September 11, 2017

Eight Trends in Church Planting, Part One

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In this week’s post Doug McClintic, Church Multiplication Catalyst for Luminex, discusses the first four of eight trends that he is observing in church planting:

Trend 1: Continued tragic mistakes on the part of sending agencies and churches.
Church planting has come a long way in the past 20 years but as new churches, leaders and agencies come online in tandem with multiplication momentum picking up across North America, many of the same mistakes are being made that could easily be avoided by taking a look at recent history, and by consulting with people who lived through some of the tragic mistakes of the past two decades.  The number one mistake comes in the form of a friend.  To put it simply, it is the error of oversimplifying (often linked with over spiritualizing) the church planting process.  Church planting is not complicated but it is not easy either.  People rush into projects or adopt schemes that look good on a napkin but don’t actually work in real life.  Simple, reproducible, elegant systems are our friends, but when they become “magical thinking” or “silver bullets” they can do more harm than good.  Underestimating the time, energy, spiritual warfare, resources and sheer grit that it takes to plant churches leads to tragic mistakes.  The number two mistake that sending agencies and sending churches make is the desire for something “shiny.”  (My thanks to Tanner Smith for this phrase).  Churches and leaders and denominations and networks often want new churches as some kind of trophy for their good efforts and the viability of their brand.  This desire often leads to tragic mistakes, shortcuts and elevated expectations.  As a leader who has fallen into this pit one too many times, I want to issue a warning to others: “Don’t fall for it.”  Church planting is an agricultural metaphor and an apt one at that!  Planting things takes time, it’s dirty, muddy, and dusty.  It requires that you spread stinky fertilizer.  It requires discipline, preparation, and risk.  It is subject to external conditions (weather, disease, etc.) that are beyond your control.  These mistakes have been with us for a long time and as I have already said, as planting becomes more and more popular – as it should be – these mistakes will continue unless people seek out the wisdom and experience of those who have been through the trenches.

Trend 2: Continued tragic mistakes on the part of church planters and church planting teams.
These mistakes are similar to the sending agency and church mistakes, but with a twist.  I can’t discuss them all in depth in this space so I will list some of the common mistakes that planters make, and seemingly continue to make. In no particular order: Hiring your friends or relatives as staff even though they don’t have objectively verified qualifications for those positions; prematurely launching into weekly Sunday worship services before having a large enough base of ministry volunteers; not asking people to make a specific commitment to serve and give; not having a clear mission statement, value statement, discipleship strategy, and long range vision before starting; not participating in assessment and training; not having a church planting coach who is not the senior pastor of the sending church; confusing a church split with a church plant; adopting a “model of the future” for your church plant in a place where the future has not yet arrived; hiring youth staff as your first staff addition; not meeting needs in your community; creating an overly optimistic budget; not doing personal evangelism and waiting for preaching in worship services to yield a harvest; not having music that the actual people in your community know, love and appreciate; underestimating the power of publicity; overestimating the power of publicity; confusing comfort with each other in the new church with openness and hospitality to those outside of the new church.  This is an exhausting list, but it’s not exhaustive.  The key to avoid making these mistakes is to seek the wisdom of others – your coach, your mentors, other planters, your spouse, good books, podcasts, trainers, assessors, counselors, and friends.  Learn all that you can before, during and after launching your new church. Now onto six happier trends.

Trend 3: Greater discipline by sending agencies and church in planter selection and training.
The good news is that sending agencies, sending churches, denominations, networks, etc. have learned a ton in the past twenty years.  Most of them have been through the deconstruction of church experiments that cost lots of time and heartache, and have learned valuable lessons.  Most of them have made the tragic mistakes listed above in one form or another and changed direction.  The biggest change in direction that I have made and observed in others is greater skill and discipline in planter selection and training.  These two factors have enormous impact on planter effectiveness and church planting sustainability.  Assessment is getting more gradual and more rigorous.  Many potential planters become impatient with this process and seek ways around it, but those who are wise know that the slow, deliberate process of careful discernment and assessment pays off in the end.  Training is becoming more organic, more embedded in the church planting process, less model specific, and more responsive to the needs of adult learners.

Trend 4: A renewed focus on making new disciples.
Even though I have previously written (ranted?) that pitting church planting against disciple making is an unnecessary and false dichotomy, I do see a welcome trend toward preparing and becoming church planters and new churches who are not just a new an improved model of church but who see making disciples from non-disciples as their highest calling.  Developing an organic, contextual, systematic, and easily measurable pathway for people to move through the stages of faith development to a life of obedience and love has become more and more the core work of the church planter in North America.  Church planting is one of the best ways we can employ to create a new wave of people who, captivated by their love for Jesus, are motivated to carry out his mission and bring about his Kingdom in the world.

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