by Dale Jenkins
There are others who could do a much better job of writing this article. The time existed when churches of Christ were a “church planting machine.” The general feel was that when a church reached a certain size they should “swarm” or even move to an area where there was not a congregation to help “plant” a church. But let’s be brutally honest about it. When we hear of a new congregation today, our first thought is either that there has been a split (i.e. division is sinful), or some group has an agenda to push. I know, because this is the most often asked question when I tell people I decided to be a part of a church plant about six years ago. That’s a rather sad commentary in a country where the population has continued to grow as church membership and attendance both in churches of Christ and religious bodies in general have declined.
The second question I often get when people hear of our growth is, “What are you guys doing?” This one is often posed with a slight voice of suspicion, as if we must be doing something far out there to have experienced growth. This, quiet frankly, is a sad commentary on our belief in the Gospel, God’s power, God’s People and God’s plan. To believe we have to be doing something “far out there” to grow the church surely shows a lack of faith and reveals something deeply dark in our hearts.
As a disclaimer, I accepted the opportunity to work with God’s People here at Spring Meadows roughly a half year after she began meeting. All of the glory goes to God. The “assist” goes to those godly visionaries who dreamt of what God could do in this place. I watched, listened, tossed in my two cents and diagnosed. Here’s some of what I learned about helping grow a church from the ground up:
Know who you are.
If you do not establish a few things about identity—who you are trying to be, what your style is going to be, who you are targeting, what the intangibles are—there will be plenty of people who will try to make you something you do not intent to be and sabotage the work.
Ask the “first” question.
It takes effort but in planting a church. If you are going to purport to be a church designed after the New Testament church, then you have to consider what you do carefully. We all have our traditions. There is nothing wrong with that, unless those traditions either violate the Word of God OR we bind them as Law. So the “first” question must ALWAYS be: Has God said anything about this? If He has, that settles it. He has the ONLY trump card. Brethren, our traditions, if we bind them, are as bad as any denomination’s are (Matt. 12). Be careful that your preferences don’t become “Law” in your mind.
Talk to others.
I recommend strongly that if you are going to plant a congregation anywhere close to where others already exist, that you go to the leaders of those congregations and explain why you are planting a new one AND what your plans are and are not. Regardless of what you say there will be rumors and suspicions. Live above those. Do right. God rewards “right.”
Any church built on an issue or an agenda will eventually collapse under the weight of that issue. If you do what you are doing just to prove it, you will prove it, but then you will have no direction and you will have not impact.
Know where you are.
While we want to reach everyone, our little town of 30,000 is FULL of young families. So it would be foolish not to gear our outreach to them. If we lived in China, we’d probably try to conduct our services in Chinese. If we were located right next door to a university, we’d try to reach everyone but would be unwise not to gear our outreach to our neighbors. Study where you are. Paul did (Acts 17).
Focus on outreach.
Shouldn’t every congregation? I like to think of what I call “window events” (events where people “look” inside and see what you are like) and “door events” (events where people walk in and connect). My experience is that in our congregations, we tend to be pretty good at the “doors” but not as effective at “windows.” You can read more about those here.
Do not forget who the church belongs to.
Jesus bought it and built it (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 1:18-19). You will be tempted to compromise your convictions by someone with money, influence, etc. You will have people threaten to “take their ball and go home” (leave) if you don’t do things their way (in elementary school we called those people babies). I heard dad say a thousand times, “We don’t want anyone to leave, but the church is bigger than any one person.”
Test all things.
Planting a church is not easy work. Examine everything (1 Thess. 5:21). Test, prove, change and test again. Outside of the bounds of right and wrong, there should be no sacred cows. Anything that is considered a program or a method should be looked at closely, and you should be ready to adjust.
Remember: God rewards faith.
What have you done lately that you could not have done without God? What have you done that has required faith? Seems I read somewhere that without IT, it is impossible to please God (Heb. 11). One of my favorite quotes is: “Attempt great things for God, expect great help from God!”
Love People, Serve God!
We wish you the best if you determine to help plant a new congregation of the Lord’s People. You’ll make many mistakes; I know we have. But God is merciful and will bless your faithful effort. You’re in for a lot of hard work, a lot of frustrations but the thrill of a lifetime!
Dale Jenkins preaches for the Spring Meadows Church of Christ in Spring Hill, Tennessee. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.