Planting New Churches

By: Gailyn Van-Rheenan The theological and strategic foundations upon which churches are planted greatly affect their ability to grow and mature. Paul encourages the church planter to "be careful how he builds." Sooner or later the builder's work will be tested with fire. Those who build with incombustible materials (gold, silver, and costly stones) will receive a reward, but those who build with combustible materials (wood, hay, and straw) will experience loss (1 Cor. 3:10-15).

Definition of Church Planting

Church planting may be defined as initiating reproductive fellowships who reflect the kingdom of God in the world. A number of characteristics of church planting are reflected in this definition.

First, church planting is aimed at the creation of fellowships. The church is the family of God, the body of Christ (Eph. 1:23), a people "belonging to God" (1 Pet. 2:9). These biblical metaphors indicate that the church must become a cohesive body reflecting the qualities of God in an alien world (vv. 11-12). Evangelistic methodologies should not scatter contacts who cannot be molded into bodies of believers; they must focus evangelism in one area for the purpose of creating a community of God. Converts must not be treated merely as individuals but incorporated in the body of Christ. Matayo Lang'at, a Kipsigis evangelist of Kenya, used a farming metaphor to explain why new Christians must work together to become part of a functioning fellowship:

Here in Africa one person cannot cultivate with oxen by himself. There must be people in the field to guide the oxen on each side as well as one who holds the plow. Likewise, one cannot be the church by himself. He must call others who are in Christ to work together with him.            (Translation from Kipsigis Sermon, 1976)

McGavran concurs: "Would-be disciples must be joyfully built into his body--they must not wander alone in the wilderness" (1990, 7). Too frequently a few new Christians are left to fend for themselves after a short campaign. New converts are led to the Lord and then left before a fellowship of believers has come into existence. These few Christians will likely fall away from God because they have not been incorporated into a fellowship which can mold and guide them in their spiritual journey.

Second, effective church planting focuses on cultivating reproductive fellowships. Many times churches are established without expecting the new converts to teach others. They soon become like mules who cannot germinally reproduce but must return to the original sources, the horse and the donkey, in order to procreate. They are like seedless grapes, delightful to taste but without reproductive power, or the fig tree which Jesus withered because it did not bear fruit (Matt. 21:18-19).

Professor Wendell Broom has graphically described such churches as terminal (Broom 1976, 88-89). Terminal churches may have spiritual vitality but can reproduce only arithmetically (2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, etc.). Missionaries are teaching others but not training their converts to become reproductive; they are initiating churches but not preparing leaders of these churches to plant other churches.

Ten missionaries can each plant one church each year. If the churches they plant have terminal life, after ten years their field will have 100 churches. If the missionaries die or return home, the number of churches remains static, for they do not plant other churches. The same ten missionaries, by planting churches that have germinal life, will in ten years have 5,110 churches in their field. If the missionaries die or return home, the churches will continue to multiply, because they have germinal life.