This post is adapted from an article written by Tim Keller, titled “Why Plant Churches”. To download the full-length article as a PDF, click here.
The vigorous, continual planting of new congregations is the single most crucial strategy for 1) the numerical growth of the body of Christ in any city, and 2) the continual corporate renewal and revival of the existing churches in a city. Nothing else—not crusades, outreach programs, para-church ministries, growing mega-churches, congregational consulting, nor church renewal processes—will have the consistent impact of dynamic, extensive church planting. This is an eyebrow raising statement. But to those who have done any study at all, it is not even controversial.
So, why is church planting so crucially important?
1. We want to be true to the biblical mandate.
“The continual planting of new congregations is the most crucial strategy for the growth of the body of Christ”
Virtually all the great evangelistic challenges of the New Testament are basically calls to plant churches, not simply to share the faith. The ‘Great Commission’ (Matt.28: 18-20) is not just a call to ‘make disciples’ but to ‘baptize’. In Acts and elsewhere, it is clear that baptism means incorporation into a worshipping community with accountability and boundaries (cf. Acts 2:41-47). The only way to be truly sure you are increasing the number of Christians in a town is to increase the number of churches. Why? Much traditional evangelism aims to get a ‘decision’ for Christ. Experience, however, shows us that many of these ‘decisions’ disappear and never result in changed lives. Why? Many, many decisions are not really conversions, but often only the beginning of a journey of seeking God. (Other decisions are very definitely the moment of a ‘new birth’, but this differs from person to person.) Only a person who is being ‘evangelized’ in the context of an on-going worshipping and shepherding community can be sure of finally coming home into vital, saving faith. This is why a leading missiologist like C. Peter Wagner can say, “Planting new churches is the most effective evangelistic methodology known under heaven.”
Paul’s whole strategy was to plant urban churches.
The greatest missionary in history, St.Paul, had a rather simple, two-fold strategy. First, he went into the largest city of the region (cf. Acts 16:9,12), and second, he planted churches in each city (cf. Titus 1:5).
2. We want to be true to the Great Commission.
New churches best reach a) new generations, b) new residents, and c) new people groups.
First, younger adults have always been disproportionately found in newer congregations, and second, new residents are almost always reached better by new congregations. Last, new socio-cultural groups in a community are always reached better by new congregations.
New churches best reach the unchurched-period.
Dozens of denominational studies have confirmed that the average new church gains most of its new members (60-80%) from the ranks of people who are not attending any worshipping body, while churches over 10-15 years of age gain 80-90% of new members by transfer from other congregations.
3. We want to continually renew the whole body of Christ.
It is a great mistake to think that we have to choose between church planting and church renewal. Strange as it may seem, the planting of new churches in a city is one of the very best ways to revitalize many older churches in the vicinity and renew the whole body of Christ. Why?
The planting of new churches is one of the best ways to revitalize many older churches in the vicinity.
First, the new churches bring new ideas to the whole body.
There is no better way to teach older congregations about new skills and methods for reaching new people groups than by planting new churches. It is the new churches that will have freedom to be innovative and they become the ‘Research and Development’ department for the whole body in the city.
Second, new churches are one of the best ways to surface creative, strong leaders for the whole body.
New congregations attract a higher percentage of venturesome people who value creativity, risk, innovation and future orientation. Many of these men and women would never be attracted or compelled into significant ministry apart from the appearance of these new bodies.
Third, the new churches challenge other churches to self-examination.
The “success” of new churches often challenges older congregations in general to evaluate themselves in substantial ways. Sometimes it is only in contrast with a new church that older churches can finally define their own vision, specialties, and identity.
Fourth, the new church may be an ‘evangelistic feeder’ for a whole community.
The new church often produces many converts who end up in older churches for a variety of reasons. Ordinarily, the new churches of a city produce new people not only for themselves, but for the older bodies as well.
4. As an exercise in Kingdom-mindedness.
All in all, church planting helps an existing church the best when the new congregation is voluntarily ‘birthed’ by an older ‘mother’ congregation. Often the excitement and new leaders and new ministries and additional members and income ‘washes back’ into the mother church in various ways and strengthens and renews it. Our attitude to new church development is a test of whether our mindset is geared to our own institutional turf, or to the overall health and prosperity of the kingdom of God in the city.
New church planting is the only way that we can be sure we are going to increase the number of believers in a city and one of the best ways to renew the whole body of Christ. The evidence for this statement is strong–Biblically, sociologically, and historically. In the end, a lack of kingdom-mindedness may simply blind us to all this evidence. We must beware of that.