As models such as Tim Keller and Mark Driscoll lead large, thriving churches in areas once thought to be unreceptive to the gospel, the ranks of church planters have swelled in recent years. Talk to seminarians about what they want to do after graduation, and you'll hear many of them cast a vision for moving into urban areas and planting a church. Conferences, boot camps, books, and networks have proliferated to support this trend. The Gospel Coalition wants to encourage church planting, so we've planned an event, God-Given Growth, which will lead into the 2011 national conference in downtown Chicago on April 12. Scott Kauffman from Redeemer City to City will moderate a panel that includes Darrin Patrick, Dave Harvey, Mike McKinley, and Tullian Tchividjian talking and fielding questions about the church planter's mission, character, practices, and prayer. The event will be open to anyone registered for the national conference.
Surveying the church landscape, you can't help but be excited about what the Lord has in store for thousands of dynamic new churches committed to evangelism and serving their communities for the sake of the gospel and the glory of God. Yet church planting is a high-stakes venture, and attrition is high. Families shoulder tremendous pressure. New churches are not so much a luxury as a necessity in communities that never had a strong gospel witness or have lost them for various reasons in recent decades. Who but God can know exactly what's in store for these new churches and church planting overall? Even so, TGC asked three men with ties to the Southern Baptist Convention to share their perspective on what's next for church planting.
Darrin Patrick, lead pastor, The Journey, St. Louis, Missouri; author of Church Planter: The Man, The Message, The Mission:
Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research and LifeWay's missiologist in residence:
There are many changes in church planting today, but let me focus on things that are most connected to TGC rather than some other traditions. As such, I see three trends.
First, one of the trends is that church planting has increased. When I planted my first church in the inner city of Buffalo, New York, in 1988, the idea of someone starting a church was foreign to most people. Now, as reported in my latest church planting book Viral Churches, there are more churches being started (4,000) than closed (3,500) in the United States each year. Church planting conferences and boot camps are packed and church planting networks are growing in number and size. Even your question shows a renewed interest and that’s a good thing.
Second, there is growing diversity in the ways people are planting churches. Twenty to thirty years ago there was sort of a set pattern to planting a church: direct mail, gathering a crowd, etc. Now we see everything from house churches to missional/incarnational communities to large starts. Sovereign Grace gets people to move across the country to establish a new church, Acts 29 does many gentrified urban plants, and the GCM Collective (Gospel Communities on Mission) represents an emphasis on spreading the gospel through missional incarnational communities living among the unchurched, dechurched, and anti-church people.
Third, local churches are becoming the sending agency for church planting. National denominations are increasingly moving to the background as local churches take the lead in planting. Denominations are important in resourcing our church planting churches, but should play a servant role rather than a direct recruitment and planting role. When denominations plant churches, then individual churches and believers are disconnected from one of their prime responsibilities. Denominations need to seek partnerships with networks, realizing that many of them are helping churches do better at church planting. God has chosen the church to make known his multifaceted wisdom (Eph. 3:10), and when churches plant churches they follow the New Testament pattern.
In the years to come, we will see more church planting as North America becomes more secular, established churches close, and God calls out new planters. And it won’t be without challenge or struggle since church planting is messy. Yet when churches plant churches, they model the principle of sowing and reaping and display a desire that God’s name and fame would be more widely known.
Tim Brister, pastor, Grace Baptist Church, Cape Coral, Florida; director, the PLNTD Network:
On a network level, I believe we will see second- and third-level decentralization where there are networks within networks, whether they are regional or affinity-based. I am hearing more and more from church planters that they are either burned out or not interested in the current conference circuit and are looking for a mirco-conference of sorts that is tailored to their context and addresses specific issues in their church planting experience. PLNTD hopes to utilize the approach of the “weekender” training (a la Capitol Hill Baptist Church) focusing on church planting needs as directed by practitioners on the field.
On a local church level, I believe both theological education and training of church planters are migrating from institutions and agencies to a grassroots movement. For instance, theological education through the Porterbrook Network provides a medium with a misssional emphasis that any local church could benefit from. Through PLNTD, we have targeted three main components: resourcing (via plntd.com), relational communities (via Cobblestone), and residency centers (via church planting churches). Our goal is to develop parenting church communities where reproducing churches are equipped both with the ability to provide theological education as well as practical training for aspiring church planters through such church-based residency centers.
Another surging interest among those in our church planting circles is training in revitalization and replanting of existing churches. In the denomination we work with the most (SBC), 25 percent of all churches are not leading anyone to Christ (10,000+ churches), and many of them are merely existing in name only. Some have suggested that unless something is done, 20,000 of these churches will simply cease to exist by 2025. I see a great opportunity for strategic partnerships between networks such as PLNTD and denominational entities (including state conventions) that are realigning around the church’s mission to work together for reformation and renewal through a genuine, grassroots Great Commission Resurgence. This is already happening in some places across North America, and I believe it will become more prominent in years to come.
Collin Hansen serves as editorial director for The Gospel Coalition. He is the author of of Blind Spots: Becoming a Courageous, Compassionate, and Commissioned Church, Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist’s Journey With the New Calvinists, and co-author with John Woodbridge of A God-Sized Vision: Revival Stories That Stretch and Stir. He earned an MDiv at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and an undergraduate degree in journalism and history from Northwestern University. He previously worked as an associate editor for Christianity Today magazine, co-edited Four Views on the Spectrum of Evangelicalism, and co-edits the Cultural Renewal series with Tim Keller. He and his wife belong to Redeemer Community Church in Birmingham, Alabama, and he serves on the advisory board of Beeson Divinity School. You can follow him on Twitter.