Dan Steel has written on the Acts29 site encouraging church planters to slow down and work more on building a healthy core team before they plant. I’m loath to disagree with Dan, he’s an experienced pastor and planter who knows what he’s talking about. I also think that there is much in his article to pay attention to. His primary points are:
- That we shouldn’t be in a rush to do things but rather should go at the Lord’s pace.
- It isn’t all about you and me. It’s Christ’s work
- Plurality -not just a one man band is important from the off.
The principles Dan introduces therefore are spot on. However, what I would say is that the description of a process where you build up your core team assumes a particular approach to church planting and a particular context.
It’s all well and good holding off on launch day if the primary reason for planting is to create space in sending churches and if your aim is to have a fully functioning church with membership and ministries from the get go. However, this model presumes that we are working in a context where Christianity is established and there are well resourced churches ready to send 15, 20, 30 people off to plant.
However, if we are serious about Gospel mission in the UK. If we want to see Gospel light in communities where there currently isn’t a meaningful witness, then we are going to have to think differently. My own immediate concern is urban contexts – estates and inner cities – but I suspect these challenges are true for rural communities as well.
The reality is that if we are looking to plant into those areas then the core teams aren’t there and never are going to be there. Even if a church had 20-30 people ready to go and plant (and I suspect that a lot of larger churches will be quite cautious in the aftermath of COVID), would those people be ready and willing to go into the areas we are talking about. And even if they were, would 20-30 people from outside turning up and moving into the village or onto the estate be helpful to the work of the Gospel. I suspect not. As I’ve said many times before, I expect that they would be treated with suspicion and wariness.
That’s why I’ve argued persistently that we need to be looking at seeing a couple of people moving into an area and making their life there. The aim would be that over time, they’d begin to build relationships with people in the community. This would lead to Gospel opportunities and the start of small groups, little embryonic house churches if you like. Some of these might grow and find larger premises where they can meet publicly. Others will remain as small house meetings, perhaps multiplying into more.
If I’m right about this approach, then the counsel to wait until you have your core team in place won’t work. Instead, you need to be seizing the opportunity to get working now. Your core team, your church membership, your fellow elders and your ministry leaders are among those in the neighbourhood who don’t know Jesus yet. You will need to build your core team by evangelising.
Now, this does mean that we have to be alert to all the challenges that Dan highlights. Is there a way of picking up and applying the principles he suggests whilst planting in this way? I want to suggest a couple here.
- It’s about heart attitude and expectations. So one way to protct against dangers is to simply learn to enjoy what God has called you to now. In other words, focus on living in an area and sharing the good news. Don’t spend your time thinking about how to be a large structured church. Enjoy being a small group of people who get together, share food and open God’s Word together
- Get the principles you want to see in your ministry and church embedded into the DNA of your plant. Make disciples who make disciples not consumers who look to you for everything and to do everything.
- Build partnerships with others. My view is that this model will work best with multiple plants happening at the same time with leaders supporting one another. It may be helpful as well to link in to a more established church nearby for support and encouragement.
Now, I’m writing about some specific contexts. I happen to think that these contexts should be a greater proportion of the places where we plant in coming years. However, I do recognise also that many church plants will happen in a more conventional manner. In such cases, I’d follow Dan’s advice closely.
Oh and if you are interested in the kind of approach I’m talking about here and want to find out more, please get in touch.