A. By “church plant” I mean a team of 15 to 20 or so who go to a city and start a church. “Domestic missionary team” may be a more helpful term.
B. The people who run these programs have tried many things, some of which work and some of which fail. But they’ve now found approaches that have an over 80% success rate. Indeed, most plants are self-supporting in 5 years or less — and planting daughter churches.
C. Church plants often convert more people in 3 years than we convert (other than our own children) in 20!
D. What do they do that works, even in communities with few Christians, often where people are very hostile to Christianity?
1. Very intentional, detailed, intense plans for getting the word out through community events, advertising, marketing, personal contact.
2. Emphasis on relationship building and personal evangelism but with additional methods used as well.
3. Intense training of leadership
4. A core membership committed to the vision of the church
5. Utter rejection of legalism in all its forms
6. Commitment to being missionaries — studying local culture, “language,” etc. and learning to communicate in those terms. Hence, in most towns, they’d never wear suits to church.
7. Instrumental music. Now, no church can outperform the entertainment industry. Entertainment does not bring in people, who can hear better music on CDs and at local concert halls. Rather, a cappella music bespeaks legalism (why not use a guitar unless we think the guitar is evil?) In modern America there is virtually no a cappella music on the radio or TV. Say what you will, to someone with no history in the Churches of Christ, the absence of instruments seems peculiar, legalistic, and even irrational.
This hardly means that a church must use instruments for every song or even at every service. However, a church that never uses an instrument is forced to explain the obvious omission, and the explanation is necessarily that we consider it wrong — which is legalism. If that’s not so, why aren’t there any Methodist or Southern Baptist churches that just happen to prefer a cappella? I mean, it can’t be defended purely as a matter of taste or even tradition.
It is certainly our tradition, but it was also the tradition of the Catholics and every Protestant denomination that existed in the 19th Century other than the Episcopalians, who’ve never been a cappella. Every denomination and every congregation that remains a cappella does so because they believe the Bible requires it or because they have members who so believe. It is never just tradition or just preference. Every denomination that has changed its doctrinal position has also changed its practice.
Among the Churches of Christ, moreover, the instrument carries huge symbolic meaning. It’s our identity. We’re the people who were kicked out churches and lost our buildings so we could avoid the instrument. We’re the people who care enough to get worship right. We’re the people who correctly apply the obvious implications of silence. We’re the people who fought and paid a high price to be a cappella.
And in this sense, a cappella music to the Churches of Christ is very much like circumcision was to First Century Jews. There were hundreds of Mosaic commands, but the Jews saw circumcision as particularly marking their identity. Indeed, they referred to Gentiles simply as “the uncircumcised” (Eph. 2:11). They could have picked love for their neighbors or a refusal to bear false witness, but they picked an external practice of no real moral consequence as their identity marker.
Paul declared in Galatians,
(Gal 5:3-4) Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. 4 You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.
Circumcision is not a sin. But making it the dividing line between lost and saved is. Indeed, it damns.
(Gal 5:6) For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.
We need to be people known for our faith in Jesus and our love for others. That’s the identity Jesus died to give us. Nothing else will do. And if we insist on remaining exclusively a cappella, we’ll never be as effective in evangelism as we’ll need to be. After all, we can never be effective as long as we continue to fight and divide over such matters.
8. The absence of turf wars, politics, and silos. In other words, a church plant is formed by people who are united as to vision and method. They’ve agreed to follow the leadership. Hence, there’s no split risked as unconventional methods are attempted. The goal is reaching the lost, not serving the membership. Rather, the membership has committed to work toward the vision of the congregation.
a. Church planters who succeed are those who have coaches — experienced men and women who’ve been in field and who regularly consult with and mentor the leaders. In fact, because the method is so effective, one Baptist denomination has decided that every pastor is required to have a coach.
b. Church planters who succeed are those who have support networks with other planters. This way, they can call people trying the same thing for advice and help.
c. Church planters who succeed have sponsoring congregations that not only provide financial support but also serve as encouragers and pastors for the leadership.
You see, the Churches of Christ have made a huge mistake in being far too autonomous, confusing isolation for autonomy. As a result, we often don’t hear of others’ mistakes and are unwilling to submit to coaching or pastoring outside of our congregation.
This is not a hierarchy. Rather, it’s a sharing of talents and working together toward a common vision. It’s love for one another applied to evangelism.
d. Church planters who succeed usually have the support of a parachurch organization devoted to church plants.
This is because most sponsoring congregations don’t have the experience or knowledge necessary to coach a planting team to success. A parachurch organization (nonprofit) with talented, experienced men and women can gather talent literally from across the globe and cooperate with the sponsoring church and the church plant as a resource of counsel and research to help the plant team deal with problems.
Moreover, the nonprofit creates institutional memory, so that lessons learned can be shared with other plants, preventing the needless repetition of mistakes and so the church planting community can rejoice with those who rejoice.
10. Service to the community. Plants very intentionally get involved with local social service organizations or otherwise work to show the love of Jesus to their communities in very practical ways.
X. The same model, with local variations, has been shown to work in Latin America and Europe. Solo missionaries typically struggle, but church plant teams that follow the above model usually succeed.