One of the key rationales for church planting is this: It puts the Christian community at the heart of mission.
If individuals were at the heart of God’s purposes, then it would be natural to put the individual at the heart of mission. But at the heart of God’s plan of salvation is a family and a nation. So the church should be at the heart of mission.
Together, the church demonstrates the reconciling power of the gospel. Our different life experiences give texture and color to our message. Our diverse gifts complement one another.
We show that life together under the reign of God is the good life. The church should be at the heart of mission, and that happens naturally and inevitably in church planting.
Scattered Communities of Light
It is often said that mission in the Old Testament was centripetal, but that mission in the New Testament is centrifugal. Clearly, mission in the New Testament is centrifugal in a way that wasn’t the case in the Old Testament. We are to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19).
And yet at the same time, mission in the New Testament has not ceased to be centripetal. We’re called to be communities of light that draw people to the reign of God. What has changed is the center.
The church should be at the heart of mission, and that happens naturally and inevitably in church planting.
The nations no longer stream into a literal city of Jerusalem, but are drawn to the New Jerusalem—the church. So now, mission involves a double-movement. Jesus sends us out to the ends of the earth and, everywhere we go, we create communities of light that draw people in.
I once saw a video that depicted the explosive growth of the world’s population. The video showed a spinning globe in which cities of 1 million people were represented by a dot of light. The globe spun, and a clock in the corner marked the passage of time.
For centuries there were just one or two dots of light. Then, in the 20th century, the globe burst into light. Entire continents were flooded with light.
Think of churches as dots of light. Our job is to go out into the world and establish communities that enable people to see and share the life of Christ. We litter the world with little communities of light so that neighborhoods, regions, and countries burst into light.
Communities on Mission
But there’s another key rationale to church planting, and it’s the inverse of the one we’ve discussed already: church planting puts mission at the heart of the Christian community.
A friend of mine became a Christian in his 20s. He was a merchant seaman and had never been to church until he was converted. He was so excited about his first church business meeting. He’d been to a few Sunday meetings and had been baptized. This business meeting, as he puts it, was where they were going to plot the downfall of Satan. He was in for a big shock. He discovered the main issue for discussion was the type of toilet paper they should have in the bathrooms. It was a big disappointment!
Mission easily becomes one activity in church life among others. It sits on the agenda alongside a list of other items, vying with them for attention. Or, it’s left to the enthusiasts to get on with at the edge of church life.
Church planting ensures that mission defines the nature, purpose, and activity of the church.
But church planting inevitably and naturally shifts the church into missionary mode. Church planting ensures that mission defines the nature, purpose, and activity of the church.
At the same time, church planting is, by definition, a church activity. It ensures that the church is integral to mission. It defines mission as forming and building churches.
Light in the Darkness
Christ died for his bride, the church. I’m saved when, by faith, I become part of the people for whom Christ died. My identity as a Christian is communal. We’re called to community. But we’re not simply called to community for our own benefit. We’re communities of light, designed by God to fulfill his mission of bringing light to the darkness.
Where I live in the North of England, winter evenings are dark. And as you walk our cold, dark streets and pass houses close to the sidewalk, you can see into people’s homes. I often wonder what passers-by make of our missional communities when they look in.
Consider this lovely image of mission. We live in a cold and dark world. But when people look in through the “window,” they see a community of joy, love, friendship—a place of light and warmth and welcome.
This is what the church must be in our dark, cold, loveless world: a community of light at street level. Here is the place where God’s kingdom can be glimpsed. Here is where people are reconciled as they are brought together in Christ.
This is why we plant churches: to be a light to the nations at street level.