It’s very fashionable today to talk about the benefits of planting churches. The independent Christian Churches have enjoyed rapid growth through a planting strategy, while the Churches of Christ have plateaued, growing hardly at all in the last 20 years. Planting is indeed a good thing.
The difficulty is that planting has to be done wisely. Not every plant is a good one. If my church plants a congregation across town, in a middle-sized town, it may be that all we’re doing is creating two churches that really ought to merge for the reasons previously discussed. Any potential plant has to be tested against the considerations that argue for a merger.
The last thing I’d want to do is take a church that is just getting large enough to do serious service for the needy in the community and to sponsor missionaries, and then divide it so that it’s resources–it’s talent and money and time–are all directed internally.
I’m no scholar in church planting, but these guidelines strike me as worthy of reflection:
- Plantings should normally be far enough away that they don’t compete with the mother church. In some smaller towns, this rule precludes nearly all church plants. I mean, why have two 500-member churches when you could have one 1,000-member church? Other than egos and the desire to teach differing doctrines (one of which is surely false), what could drive such a decision?
- Plantings should not encourage ethnic or economic segregation. Of course, if you honor the first principle, this will never happen. Perhaps the darkest sin of the 21st Century Churches of Christ is our insistence on having white and black congregations. Having rich and poor congregations is nearly as bad. Anyone who’s bothered to read the New Testament, or for that matter, the Law of Moses, knows how wicked this is.
- Plantings are appropriate in the same town when geographical proximity is needed for a mission to the lost. A church serving the inner city may need to be within walking distance. A church seeking to reach a college campus may need to be next to campus. However, this cannot be a rationalization for doctrinal or racial division. We need to look for ways to avoid separation, and when our mission calls us to be in separate locations, we need to work hard to stay in loving fellowship with our sister congregations.
- Plantings should not compete with an existing congregation unless they are aimed at a community the other church cannot reach. An established, middle class church may not be able to reach the town’s art and theatre community. A church with an average age of 70 may not be able to reach a bedroom community of young couples. There really are times that we have to start from scratch. But in even these cases, we need to be in intense fellowship with our sister churches and work to be just one church in multiple locations to the extent possible.
- Cell churches may well be effective “satellites” of a larger mother church.
The cell church model is going to be with us for a while, and we need to accommodate to it. That’s the topic of the next post.