As described back in this post, successful church plants network with other plants to share ideas, and their leaders are coached by experienced missionaries. I can’t think of any existing structure that would serve the same purpose among established churches.
We don’t share ideas with other Churches of Christ in town. After all, they are the competition. Worse yet, we often aren’t even in fellowship with them! In very large towns — a Dallas or Nashville — such cooperation may occur, but in my own community, it’s very nearly unthinkable.
Moreover, the other churches in town don’t share our theology of grace. We’ll have to look elsewhere for a network of sympathetic congregations. There are two places to look.
First, in my home state, we pretty much know which congregations share our theology and might be inclined to share our vision for growth. We could try to set up a mutual support network, but it would be an uphill battle. It’s not that there’s any real tension among us. There’s not. Rather, we just aren’t used to working together. It’s a habit thing.
It would be helpful if we were in the habit of having an annual convention or meeting or something so that talking to each other was easy, but it’s not. It could be done, but it would be a dramatic culture shift.
Second, in my home town, many of the larger churches have banded together cross-denominationally for the sake of unity and for shared ministries. It’s called the Tuscaloosa Prayer Network. It’s conceivable that the members of this network might be willing to support each other in an evangelistic effort, but it would be quite a new thing.
In one sense, it harder to do in a single town, as we haven’t quite gotten over the sense of competing with each other. On the other hand, it’s easier in that we actually have more structure for cooperating locally with the Baptists and Methodists than we have for cooperating with fellow Churches of Christ in town or across the state.
Another possibility is to ask one of the church planting parachurch organizations to work with established churches to help them become like planted churches. And such an organization could serve as a coordinating body among multiple churches, which would help. It’s an idea that’s surely far outside their current vision, but they should see it as a way to persuade churches to have a heart for planting, which would be good at several levels.
Coaching of church leaders is even harder for me to envision than networking of like-minded churches. After all, who would be the coaches? There aren’t many men who’ve led congregations to evangelistic success. And most who have done so did it far enough in the past that the old methods will no longer work.
I think the most qualified coaches are likely (a) former missionaries, being the same men who coach church plants and (b) ironically enough, the leaders of successful church plants. That’s right — we may well have 60-year old preachers and elders being coached by 35-year old veteran church planters!
None of this will come easily. We have no national headquarters to set this up. We have very few elderships and preachers who even know about the importance and success of church planting. And we have a tradition of being cussedly independent. But this has to change.
10. Service to the community.
I’ve been talking about our participating in God’s mission to the poor and needy in our communities for a while now. We have to do this because the Bible tells us so. We can no longer hide in our church-fortresses, trying to escape an evil world. It’s time to be in the world, being salt and light.
It’s hugely important. Read these two posts to understand better.
I am persuaded that we will never be evangelistically effective until we learn how to minister to the hurting world that surrounds us.