Reflections on Church Planting in the US

1. What makes a good church?

This is a great question for church planters to consider. For me, there are three things to consider:

1) Loving relationships – a sense of authentic, spiritual community with each other.
2) Life transformation – the gospel is changing lives.
3) Spiritual reproduction – there are multiplying generations of disciplemakers.

Too many church planters might think that a good church has powerful worship, practical teaching, and a great venue. While those things may be present, that’s not what Jesus was talking about when He said, “I will build My church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” In fact, Jesus said, “By this will all men know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.” And, “Go therefore and make disciples…” Church is not an event and not a destination, it’s the people of God on mission together making disciples who make disciples.

2. What part do buildings have in starting new churches?

In some communities, you are considered a cult if your church meets in your home. Some church plants feel they are not viable or legitimate if they don’t have their own building. A place to meet can be a powerful tool for reaching into the community with the gospel. It can also be a huge distraction, a drain on financial resources, and a barrier to fulfilling the church’s mission (see 12 Practical Ways to Keep a Church Building from Consuming a Church Plant)

Buildings are not the problem, but a pre-occupation with buildings and property can be a real problem (this is called edificialism and its an obstacle to the missional activity of the church). The challenge for church planters is to continually recognize that the church is the missionary people of God, and not a building (or place of God). Jesus taught in John 4 that it’s not about the place that we worship, but rather how we worship (in spirit and in truth) that really matters anyway.

3. What’s the future of church planting in the US?

As long as there are people who do not yet believe in Christ there will continue to be a need for new churches. While it would be awesome to see every church in America vibrantly active in multiplying disciplemakers, it has been proven that new churches are most effective in reaching people for Christ.

It is hard work to start churches by making disciples. Economic challenges often “force” church planters to abandon a disciplemaking focus in favor of an atractional focus. It’s likely there will be lots of attractional churches started in the next decade. Yet it’s my prayer that there will be lots more churches that are birthed out of disciplemaking, rather than launching worship services that attract Christians and pseudo-Christians.

4. What are some recent church planting projects that you are working with?

I’m working closely with three church planting projects which are just starting: 1) Eric Loyer moved to Toms River, NJ in Sept 2010 and has recently started The Remedy Church. 2) Mark Hotaling and Brian Gray are starting a regional church in rural northern Colorado called High Plains Harvest. 3) Russ Johnson moved to Chicago from Asheville, NC a few months ago and is starting missional activity (they call their expression of church – The Table). I really enjoy coaching each of these projects because they are all focused on starting churches by making disciples. (Cookies, not Cookie Jars!)

5. Where would you like to work with a new church opening?

I believe that God moved me to Seattle to be part of seeing a movement of new churches started here. I’ve been privileged to work with several church planters in this area. I would really love to coach some new projects that are focused on multiplying disciples in the city. I would also love to work with projects that are focused on launching disciplemaking churches in other urban areas like NYC, LA, Chicago, Denver, San Francisco, Atlanta, and Phoenix.

6. What are you learning as you work with church planters?

Church planters need to be committed to raising leaders from the harvest for the harvest. It’s not about your Sunday worship gathering, it’s about what happens between Sundays. One of the biggest challenges church planters face is a leadership challenge. They need more leaders than they have. They will never recruit leaders fast enough. They have to focus from the beginning on leadership development and creating a leadership culture.

This need to raise up leaders requires them to be modeling missional behaviors. If the church planter is not engaged in making disciples who make disciples, he will never raise up leaders who make disciples.

7. What inspires you in working with new churches?

Having planted a church in Southern California in the 1990s, I’m inspired to come alongside church planters to help them navigate the challenges they face in getting started. I’m grateful that Steve Ogne coached me as I was starting. His commitment and dedication to me is an inspiration as I coach church planters.

As I assess, coach and train church planters, I am continually inspired by the sacrifices they are making to reach those in their neighborhoods and communities with the gospel. There are lots of easier ways to make a living than by planting a church. I’m amazed how so many couples are willing to take the risk to follow God’s call on their lives to start a new church. I just want to do my part to help them be more focused, more fulfilled, and more fruitful.