The Future of Church Planting in North America

design-2Based upon current trends and what some experts are saying, we will see an increase in a change of approach and methodology in the planting of new churches in America. These changes may not be good or bad per se, but we should be aware and consider our approach. These are all in practice in many places, perhaps we are not aware. Below are a few observations about some new approaches:

  • More house churches. More small churches will be established in homes and will stay there, by design. Once they reach a certain numbers, they divide in order to multiple in additional locations. We have seen this tendency in Latin America for many years; the results are remarkable.
  • Fewer large church buildings built. Most church planters want to avoid the strangulation of big debt. Fewer worshipers want to pay big mortgage bills. They prefer instead to invest in life-changing ministry.
  • More opportunities to worship on days other than Sunday. Like it or not, there is a move away from Sunday as “the day” to worship.
  • Large churches planting new churches in other cities and states, even other countries. This is nothing new but it seems to be on the increase. These large churches sometimes serve as a mother church on an ongoing basis.
  • More church planters planning to remaining bivocational. Perhaps out of necessity, but partly because of strategy, many church planters have no desire to be in full-time ministry.
  • Less glamor and glitz in church planting. Many worshipers are unimpressed with expensive and entertaining worship. “Keep it simple” is becoming more of a mantra for some church planters.
  • More marketplace churches. Factories, stores, businesses and coffee shops are increasing becoming the venue for new church plants.
  • “Second career” church planters. More folks are retiring early or are strategically entering ministry once their kids are raised.

I believe that we should consider any and all methods of planting healthy churches. There is no “best” model; the one that is best is the one that works.

For more details about church planting, click here.

Let’s plant churches!

Our Church Has a Bad Reputation

design9“Our Church Has a Bad Reputation.” We’ve all heard the stories. A lying preacher. A stealing deacon. An immoral elder.

In the last few months, no fewer than a dozen pastors and church members have used the above phrase to describe their church to me. Like people, the church has a name among the citizens of the surrounding area. Our conduct has an impact on how people perceive us. Church leaders and members should remember that we represent the church. Unfortunately, many churches are paying the price of the misbehavior of the people involved.

So what do we do when our church has a bad reputation in the community? I have a few ideas:

  1. Don’t give up! Reputations can be repaired. In John 4, Jesus spoke with a woman who had a jaded reputation. She was living in sin and everyone knew it. But Christ forgave her, restored her character and actually used her brokenness to heal many others. Read the story in John 4:1-42.
  2. Do the right thing. Pay bills on time. Don’t gossip. Tip well at restaurants. Manicure the church lawn. All of these things help others to determine their attitude about your church.
  3. Sometimes you have to start over. New churches are planted every day because so many old churches won’t or can’t recover from a bad rep in the community. But let me encourage you – while God begins new things, He also specializes in reclamation projects! God’s Spirit made a valley of dry bones into a powerful army! (Ezekiel 37). Church revitalization is as important as church planting.
  4. Recognize excuses. While there is little doubt that some churches have been guilty of causing irreparable damage, this “excuse” can be manipulated. If you are a church leader or a member of a church, please don’t allow a checkered past to serve as your reason for not accomplishing something great for God. Job speaks of the potential of a tree stump. Even though it has been cut down, “at the scent of water it will bud and sprout again like a new seedling.” There is a time to get over a bad past and create a good future.
  5. Recognize blaming. Not every critic of the church is authentic or right. Some simply want to find fault with the church. When this happens, there is no need to try to defend the church – Jesus can handle that. But let’s not assume guilt for something that we haven’t done.
  6. Pray for, work toward and lead a renewal process. Assume responsibility for turning around the reputation of the church. Take ownership of the ministry (under Christ, of course). Throughout history, God has utilized men and women to influence the culture on behalf of the church. He can do that through you!

As a closing note, if you are a victim of a transgressing church; if you have been hurt or mistreated or injured by a church, a ministry leader, church members or a denomination, I sincerely apologize to you and pray for your healing and restoration. Hopefully you can find renovation for your brokenness. Please don’t allow bitterness to control your life. Jesus has healing for you.

Let’s pray for our churches and do all we can to represent Christ and His Church well!

Can I Talk You Out of Ministry?

design[32]When I meet with young folks who think they feel a call by God to do ministry, I’m sometimes not very successful at hiding my skepticism. I’ve had a hundred of these conversations. In my experience, many who think that they are being asked to enter full-time ministry, aren’t. Please understand, all Christians are called to ministry. Regardless of your role in life, God expects you to do great things for Him. But only a few are asked to be vocational ministers. We have seen those who mistake feelings of guilt or regret as a call. Others are experiencing a religious awakening and their fervor can feel like a pull into ministry. Still others think the ministry sounds glamorous and they relish the idea of leading a great church (and preaching to thousands!). The problem is, I’ve seen many of these guys who have gotten into ministry and it did not turn out the way that they had anticipated. A few weeks or months later, they experienced a change of heart and were no longer in ministry.

Here is a harsh reality: If I can talk you out of ministry, either you aren’t called or something else would have talked you out of it later. Either way, you wouldn’t have lasted. So I’m going to try to talk you out of ministry before you get started. Is that cruel? If it comes across that way, I apologize. And not being called into ministry doesn’t make you less of a Christian. It’s about knowing who you are in Christ.

