The books and blog posts which have been written for church planters today are legion. You can scarcely visit a Christian blog or website without stumbling upon someone’s thoughts about church planting–its dynamics, difficulties, benefits and/or pitfalls. When we moved to Savannah, GA in 2009 to plant New Covenant Presbyterian Church, I tried to gather as many resources as I could find. From the theoretical to the practical, there is certainly no shortage of material to work through. Not long long into the work, I realized that one area of church planting in which there is a serious lack of material is that which is written to men and women in established churches who might consider joining up with a church plant. Justin Buzzard’s “Top Ten Reasons to Join a Church Plant” and “Top Ten Reasons Not to Join a Church Plant” were some of the only thoughtful posts I came across–while well into the work–that even began to touch on this subject. Leading with the assumption that a church plant ought to have a healthy mix of churched, de-churched and unchurched in a core group (explained here), I would suggest that joining a solidly biblical church plant is one of the most significant and rewarding things you could do. There is a dire need for believers to step out of their comfort zone, so to speak, and into a local mission work. Here are five reasons believers should consider joining a church plant:
1) Every believer is called to be on mission for Christ. While you do not have to be in a church plant to be on mission (i.e. seeking to win the lost to Christ) with your neighbors, friends and co-workers, a church plant is a mission work happening in your own backyard. Almost every believer I know wishes that they were more fruitful in their witness to Christ. A healthy church plant serves as a platform for believers to be more involved in the work of the Kingdom in their town or neighborhood. This is not to say that established churches are not also called to be on mission. The reality is, however, that the more established a local church becomes the more it loses a sense of the imperative need to be on mission. Members in more established churches often become complacent about reaching their neighbors with the Gospel. In church plants, the need to reach the lost is constantly (or should be constantly) held up before the people of God.
2) Every believers is called to sacrifice for Christ. Sacrifice involves taking risks. If we merely made decisions in our Christian lives based on the risk of something then we would be extremely unfruitful Christians. Our Lord Jesus calls us to “deny ourselves, take up our cross” and follow Him. A church plant gives those who might lean towards being comfortable in an established church the opportunity to do that very thing. The sacrifice of time, energy and money is exciting. It yields the great benefit of seeing God take our meager offerings and use them to establish His church in a new way among new people. There is no one who sacrifices to be part of a solidly biblical church plant who will regret it in the hereafter. All the time, prayers, outreach efforts and sacrificial giving is not in vain. In this way, believers can more fully enter into what it means to deny ourselves and take up our cross (and what a small cross it is compared to what our Lord took up)!
3) Church planting can be a great spiritual benefit to a believer. Due to the nature of needs in a church plant, believers are taught to pour themselves out in time, prayer, giving and commitment. There is a sense in which the well-being and success of the plant is dependent on the commitment level of the people. This is certainly true in a larger and more established church, but it is true in a heightened sense in a church plant. If an established church has 500 members, and 100 of them muscle all the spiritual and physical labor (the 20/80 rule), that church will continue to exist. A church plant of 50 people would probably not make it if only 20% of the people did all the work. That would be 10 people carrying the load. This would wear the 20% out. They would, in turn, be tempted to be embittered at the 80%. This would be extremely unhealthy in a church plant. The reality is that church plants can be like spiritual boot camp for Christians.
In addition, the people of God are taught to trust the Lord more in a church plant. Prayers are regularly offered for financial needs, new families to be added to the group, outreach attempts and the financial needs of those in the body. Because church plants lack resources, the people of God more frequently find themselves crying out to God to provide. This is not to say that those in established churches do not do so also; but it is to acknowledge that where there are more resources there is often less crying out to God to do what only He can do. If George Muller had a bread factory at his disposal would he have cried out to God to provide–and have seen Him do so in such miraculous ways as he did? I have seen many believers who were previously uninvolved at large churches spiritually thrive and grow in a church plant setting. Believers have more opportunity to exercise faith in a church planting situation. In some ways it is the argument that James sets out when he says, “Count it all joy when you fall into trials…knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.” This is another great reason to join a plant.
4) A church plant helps you foster indiscriminate care for members in a more conscious way. It is far too easy in a large church to merely link up with those who you like and who are just like you. Surely this happens in church plants also (its part of our sinful nature to only greet those who greet us, or to only invite our friends to dinner–see Luke 14); but, time and time again I have witnessed people from different cultural and social-economic backgrounds caring deeply for each other in a church plant. Due to the fact that there are so fewer people in a church plant with whom you can surround yourself, a church plant fosters a sense of belonging to mixed multitude. You feel an obligation to those who are hurting or who are in need in a church plant. Part of this is also due to the fact that needs are more evident to the group. In a large church someone may have a need or burden, and it can be hidden from the congregation. This rarely occurs in a church plant. In this way, a church plant can sometimes foster obedience to the biblical call to “bear one another’s burdens” more so than in a more established church.
