would recoil at the thought of “Rethinking all the basics”. A serious Catholic could not simply toss out the last 2000 years of martyrs, virgins, Saints, Doctors, Church Father and Councils and just start all over. Way above our paygrade. Novelty is a breeding ground for all sorts of heresy and discord.

    BTW – Sacrementalism – dont know what that is. If it means “i can just sit on my fat can and just get fed (the Eucharist) – I’m good” well – it ain’t what The Church teaches. True the Sacraments are efficacious and are a conduit of Grace into the soul of the receiver however it aint “magic”. Hence – “Ex opere operato”.

    Another problem as I, a Catholic, might have: The whole notion of planting without having being “sent” and given “Authority” – as Titus was by Paul. A person may plant roses – on the other hand he may plant weeds, poison ivy or hemlock. Its often difficult to tell at the early stages. Its best to consult an Expert Gardener whether to fetch fertilizer or Ortho-Round-up. And even if your plant blooms for a season what roots does it have? What will come of it when the winds blow and the storms come?

    Respectfully,

    Bill

  21. Bill proves everything I was saying about a more catholic ecclesiology!

  22. Bill:

    I didn’t mean rethink the Christian or catholic faith. I didn’t mean THAT basic.

    And I agree church planters must be sent. Absolutely.

    ms

  23. e2c,

    Thought you were catholic. I assume all my critics are 🙂

    We’ll have a Lutheran view of church planting up here in the near future.

    ms

  24. iMonk,

    Nope – Lutheran background, spent much time with Catholic charismatics, also as a member in indie Protestant churches that have both high/charismatic leanings, currently not a member of any church.

    I guess I’d have to say that I have roots in Lutheran theology and eccesiology but am more inclined toward Anglicanism (in some respects).

    Some of us out here are kind of eclectic. 😉

  25. iMonk,

    Yate’s awfully close connections to the Repubs and supposed ties with “The Family” just have me skittish that’s all. (See for example the New Yorker article, “The Insiders: How John McCain Came to Pick Sarah Palin,” that ran last October.) Again, I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt.

    As for charismatic being bad biblically; no certainly not. Although Paul seemed a little skeptical about them as well.

  26. What Michael is saying about church-planting fits for Catholics mutatis mutandis but the concept of a “church” must be translated, not as a parish, but as the orders and movements that comprise the impetus of Catholic evangelism.

    A parish is really just the building and clergy that provide for the regular, orderly celebration of the Mass and sacraments over a geographic region. Church-planting as “founding more and more parishes” is, of course, alien to Catholics. Ceteris paribus, a Catholic ought to receive the sacraments at the closest parish. Traveling outside of one’s parochial boundaries to attend a favourite parish is frowned upon. It would be like spending Thanksgiving with a different family just because your mom burns the turkey and your siblings bicker. Planting more parishes to encourage renewal seems to cast doubt on the principle of ex opere operato and seems to suggest that one receives better sacraments at a better parish. Perish the thought!

    However, the spirit of “break with the past”, “out with the old, in with the new” can be found elsewhere in the church, in the orders and lay movements, as it has done for centuries. In these groups, a fresh start is often desirable, sometimes for it’s own sake. The existence of orders and movements with appellations like “reformed”, “of the primitive observance”, “discalced”, etc… attests to this phenomenon. In the orders and movements, one very often sees health in newer groups, which offer a striking parallel to what iMonk describes. One sees a sense a purpose, clear priorities, amiable relationships, flexibility, speed and effectiveness.

    I believe Michael has said on this website before that he thinks Christianity is essentially a series of church-planting movements. It echoes something Joseph Ratzinger said, that the immediate future of Catholicism belongs to movements. Interesting. And it occurs to me that, even though a Catholic parish and Protestant church seem very similar with walls, a roof, pews, a pulpit and so on, their essential nature is very different and the parish, as a local instance of a transcendent and universal Church, simply does not exist in the Protestant ecclesiastical landscape. A Protestant Church has more in common with, say, a monastery, whose worth and value as an institution arises chiefly from human merit and effectiveness.

    Anglicans must have a devil of a time with the whole church-planting thing because they often are stuck with a Protestant soul trapped in a Catholic body. Hehe. 🙂

    Apologies for the prolixity.

  27. Michael,
    While your general characterization:

    “The atmosphere of a large catholic church is heavily oriented towards the church dispensing the sacraments in the name of Christ and the members then living the Christian life. The evangelical version, for all its criticized individualism, is heavily weighted toward developing disciples through education, discipleship, ministry – all in some way related to the growth and health of the church.”

    is reasonably fair on the public side, there is a good bit going on in Catholic parishes wrt sanctification & discipleship that is just not as publicized as it would be in evangelical circles. One does have to search it out tho as it’s not pushed at one; the resultant growth is slower and not so visible but as to longterm fruit..God knows. Also, the very sacraments that are distinctively Catholic play a crucial role in its sustainence. One consequence of this different model, however, is that the sanctification/discipleship efforts tend to automatically get pushed outside the Church into the world. But again, what i’m describing is slow and lowkey and hard to describe and document (except in literature, e.g. Brideshead Revisited, for example).

  28. “I’m sorry, but this seems to be more about American culture and our need for making more and better things than it does about the life and health of the body of Christ.”

    As a former member of TFC, all I can say is church planting there is really aimed at creating another group of believers, in which people can become supported, grow, and share their faith in outreach. Very big megachurches are often hard to get involved in. And when you can’t get a seat or a parking space at church, something needs to happen, right?

    This seems like a big case of over-analysis of a rather simple good thing.

  29. I read several comments and of the many that I read, I didn’t see the word, “evangelism,” mentioned. I’m part of a church-planting ministry overseas and it seems one thing that most missions-minded, church-planting ministries overseas have not forgotten is that it’s all about reaching the lost (good ole fashioned evangelism and discipleship). We don’t not plant churches to coddle old believers or even plant new ones to reach out to new ones…we plant churches because God’s people have faithfully been evangelizing and discipling as God commands and a new church plant is a natural (or supernaturally-led) outgrowth of the Great Commission going forward.

    I believe that one big reason that the state of the Church in America is starting to look a lot more like the rest of the world is because much of the Bride has lost or misplaced her evangelistic heart. We no longer see ourselves as foreigners in a foreign land who are to herald the good news of Christ to those who are dead, lost and heading to eternal damnation apart from it. We’re simply happy if the sermon doesn’t go too long so we were sure to get the buffet special.

  30. As a former member of TFC, all I can say is church planting there is really aimed at creating another group of believers, in which people can become supported, grow, and share their faith in outreach.

    I understand what you’re saying, but … if you look at most every website or book out there on “church planting,” you’re going to find a different motivation it. (IMO, anyway.)