Church Landscapers Wanted (Sep-Oct 2002)

By Matt Dabbs

By Eric M. Robinson
September-October 2002

The growing demand for planters in America’s spiritual garden

by Eric M. Robinson
September – October, 2002

“So are you a landscaper for churches or what?”

The phone solicitor had her interest piqued by my own turning of the conversation onto my vision for church planting. Even though I wasn’t interested in helping her grow her home business, I knew she was calling locally and thought I would try to steer the conversation my way. I told her I wouldn’t have time to be part of her venture since my time was taken up with my own profession of church planting. That elicited the above query.

The lack of knowledge about church planting, even within the church, is disconcerting. A culture of church planting has not been bred within the existing church. Somewhere down the line the kingdom-building ideal was replaced by “empire-building.”

Simply put, the admonition to “go and make new disciples” was not taken as seriously or applied as rigorously, especially in the sense of “going,” as it should have been. Instead, “stopping” became the norm. Where a church was planted became a stronghold of Christian practice and individual growth. But the concept of viewing the church as simply another link in a never-ending chain to reach the lost was displaced.

Thankfully, however, church planting is regaining some of its original priority. The planting efforts of men such as Rick Warren and Bill Hybels whose visions had primarily to do with reaching lost people for Christ have helped to refocus many church leaders on the necessity of planting new churches.

The world population continues to grow at a steadily multiplying rate and the American church can certainly not consider itself outside of the effects of such staggering growth. In order to reach new people new churches are essential. And this has only to do with simple population growth.

The cultural climate continues to change constantly, as well. This means churches with an ability to communicate to people in new ways that speak to their current mindset will continue to be in high demand.

Many men and women who feel called into ministry are now considering the planting of new churches a worthwhile and fulfilling goal. The church is bolstering this pursuit by renewing its embrace of those who are called and gifted to plant new churches, rather than attempt to fit in the very necessary but narrow role of ministry in established churches.

Of course, biblical precedent for the role of the planter is ample. Even Christ’s own words in the Great Commission make plain a continuous “going” ideal, as many have pointed out. Paul’s words show his own calling to establish new churches when he says, “It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation.”[i]

Church planters are often a different breed according to many who have been involved in works with both successful pastors and successful church planters. Mark Traylor, successful planting pastor of Eastwind Community Church in Boise, ID, sees himself as much more of a church planter.

“I wanted the freedom to pursue and set up a work according to my own vision,” says Traylor. “I never wanted to wear a tie.” The un-“tied” vision for reaching the lost has been effective, too, as Eastwind currently enjoys an estimated fifty percent of its attenders having come from a formerly unchurched background.

Paul’s own recognition of a difference of gifts in regard to “planting” and “watering” has led some to distinguish the two in regard to identifying potential new church planters from those who are more gifted to work in established churches.

One of the best tools thus far developed in this regard is a Church Planter Behavioral Profile designed by Dr. Charles Ridley, a professor at Fuller Theological Seminary in 1991. The profile has now been applied to identifying thousands of potential planters by using past behaviors as factors for determining the giftedness of an individual to plant new churches.

Thirteen areas are particularly focused upon in the profile including such abilities as visionizing capacity, reaching the lost and unchurched, responding to the community, building group cohesiveness, resilience, and exercising faith. This profile is now often combined with such tools as a management profile, a spiritual gift inventory, a conflict management piece, an emotional profile, and a marriage profile. Together, these form what has become referred to as a Church Planter Assessment.

Many churches and denominations have now made a church planter assessment an indispensable part of their own efforts to identify potential planters. George Johnson, Director of the Northwest Christian Evangelizing Association for the Christian Church, can hardly overstate the importance of an assessment.

“I’ve seen many churches close or barely make it because of no church planter assessment in the beginning,” says Johnson. Consequently, the NCEA now places an extremely high value on the planter assessment from the onset of potential planting efforts.

The North American Missions Board (NAMB), domestic church planting arm of the Southern Baptist Church, also considers the objective confirmation that is gained through an assessment essential for identifying potential planters. “The usual logic is that the felt call is the obvious will of God. Tragically, many of these founding pastors have failed. . . Today, church leaders have a tool to enhance the decision-making process. Consequently, the personal call is considered necessary, but it is not the only consideration used for choosing church planters.”[ii]

“The assessment showed me where my greatest strengths and weaknesses were,” said Phil Myers, Nazarene church planter of Duneland Community Church in Chesterton, Indiana. Myers’ desire to reach the lost was his instigation for church planting and he wanted to have the clearest idea of his assets and limitations before beginning.

Thanks to the vision of many denominations for planting new churches, there are now abundant opportunities for new church planters like Myers with hearts to win lost people and a need to discover their own strengths and weaknesses. Consider the following visions for denominational church planting:

    • By 2020, NAMB seeks to plant 63,000 reproducing churches and see ten percent of Southern Baptist churches partnering to plant new churches.[iii]

 

  • Vineyard currently has 570 churches in the U.S. with 122 new plants underway. (A ratio of one new plant for every 4.6 established churches.)[iv]

 

 

  • The Foursquare Church in the U.S. expects to increase its number of churches from its current approximately 2500 churches to 4000 by the end of the decade. A huge district restructuring plan is currently in the final stages to accommodate this plan.[v]

 

 

  • The Christian and Missionary Alliance has planted 254 churches in the U.S. over the past five years and are expecting to plant another 250 in the next three years. By 2010, the denomination’s goal is to be planting 130-140 churches annually.[vi]

 

 

  • The Missionary Church, a denomination headquartered in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, has sent out over 235 new church planters since 1990 and their goal by 2005 is establish 200+ new church plants with 1 in 3 existing churches parenting or participating in parenting a new church. By 2010, the goal is to increase this ratio to 1 in 2.[vii]

 

Bob Ransom, Director of Domestic Church Planting for the Missionary Church USA, a steadily growing denomination, says that one of the biggest hurdles for a denomination to overcome to start an effective planting movement has to do with leadership. He emphasizes that a strong system for planting must exist with key leaders to lead it.

