Tag: Church Planting

Stop Comparing Yourself to Church Planting Movements

Church planters often rightly admire and celebrate the great work of God in church planting movements (CPM) in the Non-Western world. However, all to often they pay attention to CPM statistics (number of conversions, rate of reproducing churches, percentage of people group reached) not CPM missiology. As good Westerners, we gravitate to the quantities in CPMs, decrying the slow resurgence of the gospel in the U.S., instead of learning from the qualitative factors that constitute CPMs.

In short, I’m not sure the comparison between the Majority World and the West is entirely helpful. Although we have MUCH to learn from the Majority Church, the U.S. is not Africa or Asia. Therefore, I propose that a result-based comparison between the Majority Church and the Western Church isn’t helpful for several reasons:

1. Church Planting Movements are not Overnight Phenomenons: Contrary to popular impression, Non-western church planting movements often take decades of silent plowing before they reach a movemental tipping point. Therefore, describing them as “rapid” can be a deceptive and naive comparison.

2. The Western Context is Much Different from the Non-Western Context: The West is diverse in its receptivity to the gospel, ranging from receptive Christianized pockets to resistant post-Christian areas. Gospel receptivity in Africa is much higher; however, not all receptivity results in true conversions. The numbers are inflated. Discipleship is critical.

3. Definitions of Church Vary Considerably: The definitions of what constitutes a “church” in Africa & Asia varies significantly, in number and expression, from what constitutes a traditional church plant in the U.S. A church in the Global South may be 15-20 people, a range that barely constitutes a missional community by U.S. standards.

4. Church Planting Movements are Movements of the Spirit: The regenerating work of the Spirit is a mystery, moving like a wind throughout history, sometimes breezing through nations and other times rushing through people groups. CPMs are not the product of great strategies but of the sovereign work of the Spirit to build Christ’s Church.

5. Three Missing Non-strategic Ingredients for Movements: Ultimately, church planting movements are born out of great persecution, outpouring of the Spirit, and prayer. All three ingredients are largely absent from church planting in the U.S.

Therefore, I suggest we stop banging the drum of non-Western CPM results and, instead, focus on faithful, prayerful, gospel labors that don’t overestimate comparisons or underestimate the power of the Holy Spirit.

Churching the Gospel in Your Culture

Tomorrow I will be speaking at the Brazos Valley Church Planters Network in Brenham, Texas. Justin Hyde of Christ Church Brenham was kind enough to invite me. I’ll be speaking on Churching the Gospel in Your Culture. Over the course of two talks, my aim will be to help missional leaders:

  1. To understand the Gospel in light of culture.
  2. To understand Culture in light of the Gospel.
  3. To Church the Gospel in the light and darkness of your culture.

Register Here

Conference 2010 Flyer

Open But Cautious Church Planting

If we’re honest, many of us treat the Holy Spirit more like a silent partner than the third person of the

Trinity. We are so cautious of the Spirit that we eliminate him from our leadership. Instead of relying on the Holy Spirit, church planters often rely on one of two directions to plant churches: apostolic moxie or academic models and methods. When we lean on either of these, we lean away from the Spirit-led center of church leadership.

Reliance on Apostolic Moxie

Moxie is that self-starting, self-motivating quality, often present among entrepreneurs, which enables them to push through the odds of failure with a determination for success. When moxie is linked up to apostolic gifting, you get a type-A church planter. Sin results when we possess moxie without humility—a determination to plant and lead the church without leaning on the wisdom of others. The planted church will likely be unhealthy. Why? The church is treated like a task to be executed, not a people to be shepherded. It was planted in dependence on yourself not dependence on the Spirit. It’s planting by making little of the Spirit and much of yourself. Church planting takes more humility than it does moxie. We need less moxie and more Spirit.

Discernment in Planting Location

Self-reliance in planters is often expressed in a of lack discernment. Instead of asking “What is the Spirit already doing in this city, town, and village?” moxie-driven planters barrel into town with a “vision from God” and in the process burn their family, polarize their community, and disregard their city. Planters that depend on the Spirit, however, learn to listen to others, to God, and to the city.

Reliance on Academic Models

There also are planters who, instead of relying on self-determination, rely on information. They diverge from the Spirit-led center by resting on academics or personal knowledge. Those who depend on models and methods are, perhaps, more submissive to God’s call, but slowly attach their significance and success as a planter to what they know and not to God’s calling. They think to themselves: “if I learn enough then I’ll be ready to plant.”

Discernment in Mission

You have a plan to reach your city. That plan does not include the Holy Spirit; it includes your research. You pull out your strategic plan and your church planting model and methods and say: “This is what God is doing in the city.” You over-think and out-plan the Holy Spirit. What we need is fewer books and more prayers.

The Spirit Leads through (and away from) Methods

Following the Spirit does not mean we abandon methods and planning. The Apostle Paul clearly had a strategy for planting churches in urban centers, spinning his disciples off to lead and plant in rural areas.

When I arrived in Austin I was armed with a prospectus and timeline. I was also ready to protect my wife, son and baby to be in the womb. As if all that wasn’t enough change, I soon  discovered a different church planting methodology. A friend told me I was more wired for Organic Church. I had previously blown off a lot of Neil Cole’s writings because of his weak church governance and polity. As I began to read Organic Church, however, I became convinced of the value of decentralized church and its fit for urban Austin. Indie church for an indie city.

As much as I like the word “organic”, I began to realize that it was not a process but a Person that was guiding me in all of this—the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit who creates and directs the church, not models (organic or traditional). The Spirit should be free to change your expression of ministry, the way you plant Christ’s church.

The Spirit Leads through Suffering

Expect the Spirit to lead you into unplanned change in order to accomplish the mission of God. For example, Stephen’s stoning led to the Eastward expansion of the Church (Acts 7; 11:19). Paul’s planting strategy was directed westward, towards Rome. If we had stuck with methods, only half the globe would have heard the gospel, but the Spirit made sure that the church expanded eastward through the martyrdom of Stephen. The blood of the martyrs made church planting a global movement. It was unplanned change, suffering. How many of us have martyrdom written into our church planting timeline? How will you respond when suffering comes? Will you ask the Spirit for direction when it comes, or will you blow through in moxie or ignore it by taking methodological detours around the God-ordained suffering?


Planting churches isn’t meant to happen by might or by power but the Spirit of the Lord (Zech 4:6). We need planters that are less pridefully cautious and more open to the leading of the Holy Spirit. When we open ourselves up the Spirit’s leading, remarkable things can happen on the mission of Christ!

See the audio and notes from the original Acts 29 talk: Spirit-led Ecclesiology

For more on the Spirit check out Winfield Bevins booklet.