I have to confess that I am pretty much clueless about the church planting methods generally used in the United States. It mystifies me to hear planting teams talk about spending a year to prepare for the first worship service, then wonder the “day of” whether anyone will show up. Good grief! That’s certainly not a thing like what I did in Brazil, and though the method may be effective (is the proof in the pudding?) it doesn’t appear to be the apostle Paul’s approach. Since I don’t know much about this style of church planting, I can only assume that it involves advertizing, inviting and organizing. Further, I have to assume that most of the first members are going to be transfers from existing churches, or people who had been active in some church in the past and are only coming back because this new thing might be good.
If I were planting a church now, especially if it were to be a missional church, I wouldn’t work to form a nucleus of members who are already believers. Sure, I’d want to have a team of like-minded people, but when you are trying to do something so radically different as a missional church, members from existing maintenance (or traditional) churches are only going to be a liability. They are going to think the idea of a missional church is cool in the beginning, but soon enough they’ll be asking why there aren’t more programs to serve them.
It was in high school that a teacher mentioned the truth that people are creatures of habit and used the fact that we as students sat in the same seats every day even though we didn’t have assigned seating. The truth of this observation hit me pretty strongly, and over the years I have observed its truth in numerous circumstances. Church planting would be no exception to this general rule. If you start a church with a group of people transferring from other churches, most will bring with them maintenance ideas rather than missional perspectives.
So, how to avoid this danger? In my previous posts in this series I’ve tried to share my observations on what keeps people from drifting in and out of certain churches. The core issue is distinctives. If you make very clear that a church is like this and not like that, and further that this church has no chance of becoming like that, people who don’t like it will stay away.
“Wait a minute,” someone objects, “what about Joe and Jane from New Creation Community Church? If they visit a missional church they won’t feel welcome?”
Ah, there’s a big difference between being kind to visitors and bending over backwards to keep them as members. If it is a missional church you are planting, of course you will be welcoming towards all visitors, but you don’t want the mission taken completely off track because Joe and Jane expect a Pastor to greet them and a multi-million dollar facility to take them in (or at least have a future building project in the works). Joe and Jane do not live in a country without options. They can stay at New Creation or continue on to one of the many other evangelical churches in their town.
You, as a missional leader and church planter, are trying to reach the truly unreached. You’re headed into the jails, the workplace, skid row, the immigrant neighborhood, etc. You are not looking for people who already believe in Jesus and attend a church…at least not primarily. You are looking for people that no one has ever invited to church, or who don’t believe that “someone like them” could go to church. You are looking to activate workers for the reign of God, disciples transformed by the grace of God and empowered to use their experience and skills (even new skills they may learn after becoming disciples) to show something of the truth and power of God’s coming new heavens and new earth.