This is one of the big questions for churches and individuals looking at church planting. Usually answers given will talk in terms of the pre-requisite health requirements of the existing church. Is it numerically strong enough to send people out? Does it have enough people covering existing ministries? Is its leadership team robust and healthy enough?
I want to recommend that you scrub those questions from your list. They are not relevant to when you should plant. They may have a bearing on how you plant. A church of 30-50 is going to struggle to send out 20-30 people without in effect killing the existing church. A church with 80-90 or even 120 might struggle if it sends a core team out which includes many of its core ministry team members and leaders.
Yet all of this involves some assumptions of what a church needs to be like in terms of size, ministries, structure if it is to function. This applies both to the sending church and the plant. I’ve mentioned several times that I don’t think the model of a large church sending 30 plus people with a ready-made staff team, budget, worship team etc is always necessary or indeed ideal. In fact in many contexts, it could be counterproductive.
My view is that there is something to be said for very small pioneer teams, perhaps just one couple, maybe 3 or 4 people putting down roots in a community and beginning to share the good-news. Such planting teams can remain connected to an existing church for Sunday gathering and continue to be involved there. However, increasingly their focus will be on gathering wannabe disciples of Jesus in their neighbourhood. Such a model is less dependent on having large, well resourced sending churches. It will however, require sending/supporting churches that have a vision for reaching hard to reach places and with good pastoral and accountability structures.
On that basis, my inclination is to answer the original question by saying
- When a need has been identified
- When people are willing to respond to that need.
Of course I cannot let the opportunity pass by without asking you to consider the possibility that God is encouraging you to get involved in urban church planting. If this is a possibility then I’d love to hear from you.