Ed Stetzer: Church Planting, Partner Churches and Denominations

Grace-Church-HendersonvilleOver the past couple of years, I’ve had the privilege of planting another church. In April 2011, our church-planting team and a core group of believers launched Grace Church outside of Nashville.

The methods of planting may have changed, but the motivation has stayed the same.

Needless to say, I love church planting. Yet church planting is different today than it was 25 years ago when I planted my first church in Buffalo, N.Y. We started that first church plant in Buffalo just going door to door. In other churches, we used direct mail, telemarketing campaigns and just about any other way to get the word out.

At Grace Church, we have had more people come through relational connections than anything else. That’s probably better, and it is certainly a new reality.

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The local methods of planting may have changed, but the motivation of reaching the unchurched with the gospel of Jesus Christ and drawing them into biblical community has stayed the same. Last night, we baptized another six adults—following the 12 we baptized last month.

I love church planting because I love seeing people reached for the gospel.

Planting has changed locally, but also globally. And how churches, networks and denominations deal with church planting has changed as well.

So, after 25 years of involvement in church planting, I thought I’d write a few ideas (based on a talk I gave earlier this year) about what I’ve learned. I’ve written two books on church planting, Planting Missional Churches and Viral Churches, and I've blogged and spoken on the topic extensively, so it’s not easy, but here are a few quick thoughts.

Some Advice

For churches and denominations: Simply don’t be afraid.

Over the last few decades, I have observed that the main hindrance for churches, denominations and leaders engaging in church planting is fear. Churches, denominations and leaders are afraid that church plants are too innovative, take too much sacrifice and are too difficult with which to cooperate. Those fears must be overcome for church-planting efforts to thrive in the future.

The very nature of church planting usually puts planters on the forefront of innovation within their generation. One of the reasons they are so effective at reaching the unchurched and dechurched is because they often allow the “how” of church planting to be shaped by the “who, when and where” of culture. Giving space for this to happen can be a scary thing for other church and denominational leaders.

Overcome Fear

If we want to see a church multiplication movement like Warren Bird and I talk about in Viral Churches, we need to choose to overcome fear. As long as a church meets the biblical definition of a church and has the biblical marks of a church, it can look and function many different ways.

This fear of the new generation and their church-planting activity remains in many denominations, though thankfully not all. We must get rid of the fear that keeps us “doing church” the same way and for only one group of people. As long as a church meets the biblical definition of a church and has the biblical marks of a church, it can look and function many different ways.

What should drive us is a confessional identity that we believe a certain tenet of things together (which will be different for different denominations) and stay committed to confessional identity with missional cooperation. The result will be all kinds of church plants with one common confession and mission. And that is worth the effort.

Be Willing to Sacrifice

Church plants take sacrifice, and that scares some people. Church plants also require new ways to cooperate, and that scares some people.

If churches and denominations won’t sacrifice, they won’t reproduce.

It will involve the sacrifice of sending people to start a new church, the sacrifice that it will create some controversy in the denomination, and the sacrifice of funding that could go to other needs (with vocal constituencies).

But again: If churches and denominations won’t sacrifice, they won’t reproduce.

Build Cooperation

Finally, if a true multiplication movement is to take place, it will require reconsidering the ways in which we cooperate. Instead of demanding methodological conformity, we should celebrate sharing common beliefs with a common confession and missional cooperation in different settings. In the process, we can open up new lanes for new church planters and see a revolutionary church multiplication movement in this country once again.

If churches, denominations and leaders can overcome these fears, I believe we can—and will—see a church multiplication movement that will be both faithful and fruitful in our missional mandate to spread the gospel.

Ed Stetzer is the president of LifeWay Research and has planted, revitalized and pastored hundreds of churches. He has trained pastors and church planters on five continents, holds two master’s degrees and two doctorates, and has written and co-written numerous books, including Planting New Churches in a Postmodern Age; Breaking the Missional Code; Viral Churches; Spiritual Warfare & Missions; Transformational Church; and MissionShift (all B&H Books or B&H Academic).

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