The pride of planting churches

A message to my tribe…

Church growth used to be all the rage in Christian circles a few years back. All the focus was on how to make your church bigger and bigger. If you really wanted to be successful,  you aspired to have a mega church one day!

Now it’s church planting. Church planters are the rock stars of the ministry world. Sure, anyone can maintain a church, some can even get a church to grow, but if you really want to get recognised, then you plant a new one.

Ministers used to get together and compare the size of their churches. We’d come away feeling smug or depressed, depending how we ranked against others. Now the accolades come from planting churches. How many churches has your church planted? Oh, you haven’t? When do you plan to? What, seriously, you’ve really planted 10 churches? Wow!

We used to get stroppy because the church down the street grew massive while we struggled. They’re all going there because of the music, the teaching, the youth program, the coffee machine. Now we get annoyed at anyone who wants to plant a new church in our backyard. Why do we need a new church here? Why don’t they go somewhere they’re really needed?

The truth is, I love church. And not half as much as God does. But all this stuff about church planting, or church growth, can be a massive worry. It can show up how pride-filled and pathetic we are. So much of it has to do with me… my ministry, my reputation, my church, my denomination, my ambitions.

What about what God is doing? Where does God fit in? What does God value? What does God expect from us? I wonder what God thinks of our petty politics, our jealousy, our pride? Truth is, I do know, and I’m embarrassed to say that it doesn’t always paint me or others in a good light.

Easter is a good time to focus again on what matters most. As the Apostle Paul wrote:

Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers… (1 Corinthians 15:1-6, my emphasis.)

It’s not about what we do. It’s about what God has done in Jesus Christ. A death on a cross. Resurrection appearances and an empty tomb. Forgiveness of sins. Salvation by grace alone. Hope for eternity.

It’s possible to plant churches, it’s possible to grow churches, without anything eternally significant happening. Sometimes, it’s simply people moving locations, joining new clubs, shuffling the deck, making our lives more convenient, starting your own adventure.

Worrying about a new church being planted nearby can be a strong indicator that we’ve lost the plot. We’re more concerned with our show than we are with people getting to know Jesus. Surely, we must rejoice at every person who hears the good news and responds! What matters is their rescue, not who’s in our ship.

Don’t we long for people to hear and respond to the message of the first Easter? Discovering real life through Jesus? And when that happens we have God to thank. How fantastic when that happens in our own backyard! How awesome when it happens in neighbouring suburbs or far off places! And how exciting when these people are gathered into churches – whether they’re new church plants, growing mega churches, or something else altogether!

Remember, it’s not my church, your church, our church, or their church. It’s God’s church. It’s the church of Jesus Christ.

To God be the glory, great things He has done;
So loved He the world that He gave us His Son,
Who yielded His life an atonement for sin,
And opened the life gate that all may go in.
(F.J. Crosby 1875)

8 thoughts on “The pride of planting churches”

  1. Amen! – “it’s not my church, your church, or their church. It’s God’s church.” I long that more people would understand what my pastor said over and over in the church where I grew up. “If you don’t have a passion to see the lost saved, and see people grow and mature in Christ, then you don’t have God’s heart. You aren’t on about what Jesus is on about.” He used to slam bad attitudes of selfish “cultural” churching, and those who just wanted to maintain their comfort zones, and sometimes he would even weep publicly over it (some people almost left the church over the fact that he wanted to put in more comfortable pews to make the church more welcoming and pleasant for newcomers. It’s barely believable.). Like Daniel in Babylon, he wept that God’s name might be honoured. At least four churches have been planted out of his church – not for his glory. Most people sitting in the planted churches wouldn’t even know his name. But they know Jesus. Thanks for your post – A good reminder that when we plant churches, we must do so with a longing to see Christ honoured and glorified, and not to please any human being. As one of our church members constantly says “For HIS Glory”.

  2. Dear Macariser – Yes.
    John Kidson who trained a bunch of us as Youth Workers in days of yore, tried hard and creatively to help us see, to face how once you enter “ministry”, your ordinary drivenness, brokeness and needs to succeed etc can be hidden from yourself and others under zeal and kingdom etc. You think you’re doing it for Jesus, but you’d work just as hard, fight as hard if you were heading a division in a bank or law firm
    When rector at barneys i was struck then by the way we ministers would talk about
    1 – numbers of people coming (often fibbing and happy to add almost all these people not from the darkness – who gives a stuff if our numbers grow if they are mainly mostly from other churches)
    2- How big our budgets were becoming
    3 – how many people on staff
    These braggable KPI’s we would humbly brag about, even though staff added often has serious down sides to serious development of non-staff.
    Sin goes unseen, unchecked and re-dressed as kingdom stuff.
    None of this was dealt with with any seriousness when i was retrained for “ordination”.
    At barneys we made at least two pretty serious decisions which we knew would lessen our numbers (apart from a give-away “SImon Manchester type church plant” which obviously did that).
    One reason I hesitated was that i knew my “peers” and overlords would assume this was an accident and proof of incompetence. Another time we joined two congregations together for a number of good strategic reasons – again i heard that my peers were sure were doing it becuase we were shrinking which we were not.
    Ego needs, the praise of men, respect, applause etc – these are some of the challenges to truly deeply godly leadership. Gosh i wish our leadership would challenge that – but to be fair they may well – in quiet tones.
    thanks comrade

  3. Well, yes it’s all true. But try not to be too down on us church planters. Most church planters get heartache and failure, not glamour. It’s just possible that a few are doing it for Jesus, not so much for personal glory… 🙂

    1. Jonathan, I’m with you not against you. As a fellow church planter I understand how hard it can be. As a fellow sinner also I understand the temptations to eclipse God with self at times. My desire is to encourage us all to honour God as his fellow-workers. Keep at it brother.

  4. Well said, thanks for your thoughts.
    I’m sure it can get confusing as to our motives when it comes to church growth. I like your point about the larger church being God’s church, and how important it is to cheer on what God’s doing in churches large and small. It’s so important to focus on what God has uniquely called us to rather than looking over our shoulders all the time.

  5. Top stuff mate. Love it. It’s about the Gospel, but how quickly we turn the Gospel into something about us. Just like Paul said to the Galatians, “Oh foolish ones, who has bewitched you? Having started by the Spirit, are you perfected by something else?” Great reminder. Keep putting it out there. Blessings.

  6. A minister I know was quite hurt when some friends of his planted a church within coo-ee of his own struggling one. They were not attempting evangelism to some unusual group, but to the same middle-class community he was trying to reach. One church struggled for lack of human resources while the other struggled with accommodation issues for the next few years. I can imagine other matters were in play, but still…
    Our church has been blessed for the last few years by some generous Christians who were invited to leave their prospering local church to work (much harder) in our own struggling one. It has been a good experience all round. I remember our treasurer being most amused to be asked early on, “What’s your maintenance budget?” His answer was, “Prayer!”

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