Monday, March 7, 2011

Future Church Planting

Reflecting on church planting, and the future over my morning espresso, I read this intriguing text - Number 13.

We first got involved in church planting in the 70's. The world was a different place. The end of the hippy revolution left many disillusioned by what promised so much and gave so little. The Vietnam war was winding down and America liked the wounds of a nation so bruised by her polarizing conflict. The bitter after effects of a social revolution that paved the way for legal abortions and the despair of a generation in turn, paved the way for a church planting, pioneering story that was so fashioned around street preaching and public gospel proclamation. Sheer passion, raw guts and humble obedience seemed to be enough to get planting. It wasn't and still isn't today.

Now in the 21st Century, church planting has again found its way onto the center stage of the western church's major activities [and rightfully so] However, my concern with the lack of understanding of the partnership between these churches and the Ephesians 4 grace giftings weighs on me daily. But that is for another time.

In Numbers 13 under divine instruction, Moses sends out 12 leaders who are to go and spy out the land. This is not a tourist trip but a clear culture / context conversation. They were given a clear mandate to go and find out what was knowable about these people. This was their research guideline:
  • Cultural Character - people are strong or weak - What are the cultural distinctives that identify this community?
  • Community Togetherness - few or many - What glues the community, holds them together?
  • Gospel Ecology - land is good or bad - What is the gospel readiness of the community? Is the soil fertile for the gospel? If so, how?
  • Spiritual Strengths - cites... camps or strongholds - What is the spiritual climate and history of the community? Idols?
  • Economic Essentials - land is rich or poor - What is the economic condition and priorities of the people? Where do they put their money?
  • Key Leadership - trees in it or not - Who are the key leaders and what are their key ideas / messages?
  • Fruit Evidence - season of first ripe grapes - What is the fruit of the community - economically, educationally, politicly, spiritually...?
One cannot force the text to say what it is not saying. However one can use this great passage as a matrix metaphor to more thoroughly prepare for the task at hand. Too many church planters are simply hoping that passion, a "word from the Lord" and the promise of prayers of friends will be sufficient. Whilst these are wonderful, they are not enough. Even in these great Exodus days, where the cloud and fire directed them, God still sent them to spy out the land - find out what you are facing! Do you have the faith for the challenge before you?


  1. Brad says - This is brilliant. Some great insight here Chris. This is going to be an intersting series that I look forward to reading over my morning coffee's

  2. Hello Chris,

    I was directed to you by Alan Hirsch to consult with you about how you, and your partners in ministry, integrate the fivefold ministry into your approach to mission and ministry. Aln and I are writing a book together, and we want to of course put some concrete stories and examples of people who are taking APEST seriously in how they approach Kingdom work. Can you contact me via email so we can exchange contact info and eventually talk over the phone?

    ikoncommunity [at] gmail dot com. Thanks!

  3. We can fail to ask these questions if we're so focused on trying to plant the "perfect" church. But if we're seeking that the gospel will impact the regions around us through the churches we plant then these questions are critical. Thanks for this Chris.

  4. Chris,
    I love the thoughts. When working with church planters, before they begin to work on the vision of the church, I have them work on understanding their community. I ask many of the questions you do. The trick is patience. Most planters don't see a high value in fully understanding the community. They read a demographic report and hang out for a few weeks and are ready to run. I love that about church planters. They are doers. They want to get on with the mission. But, slowing down to spy out the land can make the mission even more impactful. Great thoughts. I'll use this with my planters.