Whether you work a full-time job and are starting a church in your free time, you are a paid pastor or church planter, or you are a foreign missionary, there are some questions we all need to ask ourselves as we set about this holy work. Many of these questions don’t have universal answers. In fact, the answers will vary by country, by personality, by situation, and certainly by the Holy Spirit’s leading.
Though there may not be one right answer to any given question, it is still important to ask the questions. Why? Well, if you aim at planting a church in a certain town, reaching a specific focus group, or having a particular style of worship, you might just hit your target. Similarly, if you aim at nothing, you might just hit that as well! Good questions are in many ways the foundation of good churches!
What are some questions that all church planters might want to ask?
Why plant churches at all?
It’s simply the most effective form of evangelism and discipleship known to God and mankind! (See the article about this vital question.)
Why not plant churches?
Many of us (and many more in our congregations) are hesitant to start new churches. Our resistance is often due to the fear of losing people, fear of failure, loss of existing leadership to the church plant, etc. It’s important to identify our concerns and then confront them with truth. For example, did you know that most churches that start daughter churches find that they become more evangelistic themselves? The empty seats left by those who went to join the church plant are often filled with new converts! Verbalizing our reasons for not planting churches might just lead us to get started planting them!
What is our final goal?
Our overall goal is to see more and more people loving and glorifying God. Thus, our practical goal isn’t just to plant a church but to plant a church that reaches the lost, makes disciples, and plants other churches.
If that’s the case, we want to be very careful before utilizing methods that might hinder future reproduction. Requiring expensive buildings or paid leaders, for example, would clearly slow the work. Is it worth it? Sometimes it is; sometimes it’s not.
What are some church planting methods? How will we plant a church?
Ott and Wilson identify several models in their chapter 7 on “Pioneer, Reproduction, and Regional Approaches to Church Planting.” Some of them are: the solo pioneer, the church-planting team, colonization (where a large group – often from the same church – relocate to form a new church), mother-daughter church planting (or “hiving off”), house church networks, cluster church planting, etc. Different situations call for different methods. Which is right for you and your area?
Who do we want on the team?
Consider carefully what sorts of personalities, gifts, and talents might be desirable (e.g., extrovert or introvert, evangelists or teachers, musicians). Are there specific personalities, gifts, or talents that are absolutely necessary? Are there some that are perhaps not necessary but highly desirable?
How will you find those people? How could you muster concerted prayer that God would raise them up? Could some of those people come from among the first converts, or do they need to be in place from the start?
Please note that some of us have discovered that the gift of hospitality is an often overlooked key to church planting. In some societies where homes are social centers and also good potential locations for small groups or the church itself to meet, the gift of hospitality suddenly becomes significant.
What is the role of missionaries and/or full-time workers?
In addition to questions about personalities, gifts, and talents, you might want to ask yourself if you want full-time workers and/or missionaries on the team. Are there advantages to that? Any disadvantages? How long should they stay? What roles should they have and not have?
Despite some clear advantages, there are some pitfalls that need to be considered. Having full-time workers as a model for church planting could squelch any possibility of the church plant later planting churches. Future churches (or other churches observing your reproduction) could say, “That was only possible because they had a full-time worker. We don’t have one, so we can’t plant a church.” The New Testament would disagree with that hasty conclusion, but it is hard to look beyond our own experiences. If full-time workers are to be included, both missionaries and full-time European brothers and sisters will want to carefully consider their role using the links provided.
What will the church look like (style of worship, denomination, formality, structure, government, theology, etc.)?
Flexibility is good, but it is also important to have a basic idea of what your future church will look like. This will help you as you attract teammates and unbelievers who are drawn to these descriptors. It is hard to make significant changes mid-stream without hurting and losing people.
While you consider the “flavor” your church will have, you might also ask questions such as (1) Are there other churches with this style that are doing it well? What can we learn from them? and (2) Is there another niche to fill that will draw people currently uninterested in churches?
The point here is that there are unchurched people who would come to church if there were a different kind of church available to them. It usually doesn’t make sense to plant a church in close proximity to one of a similar style. Duplication and competition are a waste of Kingdom resources. We are fighting not against each other but for the rescue of the lost who wouldn’t otherwise hear and believe.
