By Peter Meier | April 1, 2019
While many statistics relating to church health appear to be negative, there are actually some positive signs. For example, recent research done by LifeWay Research for Exponential, shows positive movement:
· 32% of Protestant churches were at least minimally involved in planting churches in 2018.
· The indicator has moved from 4% of churches at a Level 4, Reproducing level, to 7%.
· The most common church planting activities include providing support services to planters and participating in a planting network.
· Developing church planters through assessing, training and coaching is engaged by 7-9% of Protestant churches.
· 9% of Protestant churches indicate that any of the new plants they helped start have directly started a new, autonomous church in the last 5 years.
This is evidence of a positive movement toward reproducing and multiplying. This is evidence that more and more churches are taking Jesus’ Great Commission seriously, with the understanding that new churches reach new people. That’s good news!
In my last Mission Moments post, I began a series which will review the 12 Principles for Church Planting in 21st Century North America, as defined in the new Church Planting Manifesto for the 21st Century. This Manifesto was drafted by the Send Institute Missiologists Council and has gained a large number of endorsers, including myself. Take a look. You may also wish to endorse it! You can download a pdf here, or read about it on their website here.
The drafters and endorsers of the Manifesto commit themselves to join together around sound missiological and biblically-faithful principles for planting new churches in North America. They urge collaboration as a “diverse mission force both in intentionality and intensity.” They pray that this collaboration will result in “a new generation of disciple-makers, churches, and networks across North America participating in God’s redemptive work and accounting for innumerable people coming to Christ, immeasurable cultural transformation, and every-increasing glory to God.”
I reviewed the first two principles previously. Look with me at the next three, and see what you think.
03. Every believer is a disciple-maker with a holy calling and vocation. (John 4:29; 1 Peter 2:9)
We affirm that while the ministry of church planting is unique and particular, every believer has a holy calling and every vocation that is not sinful can be leveraged to advance the Kingdom of God. The tendency to professionalize the work of church planting can create an unbiblical and unhelpful divide between clergy and laity. This divide often restricts faithful and faith-filled believers from meaningful participation in the work of church planting. It also perpetuates unreasonable pressures and standards onto church planters, creating unhealthy expectations and self-serving motivations.
One of the core values held by Lutherans is referred to as “the priesthood of all believers.” This means that all the baptized believers are called to be witnesses (Acts 1:8, “You will be my witnesses.”). This is our one vocation or calling as the baptized. We live this out in our various stations of life, where we live, work and play. Our holy calling and vocation as witnesses and disciple-makers is intended to be evident in every sphere of our daily lives.
The Manifesto offers this action point for our prayerful action: We agree that the work of church planting flows from God’s heart to see all believers mobilized and participating in disciple-making and mission. We resist any notion that church planting is reserved for a professional class that excludes the gifts and callings of a functioning Body. We also resist any organizational culture that commodifies church planting or church planters. What does this mean for your local church’s mission strategy?
04. Planting contextually-appropriate churches will require much innovation and risk-taking, and much of this new learning will come from the church around the world. (2 Corinthians 4:7-12; Romans 1:8-15)
We affirm that as with the first-century Church, and with the persevering Church globally, our current Missiological circumstances necessitate courageous paradigm shifts in order to better align ourselves with the mission of God. Churches in North America need to learn from a humble position what God is doing all over the world. This includes places where rapid disciple-making movements are happening as well as where churches are in decline. Our intention should not be to imitate their methods and models, force-fitting them into our context. Instead, we praise God for how He has worked, and humbly and introspectively search for points of cultural adaptation.
This point cannot be overstated, especially in our circles. Often our organizational system acts to stifle innovation and minimize risk-taking. We fear what is “different’ in terms of methods and practices, thinking that these new practices will water-down or compromise our doctrine. Innovation is therefore suspect. Risk-taking is avoided in favor of “the way we have always done it.” Rather than experimenting with new ways to reach new people in new places, we do little or nothing, afraid of how others will react or afraid of stewarding God’s resources in ways that may well be more fruitful for Kingdom outreach.
Additionally, we have much to learn from our immigrant brothers and sisters. They are not afraid of experimentation or innovation in new contexts. If we take time to listen and develop relationships with our immigrant neighbors, we will discover that we have much to learn from them. For example, as our culture becomes more and more non-churched, we can learn from those who come as refugees and assylees. Our own country is the front-line mission field of the 21st Century.
We affirm this action point: We agree that God is mightily working around the world and churches in North America have much to learn from the Church in all parts of the world. We resist “echo-chamber” thinking that limits god and our future direction by past and current successes and failures.
05. Planting churches that bear witness to the redemptive presence of the Kingdom of God in the world requires a holistic engagement of the community with the whole gospel. (Luke 24:19; 1 Corinthians 4:20)
We affirm that the Gospel of the Kingdom is not a matter of talk, but of power. Salvation is by faith and not by works, and the serious work of evangelism and disciple-making should not be independent of confronting the evils of society and the structures that perpetuate them. The contextual engagement of any community necessitates holistic engagement with all of the gospel. There is a temptation to bifurcate mission into word or deed, or to overemphasize one at the expense of the other. But true Kingdom engagement necessitates both word and deed approaches. To a spiritually hungry world, our good news will clarify, and our good works will verify.
The fact is that our mission engagement in our own and new communities must not be limited to “build it and they will come,” or “we have the pure word of God in our church; they can come and hear it.” Effective evangelism begins with relationships through which the Holy Spirit operates as the Word is spoken. Those relationships often begin with acts of love and caring for our neighbor. The Great Commission begins with the Great Commandment. Love for our neighbor includes reconciliation, service, and proclamation of the Gospel. When I was in kindergarten, I always enjoyed “Show and Tell” time. We not only brought something to show, but we told the story behind it. So we share acts of love and service and also tell God’s Story which moves us to love.
Note this action point: We agree that evangelism and disciple-making through both word and deed is the Kingdom approach to addressing the contextual needs and issues of a community. We long to see people reconciled to God and to one another. We resist dividing a whole gospel by separating Jesus’ command to love our neighbor from His commission to make disciples.
How do you respond to these three of the twelve church multiplication principles in The Manifesto? Review the first two, and then consider and discuss these with your team; study the scriptures provided; pray together for the Holy Spirit’s guidance and direction, and commit yourself and your congregation to making disciples of all the peoples!
God has equipped His people, His church, with everything we need to carry out His mission. Do you believe that?
You can do it. Let us know how we can help!
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
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