Church Planting for Breakfast

By Peter Meier   |   December 20, 2017

I enjoyed breakfast with Ed Stetzer in November.

The Center for United States Missions is a member of Ed’s Church Planting Leadership Fellowship, a group of 70 or 80 church planting leaders, who gather several times a year to learn together and to stay on top of what’s happening in the church planting world. This year, we met in New York City, at Calvary Baptist Church on West 57th Street.

One morning, Ed invited leaders of national groups for breakfast. Ed sat with us, engaging in conversation with about other six leaders at our table. After breakfast, he spoke to the larger group of denominational leaders on the future of church planting in North America.

Ed encouraged us to think of church planting strategies like a golf bag filled with various clubs. Each of them is a legitimate option, depending on where your ball lies and its distance from the pin. Four strategies in particular are worth noting.

Traditional. This is the one most people think of right away when we use the term “church planting.” It was the methodology most used 20 or so years ago. Most of us are familiar with calling the planter to gather a core group to start a new church made of already-Christian folks from other churches who want something different than they are getting at their current church. Usually, this includes buying land and erecting a new church building with the idea, “Build it and they will come.” It tends to be an expensive venture. Overall the goal is to plant a fast growing church which reaches 200 -500 people within the first three to five years. This is a bit of a caricature, I acknowledge. Ed noted that this is still a legitimate strategy. Multi-site church planting is a type of this strategy.

Missional Incarnational Planting. This is a much more organic form of planting. It has been popular in the last eight or so years. It was made popular by planters like Neil Cole (Organic Church) and Hugh Halter (BiVo) and others. This model takes longer to develop than the Traditional model, and often requires a bivocational planter/pastor. We have learned that the growth of organic, missional community type churches is very slow. Funding needs to be done differently for this model than for a traditional model, fewer dollars up front, and stretched out over a longer period of time. Missional Community types of church plant cannot merely be populated by people who are disaffected church people. Rather, this type is intended to make new disciples by living life together in community.

House Church Model. The glamor of this type of church appears to be fading, but don’t dismiss this model either. It was over-promised and under-delivered. Often House Churches remain a small group of people who gather together weekly for informal church; it’s like a family group. Like the Missional Community model, it is slow-growing, and requires a different funding strategy. Even though the house church is a small group (limited by the house/space in which they meet), it tends to be attractional in the sense that it attracts people who have an affinity for low-structure and organization, and high personal relationships.

Both the Missional Incarnational and House Church models, in order to be successful, require catalytic, apostolic planters –planters who, after establishing the new plant, are always ready to move on to start the next church.

I agree with Ed when he noted that there is no church planting movement among the majority peoples of the western world. The church in the western world tends to be highly organizational and lacking in deep spiritual practices and passion. With a focus on level three church growth (growing larger by adding disciples and disciple-making capacity within the established church), there will be no multiplication movement (level five, the “sending” church).

The fourth model offers great hope, in my opinion. It is a re-emphasis on Ethnic Church Planting. The energy in church planting today is not among Anglo churches. The majority of new starts today is not Anglo. It is ethnic (either culture-specific or multi-ethnic) church planting. The deep spirituality and emphasis on reaching new immigrants along with starting new churches to reach 2nd and 3rd generations accounts for significant church planting growth overall.

The fact is that by 2040, we will all be ethnic. There will be no one majority ethnic group. Multi-ethnic church planting will be the norm, particularly in our growing cities and metro areas.

I suggest that a fifth strategy exists, one which is often used today, and is a variant of the missional incarnational model. We call it the gospel outreach ministry strategy. This strategy is not church planting in the traditional sense in that its goal is not to become a chartered congregation. Rather, the goal is to reach new people by establishing relationships around shared interests or needs or location. This becomes the platform for disciple-making and multiplying.

On a higher level, this strategy includes microchurches which develop intentionally as people make disciples and gather for worship, learning and mission. The goal is not to establish a large church numerically, but to establish a group focused on Biblical disciple-making and then multiplying by sending disciples to start new groups or microchurches. In so doing these groups fill every nook and cranny of a target area, establishing the presence of the Kingdom throughout the community.

Breakfast with Ed. It was nourishing, informative, and encouraging!

Stay tuned for more in 2018!