Do we need/want a building?
What are some of the advantages and disadvantages of having a building in our situation?
For whom are we making this decision (happiness of complaining believers or felt needs of the seekers)?
How will our choice affect our ministry and reproducibility?
Are there currently churches without buildings in our area, or is this a niche to be tried?
Does not having a building lead to suspicions of secrecy?
Does having a building lead to political or tax issues?
This is a key question without easy answers in the European context. As an Austrian brother once told a foreign missionary, “We are born with a brick in our stomachs,” by which he meant that if a church isn’t made of brick and mortar, it won’t be perceived as real. Yet, in many other parts of the world church planting (and especially church planting movements) is more effective and more rapid when pursuing a buildingless model. Are house churches or simple churches being tried in your area? Is it something the Spirit is speaking to you about?
Have we considered all of the financial questions?
This brings up a myriad of questions. How will money be handled, and by whom? How much might this cost (determined in large part on the building question, style question, and full-time worker question)? Who is responsible to cover these expenses (mother church, missionaries, daughter church, etc.)? Who decides how to spend it?
How will the decisions we are making help or hinder future reproduction? Deciding financial questions at the beginning can protect from hurt feelings and poor stewardship later.
Whom do we want to reach?
Are we focusing on a certain age group (e.g., young families), a certain interest group (e.g., artistic people), a certain location (e.g., people in a new apartment complex), etc.? How will that affect our structure, style of worship, building, etc.? Are we flexible if God leads differently? Is our team adequately prepared to reach that focus group, or are we too old/young, have too many kids/not enough kids, too many singles/couples, live in the wrong area, etc.?
How will disciples be made?
Mere conversions are not enough to satisfy the Great Commission. Church planting, and especially church planting movements, are great, but not at the expense of solid discipleship. Will you implement a discipleship system? Do you have some precise goals? Is there someone in your area, your denomination, etc. that is doing this well? What can you learn from them?
What is the role of prayer in church planting?
Manuals like the Omega Course have entire sections that treat this vital subject. Let’s just say that strategic prayer for more open doors, more conversions, more disciples, and more churches is at the core of all we do. More than simply thinking about our own prayer life, however, we’ll also want to consider how we can get other people praying for our church plant!
What are the most effective teaching forms/methods?
How are people used to learning in our culture (professorial monologuing, informal discussions in small groups, etc.)? Which methods are more likely to actually change lives in our culture? Which methods are modeled in Scripture? Which methods will we adopt for evangelism, for disciple-making, for large group gatherings, for small group gatherings, etc.?
Where will we plant?
Do we want to focus on growing areas of town, needy populations, responsive people groups, places where there is a core/team already living/working, etc.? If we think God wants us to have a building or meeting place, where could it be? What could it look like?
When will we be a church? And who decides?
How many believers does it take to be a church? How many leaders? What functions must we perform (baptism, Lord’s Supper, offering, etc.)? What are some minimal characteristics and what are some ideal characteristics (e.g., the minimum size might be X but the ideal size might be Y)? Does our team, mother church, denomination, or other group decide when we’ll be considered an autonomous church?
Who will remember and communicate our story?
It might be helpful to write down and/or photograph key events in the life of the church plant, so you’ll remember things like… When was the first meeting of the core group? When was the first meeting of the cell group or small group? When was the first conversion/baptism? When did we first celebrate the table of the Lord? When was our first public meeting or public evangelization? Is it appropriate to record these memories with photos, videos, etc.? Not only will the congregation enjoy having a record of God’s working in their past, but other church planters and congregations can be inspired by what He’s done!
When and how will we start to talk about planting the next church?
We cannot be satisfied with merely planting a church. The goal has to be the expansive, miraculous, exciting reproduction of multiple churches throughout our area, our country, and all of Europe. We must keep our eye on that final goal! How soon is too soon to start talking about the next church plant? Please note that there might not be a “too soon”! Who might God be calling? Where might our next target be? Do we have a nucleus of people in another area? Is there a facet of society that we and others haven’t yet reached?
Do you have your own story to tell? Are there questions you think church planters could be asking? Let us know by dropping us an email.