For the last 30 years I have had a strong interest in church planting. When in seminary I wrote a thirty page paper on “Philosophies of Church Planting”. I have a stutter, which would make full time pulpit ministry difficult, but for many years I imagined myself as having a future as a member of a church planting team. As a lay person, I have been directly involved in two church plants(one is still going strong, the other closed its doors), and assisted more indirectly in a number of others (You need a pianist, here is someone who can help you out.)
For many years, for most denominations, church planting has been pretty haphazard. I was involved for a number of years with the Christian and Missionary Alliance. Their strategy was to identify an area that was “underchurched”, identify a potential church planter, hold a public meeting and introduce those who were interested to the church planter. The church would struggle along for a few years, and would either survive or fail, largely based on the giftedness of the church planter. (The failure rate was quite high.) They also tried bi-vocational teams, and that met with limited success as well. More recently they have decided that denominations do not plant churches, churches plant churches. So they have switched their strategy to building up core groups within existing churches. The members of the core group would be from a certain geographical area that is distinct from that of the mother church. When the core group is strong enough to stand on its own, it goes out and starts its own church. This strategy seems to be a little more effective in planting churches that actually survive.
While not a Christian and Missionary Alliance Church, this was the strategy that was employed by the church that was birthed on Sunday. It started with six people who attended a church outside of their community, but has a vision for their community, a small Canadian city. A year and a half later the core group had grown to 60 people, and a few months after than the leaders of the mother church gave their blessing for the church plant to proceed. It took another year of much planning and prayer before the new church was ready to open its doors. By this time the core group had grown to 180 people, still meeting as part of the mother church. These 180 invited their friends from the area, but really had no idea how many might show up at the first service.
Last Sunday arrived. The parking lot filled up. The overflow parking filled up. The over-overflow parking filled up. Four hundred and ninety people showed up for the first service.
Here are some other observations I noted from the service:
People were given opportunities to use their gifts. The family that invited me have six children. The youngest was in the class of two to four year olds along with 20 other kids. Her mother taught the kids, and her two older girls served as helpers in the class. The dad and his six year old daughter served as greeters at the door. Next week he will be playing bass guitar for worship, something he hasn’t done for over 10 years. Their fourteen years old son ran the power point, and their seventeen year old son was responsible for the sound system. They both did excellent jobs.
The sermon was excellent, talking about the importance of seeking after God, along with an emphasis on God’s grace.
There was an invitation made to those who had not yet made a decision to follow Christ, to stand if they wanted to do so. I could only see the first six rows of room, so I do not know how many chose to stand, but in the rows I could see their were six standing. I felt privileged to have experienced not only the birth of a church, but multiple new births as well.
The one draw back: theologically I didn’t fit. There were two many things in their statement of faith that I disagree with. Sometimes I think my theological education is a bit of curse. It makes it hard for me to “sign on the dotted line” wherever I go. Still I am happy for my friends, and think that this will be a wonderful place for their family to be.
What has been your experience with church plants? What has worked, or not worked? I haven’t touched on this in the post, but why do we plant churches? As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome.