We’re just about to celebrate three years as a church so I wanted to write a few thoughts about the future and what it will take to become a church planting church.
Hans Küng once said:
“A church which pitches its tents without constantly looking out for new horizons, which does not continually strike camp, is being untrue to its calling… [we must] play down our longing for certainty, accept that which is risky, and live by improvisation and experimentation”.*
Everything about that quote breathes the air of the New Testament. A church that is looking forward, a church that will not settle, a church that is courageous, a church that has vision beyond that of protecting its own, a church that follows in the footsteps of Jesus who came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10) and put his own life at risk to that end. What would it take to become that kind of church? I am going to suggest four things. But before I do…a caveat.
It’s easy to read that quote and forget that most of ‘church life’ is very ordinary and down-to-earth. It’s about loving God with our hearts, minds and lives through the scriptures, prayer, breaking bread and taking wine, and participation in church community. It’s about loving one another through acts of service and humility, forgiving each other when we rub up against each another the wrong way and learning to care for each other through the ups and downs of life. It’s about loving our neighbours and our city through diligent hard work, community action, a posture of service and living lives of integrity. When you read the New Testament, whilst the church is exploding rapidly, it’s still ‘everyday church’ and it’s still very down-to-earth and grounded. We mustn’t lose this. In fact, this is the dynamite which causes the explosion. It’s ‘ordinary’ Christians living ‘ordinary’ lives and having ‘ordinary’ conversations with their neighbours. That is what changed the world. I call this Provocative Church and have written about it here and here and Chester & Timmis have written a great book outlining this idea of Everyday Church.
But all that said, we must have a vision for expansion and multiplication if we’re going to be true to our calling and if we’re going to impact the city of Dublin. This is not about building a kingdom for ourselves (in fact it’s the opposite!), it’s about following the call of Christ to go to the ends of the earth to share his message which transforms lives (Acts 1:8).
So how will we become a church planting church? I will suggest 4 Cs…
We will not plant churches and choose the path of experimentation unless we are convicted biblically and from the evidence that it is the right thing to do. Tim Keller has written a fantastic paper summarising the arguments (and responding graciously to the counter-arguments) as to why church planting is both biblical and practical. Biblically, he points out 2 things:
- The Great Commission (Matt. 28:18–20) is a call not just to ‘make disciples’ but to baptise. In Acts and elsewhere, it is clear that baptism means incorporation into a worshipping community with accountability and boundaries (cf. Acts 2:41–47).
- The Apostle’s two-fold strategy: First, he went into the largest city of a region (cf. Acts 16:9, 12), and second, he planted churches in each city (cf. Titus 1:5—”appoint elders in every town”). Once Paul had done that, he could say that he had “fully preached” the gospel in a region and that he had “no more place . . . to work in these regions” (cf. Rom. 15:19, 23). This means Paul had two controlling assumptions: (a) that the way to most permanently influence a country was through its chief cities, and (b) the way to most permanently influence a city was to plant churches in it. Once he had accomplished this in a city, he moved on. He knew that the rest that needed to happen would follow.
He then goes on to talk practically and from the evidence that arises from planting churches. He mentions two things in particular which are very true to Dublin and that we’re seeing in embryonic form.
- New churches best reach new generations, new residents and new people groups. Why? Because “new congregations empower new people and new peoples much more quickly and readily than can older churches. Thus they always have and always will reach them with greater facility than long-established bodies can.” New people fit in easily because EVERYTHING is new. When a new person tries to join an established church they know they’re the odd-ones out and have to learn and follow the particular traditions, assumed practices and prevailing culture. However, when the church itself is new…they get to shape all that! Since Dublin is full of new young people, new residents and new people groups, church planting must be a high priority.
- New churches best reach the unchurched. Studies show that newer churches attract more non-Christians, ‘prodigals’ and de-churched Christians than existing churches. Why? Because new churches expend most of their energy on outreach rather than pastoral care. They are focussed on those who are not-yet-members rather than on those that are members. This is in no way to criticise existing churches (they too have a vital role!), but rather highlight a natural dynamic. Since most young people in Dublin no longer go to church on a regular basis, church planting must be a high priority.
Because of the biblical and practical evidence towards church planting, Keller quotes leading missiologist C. Peter Wagner who says:
“Planting new churches is the most effective evangelistic methodology known under heaven.”
But what about the existing churches in the city?
At this point someone (with genuine and good motives) objects and says,
“But what about all the existing churches that need help? You seem to be ignoring them.”
And then Keller highlights something that may seem very counter-intuitive to many. He says “we plant churches because we want to continually renew the whole body of Christ” and he goes on to share how new churches
- Bring new ideas to the whole body,
- Identify creative strong leaders for the whole body,
- Challenge other churches to self-examine,
- Can become an ‘evangelistic feeder’ for the whole body.
What is interesting to me is that we have seen these four things play out in our first three years. Other church leaders have wanted to meet with me to discuss our approach to ministry (and it has been a chance for mutual learning!), we have been able to train up leaders who are not part of our church (in 6.30 Leadership for example) and we have seen people come to Christ who for geographic or personal reasons have gone to other churches (which is great!).
As an FYI, we have a policy that if anyone joins our church from another church in Dublin we always ask them (a) have they talked to their existing Pastor about moving and (b) if they have any objections to me calling their Pastor to acknowledge that someone wants to join us…and for us together to decide if this is the best course of action. It’s important that people who join from other churches do so for the right reasons and come with the blessing of the Pastor. Some people have immediately left CCC when I have mentioned this (some were quite angry at me!) and others have transitioned over with the blessing of their previous church, after discussing the issues openly.
We will only plant more churches if we are convinced biblically and from the evidence.
Whilst being convicted church planting is important is going to be vital, we’re also going to have to count the cost. Church planting means change…typically people don’t like change. Church planting means splitting up existing community dynamics…typically people don’t like that. Church planting means a change in style or leader or quality or time or venue or expectations or…(the list goes on)…and once you’re used to something and like it, typically we find it hard to adjust.
So why would we do it?
Because comfort and my personal preference is not what church is about! That has been one of the big emphases of the first three years at CCC. We’re not here to be a church that fits my preferences and needs; we’re here to be a church that (a) connects to the skeptical Dub and (b) blesses the city. Our needs and preferences are important and God will provide all that we need but he does that as we seek his kingdom first rather than focus on our needs first (Matthew 6:25-32).
In Acts chapter 8, due to the persecution that broke out after the death of Stephen, the church was scatted out of Jerusalem and into Samaria and Judea. What is tragic about that story is not the persecution (Jesus said we should expect that if we stand up for him!) but that the church was not already in Samaria and Judea of their own volition and planning. They had got stuck in Jerusalem and the Spirit had to use persecution to move them to where he wanted (Acts 1:8). At the end of the book of Acts, after the conversion of Saul to Paul, the church is moving on to Rome and ‘the ends of earth.’
Once we are convicted biblically and practically that church planting is the way to go and once we have counted the cost to move in that direction, we must then use our brains and think strategically. Whilst church planting will always involve risk and things may go ‘wrong’ or ‘fail’ in that certain endeavours don’t work, there are some common pitfalls we want to avoid. By the way, ‘failing’ or ‘going wrong’ is the inevitable consequence of moving forward. We should not be deterred by that reality and if we’re living by grace, we will not be too cast down when it happens. We’ll get up again and try again. As any entrepreneur will tell you, it was the failures that made them great!
So what are the pitfalls we want to avoid?
- Leadership – untrained, immature or unaccountable leaders who are not able to carry the weight of a new church (or the existing church).
- Momentum – unnecessary damage to the existing churches so they lose momentum and start to dwindle.
- Burn out – whether of leaders, core team or the church in general. Expansion and multiplication must be sustainable and if ‘The Lord is building the house’ (Psalm 127) then we’ll have all the energy, zeal, resources and gifts we need. We will not be doing it in our strength.
- Pride – let’s not be naive about the natural tendancy of the human heart toward pride, either shown in self-congratulatory spirit (look how great we are) or in a down-cast spirit (in all this change I am being forgotten). Arrogance and low self-esteem are two sides of the same coin…that my value/identity is determined by my role, my achievements and whether people appreciate me.