When you are genuinely called by God to do ministry, no one should be able to dissuade you. When I was young wannabe preacher, I approached my then Overseer several times requesting that he place me in a church to pastor. I recall the passion in my voice as I nearly begged this man for a place to minister. I located an abandoned church that our denomination owned. It was boarded up and padlocked and had been for years. I felt like this was my chance. The good Bishop promptly disagreed and said, “if you want to pastor a church, start one.” For years, I was frustrated at this man because he didn’t see anything in me that was redeemable. Now I understand more about his approach and response. He was trying to talk me out of going into ministry – but he couldn’t. He only strengthened my resolve. I did start a church and I have been in ministry ever since. His words discouraged me but they eventually helped to reaffirm my calling.

If you think God is calling you into vocational ministry, you won’t be able to ignore it and you won’t get over it. “For God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.” (Romans 11:29)
You won’t be able to find fulfillment in anything else. You will be miserable until you are doing what God asked you to do. If you think you are called, here is what I want to say to you: start doing the things that reveal your ministry heart. Start serving others. Start being an example for others to follow. Work behind the scenes. Clean the church restrooms. Visit a widow. Cut the neighbor’s grass. Tithe 10% and give an additional 10% of your earnings. Pray through the night. Never miss a church service. Forgive someone who hurt you. Teach a children’s Sunday School class. These activities aren’t proof that you are called, they simple will be an opportunity for you to explore what real ministry is. If, in time, you are called by God to preach – you and everyone else will know it. Don’t expect others to pave the way for you.

If you can do anything other than preach and maintain your submissive relationship with God, I suggest you do it. I don’t say this because ministry is hard work – it is an honor and a joy. I say this because if you can walk with Christ without being a preacher, you’re not called to be a preacher!

We’re Selling the Church

we're selling the church

I had an intriguing meeting yesterday. As part of my administrative responsibilities, I assist pastors and local churches in securing places of worship. One of the churches I serve is considering relocating and we had a meeting with the representative of a major denomination who is selling one of their properties. This gentleman’s task is to liquidate buildings that they no longer plan to use. The congregation that worshipped in the building we are considering disbanded. They had worshipped in that building for 100 years. The stained glass photo is an actual shot from this beautiful old building.

That is where the conversation got interesting.

This man told me that his denomination is selling all of their buildings where local congregations fail. In essence, he said that they have no plans to bring in new leaders and start new congregations. Church planting and raising up new congregations is “not on the radar.” They will cut their losses and get as much money as possible from the liquidation of the building. After 100 years, they are selling the church.

I was a little stunned by the matter-of-fact way he communicated their approach. I was also a bit shocked that this man could make a living selling church buildings. I wondered how many churches they were closing. Why had they given up on the idea of opening new churches? And I wondered how long they could keep their organizational doors opened by selling off their properties. It’s a matter of math and time until they run out of inventory. And it appears as though the vision of the group has been extinguished.

I choose to allow this denomination to remain unnamed. Believe me, you would recognize the name.

Way more vital than a relocation consideration for our church is the painful truth that this experience reveals. Many once-strong churches are not surviving. Some denominations are abandoning ship and only trying to keep from losing a lot of money in the process. As a denominational leader, I am concerned about our direction. Is this building liquidation a sign of things to come for the church in America?

The true Church is not a building; it is people. But when once-vibrant groups are willing to abandon communities and years of ministry, we have reason for concern. When starting new churches is “not on the radar”, we’d better be worried.

I am not concerned about the future of the church; Jesus promised that She would survive. I am concerned about the future of the world. If the church gives up trying, how will the world be saved?

It’s Time to Simplify Church Planting

designMy church planting friends may think that I’ve regressed about 30 years. I have not. Possibly, I am looking ahead a few years into the future of effective church planting.

I am increasingly concerned with how complicated church planting has become. I’m afraid that, in our efforts to systematize the starting of new churches, we have eliminated a lot of would-be planters and new churches.

Think about it:

Sign up for two years of training, travel to conferences, meet regularly with your coach/mentor. Submit to multiple personality assessments. Raise $30,000 – $50,000 (cash). Build and train a launch team. Engage in the latest social media marketing campaign. Do a direct mail blitz. Rent a local school or theater. Have preview services. Start a church.

There are only a few people who can realistically comply with all of these requirements. Do we really believe that they are the only ones who should start new churches? I think not. I personally know guys who want to start a church but they are waiting for everything to line up. If we wait for everything to be just right, we’ll never start.

I am a proponent of building a solid infrastructure before launching a church. I have no beef with the very successful church planting organizations around the country. My concern is that some would-be planters are stuck because they think they can’t plant unless they are immersed in the process with one of these organizations. I think we have inadvertently overcomplicated the process of starting churches.

Eventually, the current church planting pot of gold will run out. All of the school auditoriums in town will be rented. Facebook ads will no longer be effective. I think it’s time to reconsider our approach. While stats prove that a strategic system increases the odds of success, I am not convinced that everyone fits into the mold.

I want to encourage any aspiring church planters who read this. Don’t allow the status quo to hold you back. “Best practices” are awesome but God is not limited to what is considered conventional thinking.

If you want to plant a church, try this:

Pray like crazy. Make sure God is calling you. Start meeting with people. In coffee shops, in your home, just come together for prayer or Bible study. You don’t need permission to get together with friends. If the group grows and the need becomes evident, you can start a church. Successful church planting is simply evangelism and discipleship that results in the need for a new church. Rather than starting a church so you can reach people, reach people so you can start a church.

Don’t worry if you don’t have a 6 digit budget. You don’t need a fog machine. No one has ever come to salvation in Christ because of the amazing countdown video your creative team produced.

Simplify.

I believe that in the future, the big production churches will suffer. People are looking for authenticity and relationships. That can’t be manufactured.

Just love people. If you can love enough people, you can start a church.

It’s time to simplify church planting.