When you think of church planting what is your default model? How do you naturally think of it being done? Who goes? How many? How is it funded? How long does the relationship with the sending church remain? And what does it look like? How long does the funding keep going? Where are they planting into? How do they grow? What will it look like after 3, 5, 10 years? And how has that partnership changed?
There are lots of different ways to plant. There’s the strawberry plant model, where the new plant stays attached to the mother plant for resourcing until it’s self sustaining. There’s the three years funding model where the team goes off to plant with funding for 3 years, the idea being by year 4 they are self sustaining with an ‘or else’ landmine hidden away to keep you on task. There’s the small core team, part time pastor, which gradually grows with minimal expenditure all the way through until they may or may not be able to sustain a full time worker. There’s the multiple churches recognising a need and working together to plant (though I think this is rarer).
There are pros and cons to each. But the key thing we need to get is that they are context specific. Context specific in terms of where you plant; leafy suburb, student city, housing estate. There is no one size fits all approach. And it is context specific nationally and historically. As the context is shifting in Britain I wonder if we need to shift with it in terms of our thinking about how we plant churches. How we plant in 2019 and 2020 needs to be different than it was just over 10 years ago when we planted.
For example there is now a greater hostility to Christianity. We haven’t been a Christian nation for along time, if we ever were, or if there ever has been such a thing. Britain is ‘Christ-haunted’ but it is not Christian. There are vague influences and haunting images and shadows of Christ in our culture, laws, social wisdom and sayings but little more. And what has arisen in its place is not welcoming of committed, unapologetic, cross carrying, Christ following. More than ever we are strangers and aliens.
We need to wake up and recognise the implications this may have in the next decade for our church planting in terms of hiring of public spaces. What will we be asked to compromise on in order to still use a school hall or a library or a community centre? And when will it be a compromise too far? We need to plant with that in mind. (As an aside, that’s partly why we need to be thinking about revitalising as much as planting, and buying up and redeeming buildings when we can).
And established churches and plants need to be thinking what will we do when that day comes? Where is the line for us? And when we can’t meet in a public space, where will we meet? We need to be planning now for then. And that MUST impact the way we plant churches. As we think about planting churches we need to be planting sustainable, resource able churches that will still be there in 10, 20, 30 years.
But we also need to be thinking about context in terms of the locality in which we’re planting. For example it may be feasible to plant with a 3 year budget in a student area where some growth will be graduates staying on and investing good and growing salaries in giving to fund that church and make it self sustaining. It may work in a middle class area, but it definitely won’t work in a deprived area where a significant proportion of the population are out of work or in manual labour. In fact in those areas I’m not sure that even the Strawberry plant model works, because it assumes that the smaller plant will gradually become more and more self sufficient, which in a deprived area may not happen at all, with the loss of jobs, chaos of family life, social pressures and so on. And that model doesn’t take into account the needs of the people in that deprived area – often those saved from such backgrounds need greater discipling which is more energy and labour intensive.
So what am I suggesting?
In Acts I see an ebbing and flowing partnership of churches, support goes one way then it goes another. It is an interconnected seemingly symbiotic commitment to the gospel and to God’s kingdom, not my Church, that determines giving, support, sending. The needs of the one don’t outweigh the needs of the kingdom, or the many if you are thinking of the lost. I wonder if we’ve bought into individualism as churches. ‘This is my church, that’s your’. ‘This is the church you are the church plant.’ In a way that undermines such a symbiotic relationship.
So what would reforging our partnerships look like?
We grow together. Imagine how different things would be if every well off evangelical church partnered with a plant in a less well off area. And that partnership was more than just praying and occasional giving. But actually sharing needs and resources without any sense of patronage. So when the well off took on a member of staff they committed to taking on 2, one for themselves and one for the church in a less well off area in whatever area they determined they needed it.
What if the pastors swapped pulpits frequently, so that those in both churches grew to love and care for the leaders of different churches, and those pastors grew to care for both congregations. So that barriers were broken down, chips were taken off shoulders, prejudices overcome, unity in the gospel promoted. So that it fostered a spirit of togetherness and care, of kingdom not church.
What about mission teams. What would it look like to send a team to help out a smaller church in a hard to reach area? What would it cost? Could it be a good way to galvanise some of the pew fillers who feel in a bigger church there is no need to get involved? What would a symbiotic sharing of gifting and leaders and training look like? What would it yield in terms of fruit?
And what about the smaller church providing training etc to the bigger church where and when it could? Using the expertise it has to serve. Not all resources are monetary or dependent on size. We all have much to learn from each other.
Gospel partnership is not the lord of the manor dispensing scraps to the poor. It is growing sense of unity in the gospel and focus on the kingdom we serve without worrying about the cost to each individually. But focused on the salvation of the lost who are hurtling towards a lost eternity when we have a Saviour to share with them.