Church planting has been a hot topic (quickly becoming an obsession) in the Souther Baptist Convention for the last few years. And after examining the issue, I plan on writing a series of 6 posts intended to outline what I believe are the pitfalls inherent in the modern church planting movement. But first, I believe a helpful foundation for any fruitful discussion on the subject will be to define a few key terms.
Even though they are loathe to admit it, 501c3 non-profit orginizations with property and staff are, at the end of the day, businesses. True, they are not like traditional businesses. These masquarade under the otherwise organic term “church”, they enjoy special spiritual prominence, and through that they are able to solicit and extract large sums of money through what amounts to sanctified begging (or extortion, take your pick) rather than the production of a good or the performance of a service.
As Alan Knox rightly and frequently points out, there is only one Church, the body of Christ, and even though that body finds a tangible expression in the form of local group of believers, the only valid reason for drawing a difference between groups of believers is by their location. For example, the letters in the New Testament were addressed to “the church in..” rather than “the First Baptist Church of..”
When one speaks out against church planting the common retort is that it is through the planting of new churches that the church of Christ has spread throughout the world. There are two distinct senses in which the phrase “church planting” is used. The first sense is more rightly understood as evangelism, the “making disciples” we are commanded to do in Matthew 28. The second sense, and the one I will be argueing against, is the establishment of new non-profit orginizations complete with staff, buildings (or other arrangements for a regular meeting place) and a clear affiliation with a larger denominational orginization.
In this sense, another name for “church planting” can easily be “denominational colonialism” since the criteria for establishing new churches in this second sense is not whether a body of local believers already exists but wether a body of local believer who are members of our denomination exists or not.
In the next 4 posts, I will be outlining the problems with church planting where the goal extends above and beyond the basic biblical mandate of evangelizing and making disciples.