This need for strong leadership is echoed cross-denominationally. Tom Blaylock, a successful church planter for the United Brethren in Christ and now Director of Church Multiplication in Michigan agrees wholeheartedly. “Our group needs a person to own this [church planting] vision and cast it often and with a lot of energy. Right now I am in this role, but if I were to transition out and another person did not step forward I believe any hopes we had to get a movement started would all but disappear.”

Hopes and energy spent on church planting frontiers are on the rise within the Churches of Christ, also.

“For too long, the Church of Christ has been concerned only with church maintenance,” said Jim Beck, Missions Director at Lubbock Christian University. “But I am currently helping to train a team to plant a church in Portland, Oregon, this fall and next year we will be preparing for a plant in New York City.”

Kent Smith, Missions Coordinator for North America at Abilene Christian University, views the future optimistically. He cites America’s large unchurched population and the current quest for spiritual reality among the lost as evidence of the growing need for new churches. “If we begin to direct significant resources to missionary work in our own communities, the evidence is strong that Americans will come to the Lord.”

But the need for new churches is no small financial order. The necessary funding of new works rises with each passing year. From a low of $115K over two years to $300K or more over three years, the need for start-up capital can be daunting.

However, those casting the vision for growing the Kingdom through their respective denominational efforts are determined to respond in faith. They consistently place their faith in the only One who holds all resources. The consensus is that since we know God wants more churches to reach lost people, we must rely on Him to provide the necessary means for planting.

Even as daunting as such figures may seem, though, they are not considered the major factor for launching and insuring the continued growth of new churches. Finding the right church planter and training him or her rightly for the eternally significant task at hand is considered paramount.

Encouragingly, this is where the universal church is really working together to provide light in a dark world. One of the most obvious examples of this kind of cooperative efforts to enlarge the Kingdom and make inroads for Christ into a lost culture is seen in the Church Multiplication Training Center (CMTC).

Those who seem to be very serious about their planting efforts are well aware of CMTC and the multiple resources provided by the organization. Designed primarily for the training of planters and planting teams, but also offering resources for church restart and renewal, the Center has made a mark on the church planting landscape.

According to Bill Armstrong, Director of Operations and with CMTC since 1997, the Center has trained planters for approximately 3000 planting projects in a “boot camp” lasting three full days. Denominations being represented by the various planters and teams currently number 107.

Regarding the increased attention to planting over the last decade Armstrong states, “Church planting in the last decade has focused on relevance to seekers, presenting the Gospel in ways that people who are not currently attending church can relate to.”

Those who are choosing to plant new churches rather than work in established church settings tend to agree that the focus on seekers is a necessary aspect of a biblically functioning community.

Even with the strengths of organizations such as CMTC, however, some successful planters who have visions for igniting church planting movements believe that to instill the right values of multiplication and proper training will require more than three days of intense training.

Rodger Peck, a successful church planter who has trained planters from 93 denominations and has coached 27 planters on site over the past 3 years, believes that instilling the proper vision and values into the church planter and into the planting vision requires more time in a healthy plant setting.

Peck has recently become the Director of Team Discovery, a one-year internship for church planters in a healthy, young church plant in suburban St. Louis. The program focuses especially upon the planter’s ability to multiply him/herself in leadership, the ability to build strong relationships, and the ability to evangelize lost people.

“Planting must become a part of the future planter’s lifestyle,” says Peck referring to a need for longer training. Peck says that denominational churches do not have a “multiplication DNA” and consequently have neither the support nor the knowledge to properly train and coach good planters.

Jamie Miller, planter of Christ Fellowship in a suburb of Ft. Worth, Texas, agrees wholeheartedly with the need for extended training. Christ Fellowship has now fully sponsored 7 church plants, both at home and abroad, over the past decade.

In September, 2001, Miller began working with church planters, generally in their young twenties, whom he could train in what he refers to as a two-year church planting school.

The school requires one night a week of in-depth training and discussion lasting four to five hours and involvement in the life of the church. “I felt a need to invest in spiritual sons,” says Miller who believes this is the best way to multiply leaders for future healthy plants.

“Above all,” says Miller, “the most important aspect of planter training is cultivating a daily quiet time with Jesus. You must know who you are in Christ and what God has called you to. You must be a value carrier.”

And as a fully assessed planter, I‘ll choose that identification over church landscaper any day.


[i] Rom. 15:20 (NIV)

[ii] www.namb.net/cp/About_CPG/qualified_cp.asp

[iii] Richard H. Harris, Vice President, Church Planting Group, www.namb.net/cp/Default.asp

[iv] www.vineyardusa.org/publications/newsletters/cutting_edge/2001_fall/nat_planting_team

[v] www.foursquare.org/multiplication/defined.cfm

[vi] Mickey Noel, Assistant Vice President for Church Multiplication, Christian & Missionary Alliance; e-mail response to questions, Jan. 23, 2002.

[vii] Robert Ransom, Director of Church Planting, Missionary Church USA; e-mail response to questions, Jan. 28,2002. New Wineskins

Eric M. Robinson

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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