5) A church plant can be an exciting spiritual experience. Who doesn’t love watching a baby grow and develop into a toddler and then into a child. This is a fairly accurate analogy with regard to a church plant. There is much joy and excitement that comes from seeing God bring something out of nothing; and to share in the experience of having been there when it happened. This, in turn, serves to get others excited about home missions. The stories that have come from church planters and core groups as they watched God provide make for some of the more encouraging and motivating in the Christian community. There is also an excitement about seeing people in the community come to faith in Christ through the outreach of your church plant.
Having set out a few of the reasons why believers should give serious consideration to joining up with a church plant, here are five reasons why you may not want to do so (Keep in mind that anyone can make excuses. These points should not be used to quickly write off your consideration of joining a plant):
1) Not everyone is called to join a church plant. In the same way that we would have to say that not everyone is called to foreign missions, I would suggest that not everyone is called to home missions. Church planting comes with certain challenges that would be detrimental to the lives of those who are not called. When someone with young children joined out plant in the early days (and even to some degree today) they are sacrificing the friends that their children would have in a more established church. If God is not calling (internal calling) someone to join a church plant they will most likely find the sacrifices overwhelmingly burdensome–and even become a burden to others in the plant. Just as we believe that a man who is not called into Gospel ministry will hurt the church if he undertakes the work without God’s gifts and calling, so too with those who might not be called to be a part of a church plant. We have to examine our lives and heart-motives before jumping in. We should seek counsel from our current pastor and those who know us best.
2) There can be lack of stability in a church plant. People are often reticent to jump on board with something that is unstable–or that they perceive to be unstable. This is not necessarily a criticism. All of us consider where and when we put our time, energy and resources. Members of a local church are bound by Scripture (and often by vows) to give their time, energy and money to the establishment of that particular local church and the propagation of the Gospel from it. If a Christian family started looking for a church once they moved into a town, and they found a church that had the doctrinal commitments they were looking for but the church had just suffered a great split, surely it would be right for them to ask, “Is there where the Lord wants us to commit our lives and resources?” So, it is understandable that in some cases a church plants might come under the same scrutiny. There are some church plants I would advise a friend not to join because of the dynamics (i.e. the church planter might not have strong teaching and preaching gifts, the core group may be a group of previously disgruntled local church members, etc.). While most will wrongly use this as an excuse not to join a church plant, it certainly have merit in some cases. Every church is unstable in one very real sense. It only takes one couple (like Ananias and Saphira) or individual to bring a church down. A minister can destroy a church with one unwise sermon, action or spiritually unhealthily season in his life. But there is a sense in church church plants are in a position of greater risk.
3) It may not be the right season of life. Not every man who has all the biblical qualifications to serve as an elder is called to serve as an elder at every period of his life–so too with believers and church planting. In the case of men qualified to be elders, some may not have the time to commit to such an important calling due to a season of life (i.e. they have a special needs child or aging parent tfor whom they need to care) or their work commitments (i.e. they travel frequently or have some big project they are working on) that would keep them from entering in on the work, so too it may be for some Christian families with a church plant. Church plants take more time commitment that establish churches because there is so much volunteer work that needs to be done.
4) We need established churches. Just as the apostle Paul took gift offerings from one established church to a struggling church (and sometimes from a church plant to an established persecuted church) so church plants today are often dependent upon the support of established churches. Established churches are only established as they have committed members. In addition, Mark Driscoll is absolutely correct when he observes that large churches need church plants and church plants need the larger, more established churches. Larger, more established churches can be challenged to step out of their comfort zone and be more outward focused, and small church plants can benefit from the resources of a larger, more established churches. The missional (evangelistic) focus of a church plant–especially in a parachute church plant–is a great benefit to the members of the plant. Just as it would be wrong for everyone to leave their vocations to go into full-time Christian ministry, so too with believers and church plants. Who would fund Christian ministry if everyone left their vocations? Those who stay in more established churches ought to be giving their time, energy and money to the larger church–and encouraging their church to greatly support church planting and foreign missions with it.
5) You Lack Great Patience for Frequent Change. One of the marked features of a church plant is that there is plenty of change. A church plant is in a constant state of change: changing locations, musicians, resources, websites, etc. Just as people change more noticeably from infancy to adulthood, so too with church plants. More established churches are like adults. The change takes place more slowly and often in different ways. If you are someone who doesn’t like change (or can’t adapt to change more easily) then church planting might not be for you. You might grow frustrated, rather than becoming an integral part of the problem solving group that a church plant needs. It takes someone who understands this dynamic to support the changes necessary for the plant to grow.
While I am certain that objections or qualifications may be added to some of these observations–and while many more pros and cons could be added to this post–it is my sincere desire that the people of God would consider whether God might use them to be a part of the exciting work He is doing through church planting. If you live near a church plant connected with your local church, I hope that you would consider partnering with it for the sake of the Kingdom of God and the spread of the Gospel. The Kingdom of God is advancing and God wants His people to share in the experience of that advance.