This past weekend, Joannie and I met with a pastor in the Chicagoland area about potentially planting a church from his congregation. After the weekend, it was clear that we were on two different pages when it came to a philosophy of church planting, contextualization, and ministry in the 21st Century. But, he made a statement, which I have heard before, that got me thinking. He said that “denominations do not plant churches, churches do.” Immediately, I would agree. However, as I thought about it, I would say now that I could see both involved in planting churches because fundamentally I believe church planting at the heart involves sending people who will plant the gospel, which in return will birth churches. Here are a couple of points that I believe will aid this argument that denominations can be particularly involved in planting churches without ever having personal involvement from local churches.
First, I am not saying it should be one or the other. I believe that local churches should engage in church planting (giving and sending), but as I learned from this pastor and church this past week, some churches will never find the “right” planter to plant out of their church. So, if you have a church that says they want to plant churches, but can’t find anyone who is compatible with their exact DNA, someone has to pick up their slack. This is where denominations—local, state, or national—can come in.
Second, denominations are already the one sending international missionaries. Although missionaries come out of local church settings, the predominant model, especially for people like Southern Baptist and other para-church organizations, is that the large entity sends the missionaries. The only problem becomes when the organization suffers from the lack of giving from those affiliated with them.
Third, the larger the denomination or organization the more impact it potentially can make, even in church planting. This requires specificity of vision and discipline. It is not enough to say we want to plant a lot of churches. Many times planting churches is approached as a marketing strategy: if we send out 50,000 mailers than we will get a 1,2,3, maybe 5% return. Applying this strategy to church planting involves the goal of planting so many churches with the understanding many will fail, but there will be a few that will be very successful. I just do not think that would be the strategy Paul would have taken. If we approach church planting as part of this cosmic spiritual war we are in—then what are the weapons needed to truly stun and daze our enemy and win ground in areas we plant the gospel? I hear about the deficiencies and weaknesses over and over in the church planting realm: resources, people, funding, facilities, and partnerships. If denominations take some of the responsibility to plant churches, they can do a much better job packing a heavier punch, rather than becoming a financial vending machine for everyone waiting in line to plant.
Fourth, denominations have the ability to plant and start churches that are already pregnant with another planter or planters. Denominations are like these holding tanks with called, future, or potential planters, which could become the church planting team that is sent out. A team of church planters could go and plant with the goal of spawning and rippling other churches. I think this could be a strategy, implemented by denominations and organizations, that sees church plants and planters experience growth and overall health and vitality.
Fifth, it is already happening. Research shows that very few local churches have been engaged or have even given to church planting. If this is the case, who has been planting churches? Denominations and para-church organizations. Therefore, there is a need for denominations and organizations to restructure in a way that will reflect this reality. They will need to have somewhat of a mentality that they are not just facilitators, but actual practitioners; practitioners who could make a huge impact in the realm of church planting, along with individual churches.
These are some of my thoughts spurred by a statement that I have heard before, but not really thought of.