Audio Transcript:

Welcome to Missions on Point, the Propempo perspective on church and missions. This is episode 205 of Missions on Point. We're in the second of a series on church planting. This particular episode, we're going to just talk about some universal challenges. There is a lot of conversation these days about church planting, church planting locally from your local church to a place nearby. Church planting cross-culturally even within close range of your church, like an ethnic community or an immigrant community nearby. And then there's the mission's sense of cross-cultural church planting when a missionary crosses boundaries of nations and ethnicities to reach someone from a different language and culture. There is another hybrid internationally that has grown in popularity in the last decade or so of planting international churches in large cities of the world using English as the language of the church. To most Christians, church planting can be kind of mysterious or at least a bit suspicious.

They don't know what to think about church planting. And this series I hope will clear it up a bit. This is not intended to be really academic or deep. It's just a conversation to help everyone understand a little bit more about common questions and issues and challenges that church planting presents because it is a natural sign of a healthy church to be involved in church planting. Today, I've picked what I call universal challenges. Every church plant, no matter where the church is planted, no matter what kind of boundaries they have to cross to plant the church deals with these kinds of issues. And there are seven D words and they all have to do with thinking through strategizing, deciding how to plant a church. It doesn't deal specifically with the location, but just the questions that need to be asked as you plant a church.

1. Distinguish

The first is distinguish between what is timeless and what is not.

The answer to that question may be largely informed by the target culture. Distinguish what is timeless and what is not. In western churches nowadays, it might be thought that it is timeless to have electronic amplification of voice and instruments for leading worship. It may be even a particular type or style of worship music. I would argue that it is not timeless to have a particular style or genre of music, especially not with electric amplification as being a foundational necessity. What is timeless in that particular issue is that there is corporate worship, and the New Testament does indicate that there are singing of hymns and songs and spiritual songs together. Do people sit in rows or do people sit in a big circle? The kinds of things that are timeless biblically are the preaching of God's word, the observing of the ordinances, the meeting together for prayer and worship, and hearing instruction from the Bible.

There is also biblical precedence for giving on a weekly basis and support of missions or missionaries. That giving also applies to the support of full-time vocational ministry pastors and elders. Historically from the first century, part of that giving wasn't necessarily only financial, but it had to do with caring for widows and orphans and those truly needy people within the church body. Thinking about these things is just one of the universal challenges distinguishing between what is timeless and what is not.

2. Decide

The second one is deciding what is the new culture of the new church. Now, I'm not talking about switching between say, French culture and American culture and African culture or Asian culture. What I'm talking about is how the church operates. What is the tone of the church? This is something you think through and decide before you get the church started. What do we do to create a welcoming atmosphere within our new church?

How do we respond to and relate to new people visiting the church? What are the commitments expected of members? This all plays into what the culture of the church will be. Are we going to fill up the weekly calendar with all kinds of church activities and responsibilities that church members feel obligated to attend? Or are we intentionally going to keep a lighter schedule and prompt and encourage church members to be involved with their neighbors and their community?

3. Determine

Number three is determining a leadership style. One of the beautiful things about church planting is you basically start with a clean slate. You have the opportunity to make small decisions about things that really matter in the long run. It's a fresh look at how we do church, and that includes determining a leadership style. Unless there is a mandate from a mother church sponsoring the planting of a daughter church about some of these things, then those who are leaders need to sit down and talk about what is going to characterize our leadership style?

Is it completely congregational? Do we have a plurality of leaders? Is the pastor the king of the kingdom? How do we go about making decisions and even gathering information and input from all of the people who have some responsibility or role in executing those decisions? So you have to think about what is going to be mandated or determined in advance? What is going to be participatory? What is the process for making decisions and disseminating those decisions for everyone to know? All of those are related to determining a leadership style.

4. Discern

Number four is discern presumption and pride. This is a universal challenge among church planters and those early members of a church planting team or group that go to plant a church. One of the problems coming from a dominant Christian culture to plant a church or from a dominant Christian institution for training is that there are a lot of assumptions made about what is right and good for a church plant.

So there are a lot of subtle assumptions being made, and there is pride in the fact that we think as leaders, we know what we're doing and that everyone's going to agree with it. The problem is that we're in a fallen world with a bunch of fallen human people, and we don't always have the right assumptions and make the right decisions all the time. We have to be flexible. As a missionary, it was drilled into us that the missionary's middle name has to be flexible, and often that has to do with external circumstances. But in the case of church planting, it also has to do with what kind of assumptions we make and how proud we are about those assumptions and how humbling it is to find out that maybe we weren't completely right on that and maybe our idea wasn't the best idea in the world. So one of the universal challenges is learning how to discern presumption and pride and make adjustments.

