Foundations of Church Planting

As we begin to formulate the vision of a specific church plant, it is important to establish a definition of what exactly is church planting. For this book, I define church planting as joining in God’s mission to plant and multiply disciple-making churches in every context. Let me unpack this definition. First, church planting is joining in God’s mission to redeem the world. In other words, the work of starting a new church begins with God and not with us. Too often we can think about church planting as our work, but in fact, when we plant, we joining in the work God is already doing. As we have already seen in chapter one, God’s mission is the very foundation of church planting. 

Second, at the heart of church planting lies the work of discipleship. Church planting is a natural outgrowth of answering Jesus’ call to “come . . . and follow Me” (Mark 8:34; 10:21; Luke 9:23; 18:22) and “go therefore and make disciples” (Matt. 28:19). In other words, it’s all about making disciples in every home, every town, every city, and every nation. Church planting is simply a contextual model of answering the call of Christ to go and make disciples. Discipleship not a program that has a beginning and an ending point. Rather, it is an ongoing process that is dynamic and organic in nature. In the words of Ed Stetzer, “Discipleship is not just a course or series of studies. Discipleship begins with conversion and continues as an ongoing process. ‘Make disciples’ means that the church is to win people to Christ and grow these new converts in the faith. That process is meant to take place in the local church.”4 Therefore, the call of discipleship is an absolute essential to the work of church planting.

Third, when talking about church planting, it is important to note that we are talking about planting “churches.” A church is not a building or a non-profit community organization. The church is a body of believers who have been called out by Jesus to be His body in heaven and on earth. At its most basic level, the church is the body of Jesus Christ. There is only one true church, and it is made up of all true believers in Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul reminds us, “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. . . . Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many” (1 Cor. 12:12–14 NIV). Just as the physical body has to have a structure to hold it together while allowing it to grow and develop, the body of Christ has an organic structure where each member has a role to play. If one member of the body is out of place or is not working, the rest of the body suffers as a result (see 1 Corinthians 12:26).

Fourth, we are talking about planting new, contextualized churches. Today there are many different expressions of the local church, which represent the body of Christ in a variety of contexts. The church in Africa looks different than the church in Texas; each one is called to be the church in its unique context and culture. In Church for Every Context, Michael Moynagh praises contextualized church for being able to “seek to fit the culture of the people they serve.”5 Over the last few years I have been able to experience many new contextualized churches around the world in cities, in jungles, and on the top of mountains. Each church was a little different; however, they all had one thing in common: they were all members of the body of Jesus Christ. These experiences have profoundly shaped my vision of church planting.

As we progress into defining a church based on its discipleship intentions, I want to dissect what I think is an excellent working definition of church planting provided by Professor Aubrey Malphurs. He wrote, “I define church planting as an exhausting but exciting venture of faith, the planned process of starting and growing local churches based on Jesus’ promise to build his church and in obedience to his Great Commission.”6 Based on the pillars of this model, church planting is:

Exhausting

Be forewarned: church planting is not for the faint of heart. It is exhausting and will require a radical commitment to the work. The road to church planting is littered with pastors who have burned out, committed moral failure, or simply walked away from the ministry. For many, what started out as an exciting adventure ended up as a nightmare. Therefore, I encourage everyone who is thinking and praying about church planting to count the cost and to know that it will be hard work. 

Know that church planting will be challenging for your family, finances, and faith. At the same time, not all church-planting ventures end in disaster, failure, or frustration. Many church planters can and do thrive in various contexts, but it is still important to do your homework and know the facts about church planting before you begin.

Venture of Faith

Church planting is not just a good idea; it is a work of faith from beginning to end. Church planting mimics an entrepreneurial endeavor in that it involves starting something from nothing, but the success is rooted in God’s grace and in human efforts alone. Planting begins with a seed of faith that must be grown and involves hard work and prayer to do the impossible of starting a new church. 

We can’t build a church on our own strength or merit; it is a work of grace from beginning to end. In the great faith chapter of the Bible, we are told that “without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Heb. 11:6). The Lord promises to respond to our prayer of faith. If you are considering starting a new church, ask the Lord to give you a bold faith for the work.

Planned Process

While church planting is organic, it will require a lot of planning and preparation. In other words, church planting doesn’t just happen; it is a deliberate and intentional planned process. For some reason, certain people think that planning is unspiritual. Nothing could be further from the truth. In the words of Habakkuk, “Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it” (Hab. 2:2 ESV). 

Developing a church-planting plan will help others join in what God is calling you to do. It will let people know the facts about how they can help. I have learned that people want to help if they are properly informed, so communication is the key. You will be amazed at how willing people are to join the cause of church planting if they know the “what” and “why.” Developing a plan will help you accomplish this goal by empowering the people to achieve the vision God has given you to plant a new church.

Involves Starting and Growing

Church planting involves both starting new churches and growing them. Starting a new church is like having a baby. When the new church plant is like an infant, it will require lots of nurture and care. The work of church planting doesn’t stop once a church is planted, but carries on throughout the life of the new church. The evolution of the church involves growing disciples by developing systems and structures for spiritual growth. Therefore, the church-planting strategy must be organic and focus on both starting and growing a new church from beginning to end.

Jesus’ Promise to Build His Church

Church planting reminds us that Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith and He is the One who builds His church. Jesus told Peter, “I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matt. 16:18 NIV). Church planting begins and ends with Jesus Christ. The word “Christian” carries the meaning of being Christ-like. Therefore, a proper Christology is the place to start if we are really going to plant new churches. 

I have seen a lot of church planters think that the church belongs to them, but nothing could damage the church more than this belief! Church leaders can use church-growth principles to plant churches, but only Christ can save and grow people into disciples of Jesus Christ. As you seek to plant a new church, don’t ever forget that the new church belongs to Jesus Christ, and He is the One who will take care of it.

Obedience to the Great Commission

As we discussed in the last chapter, one of the primary reasons for planting new churches is an act of obedience to “go therefore and make disciples of all the nations.” When Jesus said, “make disciples,” the disciples understood it to mean more than simply getting someone to believe in Jesus; they interpreted it to mean that they should make out of others what Jesus made out of them. 

Don’t ever forget that the goal of church planting is ultimately disciple-making. Once you answer the call of God on your life, select a course of action, and then go for it! What do you have to lose? You will never know exactly what God can do until you step out in faith. The old Nike slogan says it all, “Just Do It!” God will lead and guide you as you begin to step out in faith. Beginning a new faith community is the key to reaching your city for Jesus Christ.