I'm giving some thought to church planting, recently, because we have some people launching out to start new gatherings.
However, for starters, I have to say that discussing the concept of planting churches is really starting on the wrong foot. Scripture never talks about planting churches. Churches (people-movement-gatherings) develop as Kingdom seed is planted into the lives of people. There is not "church" seed that one plants in order to get a "church." We are actually not called to plant churches, but to sow Kingdom seed into the lives of people. As we do that, God builds His church together from those who are responding to His call.
This is important, because the first thing we do when talking about church planting is start thinking about "the gathering," "the place," "the structure," and in so doing we have already missed the mark. What God is interested in is one thing: people. People, people, people. He loves people. He wants people to be saved. He wants all people to turn to Him. He has given us His Word and power in order to sow His word into the hearts of... you got it... people.
Once we begin loving those that God has given us to care for, then we can begin to seek how best to help gather them into simple worship gatherings.
So... since our job is to sow Kingdom life into the lives of people, I'm going to suggest the following three starting points for "church planting":
- Take responsibility for our own spiritual life. I don't mean this in some legalistic, dutiful way... I just mean that if we are going to sow Kingdom seed into others, then we must be enjoying the Kingdom life within. We can only minister out of an overflow of that life. Without this, we will do what all westerners do... we will start building some external ministry structures or programs to do "the work of ministry." Real ministry begins within us, and we must develop a flow of life in the Spirit of God that is authentic and alive. I highly recommend an article by Henri Noewen entitled "Moving From Solitude to Community to Ministry" that can be found here.
- Carry others in intercession. As we turn our attention to caring about others this begins, I believe, with the simple, private, servanthood act of praying for them. I am talking about loving them through prayer. Though we plant seeds, it's the Spirit of God that causes them to grow. No real kingdom life will ever come forth without our laying down our lives in prayer.
- Shepherd and care for people. As I already said, gatherings will begin to come out of this step. As we shepherd, disciple (in a truly transformational, relational way), and care for others we will find it easy to begin gathering them in ways that allow them to freely worship and use their spiritual gifts.
Yes, there are additional steps to "church planting." In fact, since the topic is church planting, one would expect me to write about some of the more typical details of church planting: where to meet, how to facilitate the service, what to do with children, etc., etc., etc. Perhaps these are worth addressing at some point, but if we talk about them now, that would take away from what has been discussed which, I believe, is much more important.