I am sure there are more pitfalls than these four, but we want to do all we can to avoid them and pray that the Lord will keep ‘our foot from slipping’ in these areas. We will need His protection and grace. We’ll need His guidance and discipline. We’ll need His provision and empowering. This year in 6.30 leadership we looked at the leadership of Nehemiah and from chapters 1-6 we saw that he was a man who (a) prayed (b) planned (c) delegated and (c) fought off opposition through wisdom, a life of integrity, prayer, scripture and common sense. We are going to need this balance in our leadership to make this work. John White says,
“Prayer, administration, on-site supervision, physical labour – all were part of a whole.”
And throughout the course we were reminded that:
- To pray without planning is to be lazy;
- To plan without praying is to be arrogant.
When we discussed as leaders* in the church what was needed to ‘be ready’ to plant another church, we came up with a list of things that (in our wisdom) would make us ready to plant another church:
- The church is envisioned on ‘why church plant’, believes in it and is willing to count the cost.
- A strong trained leader, with a clear leadership/core team to support.
- 150 people connected to the church (80 core, 100 on Sundays, 75 in City Groups)…so the sending church goes back to the current situation, without becoming too vulnerable.
- Clarity on location and connection to existing church (morning congregation? Northside? Southside?)
- A clear missional purpose – Is there a need? Can we invite friends? Are 2-3 City Groups gathering momentum that could form the core? How does this bless the kingdom/Dublin?
- 20-50 people ready to join (at least 10-20ppl 100% committed with understanding of the sacrifice, service and commitment needed).
- Financial Gift of 30-50k for years 1-2 of the church (and existing church able to cover costs despite losing members).
- Current leaders stick around and be part of one of the churches.
- Existing church to maintain its vision, goals, strengths – we want to keep it strong and moving forward.
(4) Core Team
This has been mentioned once or twice already but it is worth spelling out. The success or failure (humanly speaking) of a new church plant is largely determined by selecting the right leader and the right core team, with distinct gifts, skills and experiences. In The Redeemer Church Planting Manual Tim Keller & Allen Thompson say, referring to church plant leaders (though the same can be said of the core team),
“Planting a church is a demanding task. It requires gifts, skills and experiences somewhat distinct from pastoring an established congregation. Both are challenging ministries and obviously not every pastor is called to plant a church. Many who thrive in an established congregation, wither in church planting and many who enjoyed planting a church are frustrated in an established one. However, for both types of ministry there is one basic essential: spiritual integrity.”
Keller then talks about the importance of Christian character and maturity; that what people need more than anything else is holiness and a life on fire for Christ. Once that is in place, to understand whether you’re fit for church planting, it’s important to look at 3 things:
(a) ability – endowments and experience
(b) affinity – desire and maturity
(c) opportunity – unmet need and sharers
So for any new church plant to work, it will require 10-20 people (ideally more!) who commit 100% for 18-24 months to the leadership and the vision, who understand the sacrifice and service that is required, and feel excited by that and are willing to find strength and grace from God for the task ahead.
To conclude, to become a church planting church we are going to need conviction that it’s the right thing to do, a willingness to count the cost that comes from starting new endeavours, clear calculation of what is required in order to make both the sending and planting churches flourish for the long-term…and leaders. We will need not just leaders who will lead the plants, but core-team members who will make life-decisions to join in. This is not for everyone (and that is fine!). This has to be something that God stirs in our hearts and lives. We mustn’t act from guilt, fear or duty but with faith, hope and love. I hope God breathes his Spirit on us as he did the early church, that we will see lives, communities and Dublin impacted positively, for his glory.
Our initial plan is to start a new church sometime between 2020-2022, so please do keep up-to-date with the plans and pray about how you could be involved. If you have any questions, concerns or suggestions please speak to Steve.
*Quoted in Alan Hirsh The Forgotten Ways
*Leanne & I gather together all the Staff Team, Interns-Apprentices, City Group Leaders, Ministry Leaders & Sunday Leaders 4 times a year