But We Can't Plant a Church!

By Peter Meier   |   May 15, 2018

“But we can’t plant a church!”

It’s pretty common for me to hear those words. And those who say them may be right – at least in terms of how they’re thinking about “church planting.”

In many people’s experience, “church planting” was something that was initiated at the District level. District Mission Executives identified and purchased advance sites and called Missionaries At Large (pastors) to be planters. Often, the new site was chosen by determining where the fastest growing demographic growth was taking place and then purchasing land, planning to erect a building, and reaching out primarily to fellow Lutherans in the area in order to gather them together into a new mission congregation. Sometimes, local churches would take the initiative, but often it was the district that organized, planned, and called pastors to be Missionaries at Large or Church Planters.

In many people’s thinking, church planting is about starting with a talented pastor/planter, who gathers long-term church members in order to start an instant church with all of the structures, organization, and ministries of a church that has been around for 20 years.

That’s not what church planting looks like these days, at least as far as I can tell. And while some churches may still be planted that way, most will not.

Actually, God’s intention is that the local church (not the District or Synod) is His primary mission agency (Ephesians 3: 1-10; 1 Peter 2:9). God uses the local church, meaning those who gather for worship and who follow Jesus, to reach their community and particularly, to reach those in the community who are unclaimed or unconnected for whatever reason.

That’s why today, we look to the local congregation to do what should come naturally, that is, to reproduce or multiply new faith communities. There are many ways to do this – the key is that the local congregation sees the need to reach new people with the Good News of Jesus, and looks for ways to do that. The local church knows best, because the local church is engaged in the life of the community.

Basically, any congregation of nearly any size can multiply faith communities. Sometimes it may be more like the traditional model of starting a new daughter church which will become “chartered” as its own congregation. A congregation might send a group of people who would be the launch team, but who will join a planter to make and multiply new disciples. They might partner with other churches in the area to do that. Whatever the “style” might be, that is a pretty traditional way of planting, one that seems rather daunting to most congregations.

Thinking of planting THE church (rather than A church) is another way to think, plan, and act. Why not plan for a new ministry or outreach that will bless a part of the community, or a nearby neighborhood, in ways that are currently not being addressed?

Start where God starts, namely with His heart for the lost. Going back to the Garden of Eden, God has one purpose or goal – to reclaim or restore those who are lost. He’s been doing that work ever since. That’s why He sent Jesus – to seek and to save the lost. Jesus accomplished His work of salvation through His perfect life, death, and resurrection. It is finished! When He ascended, He gave His disciples, His church – us – the work of sharing that Good News with all the world, all peoples and nations, until He comes again. That’s God’s mission – and He invites us to partner with Him to get the message out, to get the job done.

That’s why the local congregation needs to invite and encourage every disciple, every follower of Jesus, to see herself or himself as a missionary, a church planter, as one who is sent by Jesus. That’s why all the Baptized need to know and believe that their calling is to make more disciples. And making disciples is best and most effectively done by starting new faith communities, gathering in new groups of disciples who will invite new people to be part of the community of faith. That’s planting THE church.

These groups may or may not become chartered congregations, but they are all part of God’s plan to reach every nook and cranny of our communities with the Gospel.

Sometimes, churches think that they can’t start something new because they’re from a small community, or a rural area, or maybe they think their church is too small or too poor or lacking other resources. Remember, Jesus Himself was from Nazareth, a very small town in the Galilean hills. Jesus’ people were hill people. Yet, Jesus and His disciples had everything they needed. They started where they were, where God placed them.

A good place to begin is to take a look at your community. Often Christians think that most people around them are churched, because many of their friends are churched. The fact is that more often, the people you run across in your daily life are not churched. Where in years past, we did know all or most of our neighbors, that’s changed today. Who is out there? Who are your neighbors? Are they connected to Jesus? The harvest is plentiful – and diverse!

Then take a look at the needs and assets of the community. Every community has assets, mostly based on relationships, which is where the church should excel. And of course, every community has needs. How could our congregations – rural, urban, large, small, or somewhere in between – help to make our communities for “whole” or places where God’s “shalom” (wholeness, beauty) exists? What are the gaps in community services, school districts, etc. that we could help with in order to make Jesus’ love and compassion visible? How can your church invest itself in the lives of those who live in the community, bringing the Kingdom of God to their lives?

This calls for some demographic work. LCEF can help you get started. But don’t neglect to do some personal demographics. Mobilize some friends to actually walk-about, to do some community listening, and prayer walking. You will begin to see what God sees! Then, you can begin to put together a realistic, relational, service-oriented plan to connect with new people – people who are often overlooked and underserved, but people for whom Christ died and rose again.

Each community and each neighborhood is different, so there will be different ways, methods, and models that make sense in different communities.

Whether or not you think your church can “plant a church,” you can learn more about your community and neighborhood. You can grow in your understanding of God’s mission, and in your desire to partner with Him and with others to multiply new disciples. You can pray about where God might be leading you in next steps in His mission.

You can do it! We can help! The Center for United States Missions is here to equip disciples to multiply new faith communities. Let’s begin a conversation and see what exciting things God has planned for you and for your community!


Mission Moments is the e-newsletter sent by the Center for U.S. Missions to bring information and encouragement to all who desire to share God's great love in Jesus Christ with others. Permission is given to copy this article for distribution within your congregation or organization. Please credit the author and the Center for United States Missions. For more information contact the Center at (952)-221-0362, or visit our website: www.c4usm.org

Center for U.S. Missions – Contact Information

Email us at: | Rev. Dr. Peter Meier, Executive Director; peter.meier@cui.edu  | Rev. Eric Wenger, Director of Mission Coaching; ewenger@livingraized.com| Kathy Meier, Coordinator; kathy.meier@cui.edu  | Mil Behnken, Office Manager; mildred.behnken@cui.edu