Tim O’Neill, Exec. Chair
We Need More Church Planters
A Shift In Focus Is Required
Recent trends in relation to the future of the church in Australia are far from positive with National Christian Life Survey (NCLS) reporting that an increasing number of churches in Australia are in decline. The research commissioned by Exponential Australia also informs that the number of churches planting new churches has halved in recent times.
That’s not enough to turn the prospects of the church in Australia around. In fact, it’s far from it. So what’s the solution?
We Need To See More Churches Planted
The obvious answer is that we need to plant new churches. Tim Keller in an essay entitled “Why Plant Churches” (January 11, 2002) wrote that:
The vigorous, continual planting of new congregations is the single most crucial strategy for (1) the numerical growth of the body of Christ in a city and (2) the continual corporate renewal and revival of the existing churches in a city. Nothing else—not crusades, outreach programs, parachurch ministries, growing megachurches, congregational consulting, nor church renewal processes—will have the consistent impact of dynamic, extensive church planting. This is an eyebrow- raising statement, but to those who have done any study at all, it is not even controversial.
New churches are needed to reach people who aren’t part of existing churches; people who have different ethnic backgrounds, social statuses and live in different parts of our nation. In fact new churches are much more likely to reach the people that existing churches can’t reach. Keller went on to state:
Dozens of denominational studies have confirmed that the average new church gains most of its new members (60–80 percent) from the ranks of people who are not attending any worshiping body, while churches over ten to fifteen years of age gain 80–90 percent of new members by transfer from other congregations. This means the average new congregation will bring six to eight times more new people into the life of the body of Christ than an older congregation of the same size.
Many great steps have taken place to stimulate church planting in Australia; church planting ministries are available to help, funding sources are available to financially support and many denominations and networks have set objectives in relation to church planting and allocated resources and designed processes accordingly.
We Need More Church Planters!
But I think there is one critical shift that must take place. We must shift our focus to prioritise the raising of church planters. To put it simply, church planters plant churches. And if we don’t have enough church planters, we won’t have enough churches being planted.
I first realised this twenty or so years ago through involvement in a vibrant church planting movement in another country. We realised that the more church planters that could be trained and sent out, the more churches would be planted.
Raising church planters is the key driver to planting more churches. If instead the focus is on planting churches, we miss this critical step.
Jesus made it clear in Luke 10:2 that the issue wasn’t in the harvest; it was in seeing workers deployed into the harvest.
Exponential Australia has a vision goal of seeing 1,000 churches a year being planted in Australia by 2032. To see that goal established we believe that 10,000 church planters will need to be raised, resourced and released by that time.
Following are some critical shifts I believe we must make if we are to see this vision goal achieved.
1. We must – Celebrate and Applaud Church Planters
Church planters are modern day missionaries in our own nation. However unlike missionaries they frequently don’t have a wage provided or other forms of support that missionaries have. Church Planters need to be celebrated and applauded. The future of the church in our nation rests largely with them. Too often they feel alone, unseen and disconnected.
By hi-lighting and celebrating their stories we will be valuing the important work that they are doing as well as making this work more broadly known so that others might catch the vision of also becoming church planters.
2. We must – Cast the vision for different church planting models
Most people will have a concept of what church is like gleaned from the church they attend. In some cases that may be off-putting for them. Perhaps they couldn’t imagine leading a church like that or even wanting to do so. Likewise they mightn’t want to leave their careers to be full time in the ministry. But perhaps their perceptions aren’t correct and there may be different models of what church might look like. And perhaps they mightn’t need to leave their career but could be bi-vocational or co-vocational as church planters and leaders.
There is a great opportunity to cast a vision for being a church planter with stories from different planters in different scenarios that can be seen by many men and women across our nation.
3. We must – See the number of church multiplication ministries increased
Church multiplication ministries play a critical role in creating the capacity to assess, train and coach church planters, and I’m thankful that they exist in Australia. There are parts of the Australian church though that are largely untouched by these ministries. I recall a conversation with a successful female church planter recently. She described how when she felt a call to plant she couldn’t find a ministry that would help her because she was a woman and belonged to a Pentecostal denomination. I’m sure that there would have been solutions available to this lady who has gone on to plant a number of churches, but the right solutions weren’t easy enough for her to find.
We need to see more multiplication ministries with different flavours in our nation. We also need to see their profile lifted so that they are easier to find and so that church planters can benefit from journeying with them.
4. We must – Encourage the development of leadership pipelines to raise church planters
Every denomination and church developing a church planting ministry needs to have a leadership pipeline in place to raise church planters. This could be an internal pipeline or one offered by a multiplication or other ministry. Without a pipeline in place, the desire to plant more churches will be wishful thinking without strategy. Sadly there are few leadership pipelines in our nation at present that are aimed at raising church planters.
In the church planting movement in another country mentioned above, we realised that the key to planting more churches was in establishing more training centres to train more church planters. The more people that enter an effective training program and graduate from it, the more churches will be planted.
5. We must – Work to ensure finances are directed to the raising of church planters
We are thankful that the prospect of financial assistance for planting is a reality in our country. However as has been said, churches get planted by church planters, so if we really want to see planting accelerated we need to see more planters raised.
Financial assistance to enable prospective church planters to be assessed, trained, and coached will be valued as will internships and mechanisms to raise planters and allow churches to plant pregnant.
6. We must – See the success goal posts changed from growth to multiplication
When the major goal of a church is growth of the congregation, that’s where prayer and resources; both people and financial get directed. Young and emerging leaders will be directed into ministries both existing and new that serve the growth of the church.
But what if the church’s main goal wasn’t increasing it’s seating capacity, but rather it’s sending capacity? What if success was defined by the number of church planters sent and the number of congregations planted? It would be revolutionary!
Until churches value multiplication as much as or more than growth, the ministries of the church rather than the prospect of church planting will be where young and emerging leaders will be drawn to.
7. We must – Stimulate prayer for workers for the harvest.
Jesus called us to ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into the harvest field (Luke 10:2). He made it clear that the problem wasn’t in the harvest itself, but in seeing workers raised and sent into the harvest field. That’s what church planters are; workers who venture into the harvest field to bring in the harvest.
So what are we to do? Pray, asking the Lord of the harvest to send more out. And playing our part whether it be as church planters or those who will play critical roles in raising them, assessing them, training them, releasing them, coaching them, financially assisting them, and of course praying for them.
I pray that the Lord of the harvest will raise and release into the harvest field 10,000 church planters between now and 2032.
If we take Jesus at His word that He will build His church, we realise that there is great hope for the church in our nation, hope that the trends and statistics don’t show.
So what’s wrong? Perhaps it’s time followers of Jesus in our nation make some critical shifts so that the faith that we live and display reflects the commands of Jesus; commands like the command to go and make disciples, to be His ambassadors and witnesses, to love others as he would (including our enemies) and to step into the harvest as His workers.
Perhaps this is how Jesus will build His church against which even the gates of Hades will be powerless as we take hold of the keys to the kingdom of heaven that Jesus has given us.
Will you join me in praying for workers for the harvest and playing your part?
I’ll leave you with one inspirational example to ponder. Here’s a quote from Ralph Moore about the amazing fruit God brought when Ralph moved to Hawaii to plant a church.
“When we moved to Hawaii, our team was instructed (by the Spirit) to plant and help others plant enough churches in ten years that we would have converted one percent of the state. At that time, only four percent of the population called themselves believers. It took 11 years but touched off a movement showing 67 percent calling themselves Christ-followers just 23 years later.”
“12 Things They Should have Told Me Before I Planted a church p 18”
We need more church planters!