The Good The Bad And The Ugly Of Church Planting

From the Dean

A regular article written by Phillip Jensen in his role as Dean of Sydney at St Andrew's Cathedral.

Originally Published:
6th July 2012

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It was only about fifteen years ago that Sydney Anglicans recommenced church planting. Since then we can see that church plants can be described in the title of the old spaghetti western as ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’.

People plant churches for a variety of reasons. Consequently, there are many different kinds of church plants. Some of the reasons are great but some are somewhat less than noble. Unfortunately, the sinful and deceitful heart of man is rarely so simple as to have only one motivation. Here is a list of twelve different reasons for church plants as a reality check on our motivations.

1          The Linguistic Church Plant

Since God has divided us by languages so that we are unable to speak to each other, and since church must be in the language of the congregation it is only right to provide different linguistic churches.

2          The Ethnic Church Plant
Language is only one aspect of division and misunderstanding. While the gospel unites humanity, it does not make the dominant culture in a society ‘the way’ to fellowship in church. To welcome strangers to church life in a multicultural society requires mainstream churches to become more culturally diverse and/or a cultural diversity of churches.

3          The Geographical Church Plant

As new suburbs spring up there is a need for new churches. Sometimes it is not a new suburb but the reclamation of an old suburb changing warehouses into apartments. Some other suburbs have never had a church, or the church that was there has closed down. Christians living in an area wanting to fellowship together is a most natural reason for a church plant.

4          A Special Interest Church Plant

Cities do not only operate on the basis of neighbourhoods. There are also special interest groups that often relate more strongly than neighbours. Some particular interest groups can best, or only, be reached through a specialised church. Shift workers or students who live half the year away from home, or boarders in a school are classic examples of the need for a specialised congregation. The average country or overseas student only attends the university for eight months of each year and does not easily fit into regular suburban congregational life.

5          The Theological Church Plant

In some places there is no church that teaches a particular theological view. Sometimes the churches that are there deny this theology. To start a new church because of this is to declare that the matter is sufficiently important to break fellowship because of it. I have written on this subject previously (http://phillipjensen.com/articles/the-limits-of-fellowship also published in booklet form http://www.10ofthose.com/products/11941/The-Limits-of-Fellowship/).

6          The Denominational Church Plant

Some denominations may aim to have a presence in every neighbourhood; others wish to maintain their ‘market share’ of the church going population. Consequently, they will plant churches wherever their brand of Christianity is not represented locally. Sometimes churches are planted to be ‘anti-denominational’ – free from the influence, direction, or control of denominations. Ironically, within a generation the ‘successful’ ones usually start their own denomination.

7          The Sub-Cultural Church Plant

When is a culture a culture? Some cultures are simply based on common taste in music, sport, films or life-style. Just as people often choose their church on the basis of feeling they fit in, so others plant churches to reflect their own particular sub-culture. One particular sub-cultural group given to church planting are the followers of the ‘we love everything new-innovative-cutting edge-never been tried before’ fashion.

8          The Love-In Church Plant

As we are called upon to love one another, church is a place where deep friendships are formed. Some people choose to create a church of, and for, their friends. So they invite their friends to join them in a new church-plant, where they will be able to gather with still more friends.

9          The Guru Church Plant

Church planters, especially effective and ‘successful’ ones, generally enjoy a considerably self-confident extroverted personality that will draw people to follow them. Such a ‘charismatic’ personality can either set up his own independent congregation or be encouraged to do so by others.

10        The Full Building Church Plant

Church buildings are expensive and sometimes under-utilised. When the building is getting close to full it may be better to invest in the ministry of a new congregation than into the bricks and mortar of a new church building.

11        The Church-Split Church Plant

While Christians are called to love one another, sadly we can fail in our calling. It is possible to stay and try work on reconciliation but often people go their separate ways. Planting two churches out of this conflict can sometimes rescue something out of a disastrous failure of fellowship.

12        The Evangelistic Church Plant

Evangelism is the rationale most frequently given for church planting. But, a truly evangelistic church plant is the result of evangelism not for the purpose of evangelism. Church is for Christian fellowship not evangelism and church planting is not an alternative to evangelism. Church comes as a result of people being converted through evangelism. It is much easier to theorize about whom we may reach by starting a new church than it is to actually reach people with the gospel and consequently plant a new church for them. You can read a fuller discussion of this in a previous article (http://phillipjensen.com/articles/evangelism-and-church/).

Understanding church plants is even more complicated than understanding the church planters’ motives, because the reason a church was planted may not be the reason it continues to meet. Churches often develop and grow into something quite different to their initial purpose.

In the list above we can see some good, bad and ugly reasons for church planting.  While church planters should examine their hearts to see why they are planting, it is wise for the rest of us to react as Paul did to those who evangelised with unworthy motives: “Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice” (Philippians 1:18).