Church planting: time for new terminology?

Susan Rogers serves as church planter and pastor of The Well at Springfield in Jacksonville, Florida.  The Well at Springfield is self-described as “a community of faith seeking to practice the way of Jesus together by loving God, our neighbor, and our city.”  Susan recently accepted the role of facilitator of the Church Starting and Faith Sharing online community of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.  One of her first posts requested suggested resources for church planters.

As I started thinking about printed resources, I realized that the books I would recommend to church planters are based on a missional approach to being church—books by Alan Roxburgh, Lois Barrett, Michael Frost, Alan Hirsch, Reggie McNeal, and others.  The focus of such writing is a reconceptualization of what it means to be “church” in the 21st century.  These writers think in terms of the innate nature of Christian community, the context in which new faith communities are being formed, and the unique needs of the people who might be reached by these initiatives. Even Andy Stanley’s new book, Deep and Wide, takes a unique and non-traditional approach with the subtitle of “creating churches unchurched people love to attend.”

All of this leads me to ask, “Do we need not only new strategies but new terminology for church planting in the 21st century?”  Perhaps the term “church” has negative connotations and carries unwanted expectations for those leading in the formation of new faith communities.

From personal experience in church starting, I know the kind of questions that people ask when you say that you are part of a new church:  “Where is your building?” or “What programs do you offer?”  They already have in mind what it means to be a “church.”  The term “church” carries certain concepts of place, structure, and services that may not fit the model that is most effective in reaching people in the contemporary setting.  Perhaps it is time to break the mold and come up with new words to fit the reality.

Of course, if we could define “church” in a way that is closer to what it meant in the first two centuries of the Christian movement, new terms would not be necessary, but this would mean overcoming two millennia of institutional “baggage” that can sometimes be a burden rather than a blessing.







Ircel Harrison

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Ircel Harrison is Coaching Coordinator for Pinnacle Leadership Associates and is Associate Professor of Ministry Praxis at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. He blogs at His Twitter feed is @ircel.

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