5. Develop

The fifth one is developing initial leadership membership and a process of membership. Often, unless it is a pioneering church planting situation, we come into a church plant with at least a handful of people saying, yes, I want to be a part of the church plant. Sometimes it's a base of people that say, we want a church planted among our group of people, our midst, our living room. Other times it is a mother or sponsoring church saying, hey, we're going to send 20 or 40 or 100 people away from our church to plant another church. They're going to be the core starting group of another church. You still have to deal with what is the initial leadership and what is the process of membership as new members are added.

You may think that you're carrying it all over from the sponsoring or mother church, but there are fine little differences that may pop up that you want to implement that are important to you and your new church plant. The initial leadership is not just the one or two or three initial leaders of the church, but it's sort of an idea or concept that how do we develop more leadership? Ideally, we're always growing and multiplying our leadership. That includes membership. To what degree do people have to go through some process to become members? Is it as simple as raising their hand, signing a card, or does it involve something more intense, like really hearing their testimony and kind of assuring that they are actually believers to become a member? Or as we've heard in some church plants that they don't even have membership at all. How does that work? I actually don't think that's biblical at all.

The Bible makes it pretty clear that there are people known to be inside the membership and outside the membership.

6. Define

Number six, universal challenge is defining the gospel, defining what is a believer, what is membership, who are leaders, and what is our foundation of doctrine? This is a core of things that we would call the constitution in bylaws and doctrinal statement of the church plants. Those things need to be written down. We need to know very, very clearly what is the gospel in our church. We trust that it is not different from other churches that teach and preach a biblical gospel. We also need to know what is a believer. Again, is it just somebody who attends and you regard them as a believer because they are associated with a church that calls itself Christian or evangelical, or is there something more than that?

It actually has to do with something of their own personal commitment and experience of repentance and faith as God has supernaturally regenerated them to become believers. If that's the case, and I believe it is, how do you determine that? Someone has to have a conversation. It's more than just a simple volitional statement or wave of the hand. Defining who are the leaders has to do with defining what are the qualifications of leadership, and that is a very important thing to put right on the very front end. It's not just those who are active participants. It's not just those who are willing. It's those who biblically qualified and proven because of their life and ministry to be recognized as leaders within the church. And then what is our foundation of doctrine? This is our doctrinal statement. Although it may be relatively short and small, like many evangelical statements of faith are, typically, there are a lot of nuances to how it is said, and usually it takes more than one page to do it.

Everybody who starts out in the church plant should know and understand the foundation of doctrine of the church very well. They need to communicate that with those who are visiting, those who want to become members because this is one of those things that is a hallmark of our new church plant. It is a universal challenge to come up with those definitions.

7. Differentiate

The seventh and last one is differentiate the church plant from the mother church or sponsoring church. Even if it's expected to be a carbon copy of the church that it came from, each church will become different both by choice and by nature. I liken it to say a mother and a daughter tree. The mother bears fruit. The fruit goes to the ground. A daughter tree raises up. It looks a lot like the mother tree, but it's different. They have different marks on them from scarring or weather or whatever and different stages of their development.

And the same is true with a church plant. A church plant will inevitably become significantly different than the mother church, and that's a good thing. It is its own life, its own church body. It's really good for a church plant group who are getting together to plant a church, to think and talk about these things. In what ways will we differentiate our church from our sponsoring church or group of churches or association or synod that's different from the other churches? And that's one of the beautiful things about church planting. Every church is different. Every church glorifies God in a slightly different way, a different style, a different feel, a different environment, a different culture, if you will, a different personality within their church, but they hold to what is timeless and biblical so that they are doing the things that the New Testament expects of a local church.

These are some of the reasons why I think it's very important for people who are planting a church to think and pray and talk and plan a significant amount of time before the church gets planted to figure out what are their answers to these questions. Not dealing with them leaves the church open to problems in the areas where have failed to distinguish or decide, determine, discern, develop, define, or differentiate themselves as a new local church.

Thanks for joining us today on Missions on Point. We trust that you'll find more help and resources on our websites at and We are so thankful for those who support us, enabling us to produce this podcast. Now to God be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus forever and ever. Amen.

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