Note: In a recent post I talked about the role of women in ministry regarding church planting. In this new post, I focus on my personal passion for starting new congregations that is foundational to urging a generation of women in ministry to consider starting new congregations.
It is very personal for me. I came out the womb into church planting. It is part of the birth and infancy stage of my life narrative.
I was born into the home of a father and mother who had gone out with a group from their congregation to start a new congregation. It was an intentional church plant to reach the northern suburbs of their city. Dad was the pastor. That meant various aspects of church planting were part of conversation around the dinner table, even though I did not understand the conversation at my young age.
My passion deepened. When I was six we moved to another city where my father was pastor of an established church, but led them to start two new congregations during our eight years there, and supported the starting of congregations throughout the northeast part of the United States.
My passion deepened again. When I was a teenager we moved to the northeast and my parents led the initiative of our Baptist denomination to start new congregations in southeast Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey. When they arrived there were seven congregations in this region. When they moved on to another ministry placement seven years later the number of congregations had grown to 29.
Therefore, by the time I was an adult I was convinced of the high priority of starting new congregations as I had experienced many of them first-hand, and seen the positive impact and the joy they brought not only to the core group that initiated them but to many preChristians, unchurched, and underchurched people who connected with them.
I remember how being part of a new congregation which met in a motel for two years provided a dimension of spiritual formation and missional engagement I had not experienced to that point of my life. Being part of starting a new congregation empowers Christians to rethink the core values of what it means to be Church in the spirit of the first century, New Testament Christians. It is exhilarating!
During my first 12 years of ministry I started three congregations and helped organize a few more. By the time I was 30 I had experienced multiple times what it was like to be the organizing pastor of a new congregation. I was really fulfilled in ministry by engaging in church planting. Yet I saw myself as a strategist for church planting more than a pastor of new congregations.
I spent my thirtysomething decade as a strategist for church planting. First, I led a national effort in metropolitan areas of a million or more in population to start new congregations and ministries, and to strengthen existing one. Then, I let a statewide strategy in a southern state to start 500 new congregations over a 15 year period. This was in a state where many people would say there were already enough congregations.
We took the approach that it was not how many congregations existed, but how many preChristian, unchurched, and underchurched people were in the state who might be responsive to a new Baptist congregation. We also had a broad diversity strategy that looked at the need for new congregations in non-Anglo and non-English speaking communities and networks. At least a third of the new congregations fit these characteristics.
The state also had a very fast growing region along the Atlantic Ocean where it was difficult to keep up with the fast rate of population growth with many new residents who were not from a churched culture; at least not an evangelical culture. While not all church plants were successful, and some existing congregations died, we did experience a net increase of more than 300 congregations over the 15 year period of this emphasis.
During the past 20 years I have focused my consulting and teaching work with denominations on the importance of planting new congregations. The reality is that it is the top priority congregationally-focused action that will contribute to the long-term vitality and vibrancy for denominations. Where denominations are not experiencing a rate of new congregations equal to at least two percent of their number of affiliated congregations each year, they are on a slow glide path to death. It actually takes three percent per year to be experiencing growth.
Over a lifetime I have learned many principles of church planting that I will share selectively in future posts. Stay tuned!