Even with a solid biblical and theological basis for mission, aspiring church planters find that building mission into the fabric of their new church can be a challenge. Following are a few practical suggestions in developing a missional emphasis in a church plant.
Put Down That Book
I’m not an anti-intellectual pragmatist. In fact, I believe most church planters would benefit from continual growth in their theological study, so I’m not advocating less scholarship.
Here’s what I’m addressing: Planter ___ reads inspiring book written by another pastor about how their community was reached on mission & implements those things hoping for similar results in the church. (You can substitute “conference message,” “podcast,” or “blogpost” for “book.”) I observe too many planters spending time and resources on things that the people in their community don’t really need. Growing a missional DNA requires us to read our community more than just reading books.
As we started our church, almost all of the books I read about community stressed the need to establish small groups in homes to get away from the church building. And we discovered that for a segment of our population, this was true & effective. Yet we were also finding that most of our friends from the neighborhood were not coming to these groups. A light went off for me when one man finally explained that for people local to our city – in our case, often those struggling socioeconomically – meeting in a stranger’s home was not a welcoming place. The preference would be to meet in the safe neutral ground of our church building.
Every book told me the exact opposite. But the people writing those books do not know my city and neighborhood. Get to know the members of your community & learn their real needs. You will discover underlying desires and unearth idols. You will observe what your city is passionate about and how your new church community may be uniquely formed in that soil. It will help you develop means of outreach which are contextually appropriate & also learn what may NOT be effective.
One of my cross-cultural experiences is learning there is something in American culture called “minute rice.” At first, this horrified me! Rice is something that needs to be prepared in this big cooker going for a very long while, bubbling and gurgling until it’s finally ready to be served in all its steamy & delicious glory.
Minute rice may look like rice, but real rice takes time.
Modern discipleship methods can be like minute rice, designed programmatically to produce fast results. But if you want to start a church making disciples among those who truly do not know God, it will require appropriate expectations of the time & perseverance required.
It’s asking ourselves the hard question of whether we want to plant and grow a church through evangelism or primarily by drawing Christians from other churches. I don’t know very many church planters who desire the latter, but if we genuinely desire to do the former, we must prepare ourselves for a long journey that will, in most cases, mean your church will not experience rapid numerical growth right away. This can encourage us that as we seek to make disciples among the lost and we find it’s not happening overnight, it’s actually normal.
What’s a Disciple?
In many of our ministry cultures that value a high intellectualism, discipleship can often be a classroom concept where more information equates growth in Christ. And though we want people to grow in godly knowledge, a missional church plant culture will require discipleship leading to an outward focus.
We must train our team to understand that following Jesus on mission means it’s not all about them, that to be part of a church on mission means there will be some things they may just not prefer. Especially for some churched folks you may attract, that may require a certain death to their expectations.
For example, when it comes to preaching in our church, we make it clear that our primary goal is not to connect to Christians looking for a doctorate level understanding of doctrine by using theologically sophisticated language; rather it’s to connect with the people on our streets, using language that is familiar to them and that they can understand.
This comes back to knowing your context. If your desire is to primarily reach highly intellectual residents of your city, it may be very appropriate to preach as if your seminary professor is in the room.
How will the ways your church plant expresses community life, singing, recreation, coffee, etc. reflect who is welcome in your church, whether explicitly stated or not?
Defining a church plant culture of dying to self for the sake of others will be one of the most effective means of discipleship you can establish as it points them to Christ.
Many naturally associate mission with a program. Programs can be effective especially as we mobilize people collectively for expressions of outreach, particularly in areas of mercy and justice. But one of the most powerful ways we can build mission into a church plant’s DNA is to train people to live with mission integrated into every aspect of their lives.
I encourage you to take some time to meditate on Acts 7:26-27 and ask: What would it look like to affirm to our people that God has placed them exactly where they are at this time in history to be doing the things they do with the people they’re with?
We don’t have to overcomplicate things. We can encourage people to do what they would normally spend their time doing anyway—eating, exercising, socializing—and challenge them to view these expressions of life with eyes intentionally focused on their neighbors, coworkers, and friends. Many will experience the thrill of embracing who they naturally are and seeing how God uses those things as He empowers them on mission.