Monday, February 13, 2012

Remembering a Church Plant

A Story

A little over a decade ago, I was sitting in a lunch meeting of fellow ministers at my church. One of our associate pastors had been sharing with us over the past week that he would be moving on to a new ministry.

He was to help re-launch a church that, for all practical purposes, had died. There were still a handful of people who maintained the legal charter and kept up the property, but that was it.

Over some really good hamburgers, this brother shared his vision for what the church would become. “We are going to need some donations to get started. We need a video projector and a laptop computer, a sound system, and some chairs,” he confided. “We’re going to have a praise band and the whole thing is going to be contemporary.”

I am not sure what the other ministers were thinking at this point,but I listened with fascination as he described what the worship service would be like. It sounded cool, for lack of a better word. (To be honest, it wasn’t the kind of church service that would have appealed to me personally, but it seemed like something that would get a crowd.)

He then told us that there were several members from a number of different churches who would form a start-up team and become the charter members of the new church. The church would launch with services of nearly 100 in attendance.


I am not sure how long that church plant lasted, or if it is still there to this day. I do know that the presentation was enough to influence my missionary strategy when I first arrived here in Brazil. There were two very appealing things in that idea. One, was that by doing the same thing, I would be starting something unique and different. Two, I would have a pretty good level of control of what was going on.

I never got anything like that off the ground here, and I am glad I didn’t. Today, I really think that this method of planting churches (though it has its appropriate place and usefulness), is often built on a couple of faulty assumptions.

The first assumption is that if we have a better meeting space, more interesting programming, higher production-value media, a better band, and cooler websites, then we will better engage people and in turn disciple them better. (This applies both to traditional and contemporary styles. Just replace better bands with better choirs and orchestras.)

I haven’s seen where excessive focus on delivery and production increases a church’s effectiveness in transforming people. In fact, there seems to be a correlation that increasing the quality of the performance decreases the level of meaningful participation of the congregation. Discipleship is not passive, and never will be.

The second assumption is that new churches are best started with a core group of established Believers. These believers are perceived as offering a certain critical mass that gives credibility to the organization and stability to its structure. The problem is that most churches are no longer evangelistic as a defining characteristic once their meeting space is reasonably full and their budget is covered.

Church Plant or Transplant?

Recruiting a number of established Christians to leave their churches, even temporarily, to create a similar or improved version of what they are doing in another place is really a transplant rather than a plant, kind of like digging up an oak tree and moving it to another place. Nothing new is established.

Starting a new church among newly evangelized Christians in a way that is size appropriate with a structure that matches the need is more like planting an acorn. It will grow as its DNA intends.

An oak tree and an acorn are the same in their DNA, but much different in their appearance. I can pick up and acorn and put it in my pocket. I can’t do that with an oak tree. In fact, there is not much I can do to an oak tree. It’s too big.

A single acorn can produce an immense oak. A single, growing oak tree can produce countless acorns, each with the potential to produce another oak tree. It makes no sense to “plant” churches in a way that is akin to transplanting an oak. It is expensive, task heavy, and in the end, produces nothing. (One might find a place where the tree can grow better, but it is still the same tree.) Instead, oak churches should be producing and planting acorn churches abundantly.


  1. Unfortunately, most churches today aren't -really- interested in seeking out the lost. The just want to pull in people from other churches.

    Fishing in other fish tanks, so to speak, rather than going out to the lake.

  2. Judging only by actions and results, what you say is true. Worse, the ones who fish the lake, only fish until their cooler (building and budget) is full. They really don't care about trying to catch all the fish in the lake.

    Now, I am saying this based on what they do, not what they say.

  3. What other way is there to judge something? Actions are the only things that are important when it comes down to it.
    Faith without works is meaningless.

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