I saw a comment recently to the effect that church planting is hard work “crazy hard work” but also often unnecessary. The person went on to say that if people were going to insist on doing it that they need to be properly networked in with others for accountability ( a denomination or affiliation).
I agree with two of those sentiments. Yes, church planting is crazy hard work, yes it’s crucial that those involved are accountable and supported but I disagree with the suggestion that it’s often unnecessary.
When talking about the crazy hard work of church planting, it’s important to say that it’s hard work in the sense that any form of pastoral ministry is going to be hard work. Pastoring an established church is hard work and comes with its fair share of obstacles and hardships. Planting too is hard work and costly.
It’s important too at this stage to say that when we talk about “church planting” we are talking about something that comes in all shapes and sizes. Church planting may include:
- Pioneer planting of the type that we are currently seeking to encourage more of at the moment when one or two people begin to evangelise friends and neighbours in the area where they already live or have intentionally moved into.
- Sending out a group of people from your church to plant a new church. We were involved in doing this when we helped Jose Galindez to start Nueva Vida Con Cristo. In fact, our experience was that church planting was hard work both for the planter who led the congregation and the ones planting out from their church whilst remaining as leaders within the original church.
- Re-planting an existing church that to all intents and purposes was dying or even in reality already dead. My first experience of church planting was this kind when as a young, recent graduate I gave significant time to a church in an estate on the outskirts of Leeds. We have more recent experience of helping West Smethwick Congregational Church.
It’s hard work and it’s costly because you often find yourself working with limited resources, you don’t have the infrastructure of a large church organisation, staff and volunteers to help you. It can therefore feel intensely lonely. It’s hard work because, if we are doing it right, then our church plants are often likely to be into the very areas where little Gospel work is happening already and the reason that is so is because those areas are considered through perception or experience to be hard to reach.
However, I believe that church planting is also necessary, especially when we think of the different types of church planting. Take first of all, replanting. The little Pentecostal church I helped on a council estate near Leeds was the only church on that estate. West Smethwick Congregational Church is one of only a few evangelical churches in Smethwick. We need churches like them to be present as a light in the darkness to their communities.
Pioneer planting is necessary because there are many estates/neighbourhoods where there is nothing happening at all. We recently lived on an estate where if we hadn’t started delivering a newsletter, knocking doors, getting to know neighbours and holding a community carol service there would have been no contact from a local church. Many estates and neighbourhoods are pretty much the same. There are large parts of our towns and cities devoid of Gospel witness. They need beacons of light.
Planting and replanting is necessary because even in those places where there are active churches, even if those churches were to fill their buildings then there would still be far more people whou would not have the opportunity to attend church and hear the Gospel. That was our motivation for multiplying in Bearwood. We recognised that if the 5 churches that had buildings in the locality were full every Sunday and preaching the Gospel, that would mean that maybe a 1000 people would get to hear the good news but there are 15000 people in the Bearwood area. Yet, the concentration of a few churches in a high street area masked a greater need. The total population of Smethwick is around 50,000 -far greater than the sum total of capacity that the existing churches have to reach and gather people.
Church planting is sometimes presented as in conflict with the active work of existing Gospel minded churches. It doesn’t have to be. We need people who are committed to serving in existing churches but we also need people who are called to join a replant like West Smethwick, or go as part of a core team from a church planted out.
And, I’ll keep banging the drum and appealing for people to keep coming and help with pioneer church planting into north Birmingham and across into the Black Country.