My wife, Elena, and I have been in church planting for 25 years. We recently attended the 25-year celebration of the first church we started. It was satisfying to reunite with old friends and see the congregation doing well. The attendees included some of our original team members and some of the church planters we had sent out from that first church. Elena and I stayed at that place of worship for eight years, during which time we sent out two other church-planting teams.
A.B. Simpson with an early Alliance church plant
After handing off that church, we planted another one that also reproduced, and we started two church-planting centers that assess, coach, train, and support plants. We have been the ones going and the ones sending and have felt many of the joys, headaches, and heartaches of both scenarios.
The sending side was hardest for me. We did it, and I’m convinced it was right, but it was never easy. As we prepared to send out leaders from our churches, I asked myself some hard questions such as: Why should we help another church when our church has so many needs? Will sending out leaders right now harm our church? And one of the toughest: Why do we have to say good-bye to people we love and in whom we have invested?
Starting a new church raises a variety of questions and concerns. Perhaps you’ve pondered some yourself. Here are my responses to a few of the most common inquiries:
Why plant another church when there are already so many churches?
This is a fair question, and it really comes down to mission. Lots of churches may be in a community, but there are probably many more lost people. If all of our churches were full and had multiple services, they probably couldn’t begin to contain the number of people God asks us to reach. So, we absolutely need our current established churches, but we still need many new churches.
Church plants are an effective means of reaching new people. Church-planting teams are often mission-focused and intentional about engaging in a community, connecting with people, and reaching them with the good news.
Why plant another church when our church has so many needs?
This is a great question, and I get it. We started sending out leaders when our churches were young. We didn’t ever seem to have enough leaders, money, staff members, or other resources. The temptation was always to say, “Let’s get involved in church planting when we have enough (fill in the blank).” But what is “enough?”
It’s sort of like feeling ready to be a parent. You never feel totally ready or as though you have enough resources. Yet God has a way of helping and providing when we trust Him.
Won’t planting a church slow us down from growing our own church?
The 2015 National Church Planting Study by Lifeway Research surveyed 843 U.S. church plants (The Alliance was one of the study’s supporting denominations). They found that churches that train and send out leaders actually do better in reaching their own communities and grow faster than churches that don’t. Why? This may be true partly because churches that help new church plants have an outreach mindset that translates to their own church and community. Also, God honors faith-filled risk.
Why send out church planters when our church needs more leaders?
Established churches need leaders, but they need the right kinds of leaders. Ephesians 4 tells us that God calls apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers for building the Body of Christ. Our churches need teachers, shepherds, and more. But new works really need apostolic leaders who are gifted to go.
Participants at a church-planting seminar
When God raises a leader with apostolic gifts, the church is obligated to help him identify his gifting and calling and make a pathway for him to eventually go, even though it costs.
Many apostolic leaders may sit in our churches underutilized because they don’t know God has gifted them to launch new works. So, they put their gifts into practice by launching businesses, clubs, or other ventures. Nothing is wrong with any of that, but it might be less than God intended.
Can’t we all just stay together as one church?
This question comes straight from the heart. We sent our first full planting team about three years after our first church began. One of the planters on the team had come to faith in our ministry, was on our original launch team, was now on staff with our young church, and was a dear friend. But I knew he was called to go. So, I went to his home to help him load the U-Haul that would take him and his family to another town to plant a new church.
I should have been thrilled—our young church was now planting another church! It was part of our compelling vision and something we had all worked hard to achieve. So why was I standing at the back of the truck weeping? Because I was pleased to see him go, and I hated to see him go. I think it always works that way. But I believe that the mission is worth the heartache, and we will someday have lots of time for reunions.