What is Church Planting?
by Phil Martin
The central goal of the great commission is making disciples out of non believers. This puts us all in a tricky position. Making disciples involves bringing dead hearts to life, a work that the Holy Spirit rightly maintains a monopoly on. So the thing we are told to do, we are incapable of doing.
So what are we able to do? We can declare the gospel to those who haven’t heard. We can ask God in prayer to open their hearts to the truth in scripture.
What do we do if the Holy Spirit does, in fact, perform a miracle in their hearts? Is our job done? Not by a long shot. New believers need to be taught, shepherded, encouraged, and led to become mature disciples. That is a life long process for all of us!
But what does any of this have to do with the church? Part of being a mature disciple is gathering with other believers. When there are new converts in an area that doesn’t have a church, the best way to teach, shepherd, encourage, and lead them towards Christ is to gather them together. In this way a new church is planted!
We describe our work as church planting because a church is the natural outcome of making disciples. The term encompasses all of our activity on the mission field. Our efforts all support the goal of gospel-growth in the people of the church.
There are several errors that can be made in the pursuit of planting churches.
Error #1: Evangelize non believers, leading to conversions, but never gather them into a church.
This is very common in highly unchurched areas. There is a belief that actually starting a church is either impossible or unsafe.
Error #2: Gather young believers into a group, give them basic instructions and part ways.
Healthy churches require real investment that takes time. There aren’t shortcuts or magic formulas. Lowering the bar of what we call a church does not fulfill the great commission.
Error #3: Start an organization called a church solely through gathering existing Christians.
This is very common in highly Christian parts of the world, and I think it is almost unavoidable. We shouldn’t disparage church planters in America that grow primarily through transfer growth. I do invite them to go overseas to experience a different sort of church planting.
Error #4: Try to start a 1,000 churches before you start 1 church.
Much of missions work today is towards this end. Of course we would all be thrilled to see God work in a way that leads to a great rapid change. That doesn’t mean our job is to manufacture a revival. Our job is to be faithful in the essential work of discipleship.
Error #5: Plant a church and serve as the pastor for perpetuity.
If the church is dependent on the missionary, our job isn’t done. A church with faithful leaders that can entrust the gospel to the next generation is the goal.