MiNY series - Week 2 - How to kill your church plant

25th September 2014
Mark Jackson
Group of people posing for the camera in New York

It is a thrill to be out here in New York on the Redeemer City to City International Church Planting Intensive, which is a 5 week course training young leaders in establishing new churches in major cities around the world.

I continue to be challenged in my prayer life and in the daily need to apply the gospel of grace to my own heart before ministering to others (see here for more reflections from week 1). But what has struck me the most this week was a session we had on ‘The Ten Most Common Mistakes in Church Planting’ and, in particular, the fatal mistake of when outreach ceases in your church.

1. How to kill your church plant

We were told the story of one new church which was very prayerful; had developed a community filled with God’s love for people and had launched with good numbers. But gradually, over time, the weekly pressure to get everything ready for the Sunday service (roadies team, singing team, children’s ministry team, coffee team, welcomers, readers, prayers, leaders, preachers etc) meant they had less energy and less time for those outside the church.

It was a loving community and, during the second year, people became very comfortable with each other and happy with the status quo. The leader began directing the sermons more to church members instead of guests; and the leadership team became focussed on internal church related matters. The congregation demanded more and more of the leader’s time. When the leader suggested that they remember those outside the church, the response was: “Don’t you think we should start taking care of who we’ve got before going after any more people?”

By the third year, no more guests were attending. The leader’s time was devoted entirely to caring for the needs of the congregation instead of appointing other people to help in the caregiving. The leader’s time was diverted from praying for those outside the church. Because the leader wasn’t inviting people, the congregation followed suit and the new church had turned into an ingrown congregation with very little contact to the outside world. This, we were told, ‘spells the death of a church plant, and the death of the mission.’

2. Outreach is NOT a phase towards a mature church; it is THE sign of a mature church.

It is easy for us to think that outreach is what we do simply at the early stages of a new church. Then, Lord willing, some people start following Jesus; perhaps some dechurched people join us; or those living in the area transfer across to our church; and before you know it we have a church of 80 people – we’ve grown from 34 – and everything’s good – outreach done! And now comes the hard work of growing to maturity: there are plenty of issues we need to work through as a body of believers (none of us is perfect) and so that becomes our focus. Our time and attention becomes focussed exclusively on ourselves.

But that fails to understand what true maturity is. In Matthew 28:19-20 , Jesus commands us to ‘Go and make disciples of all nations … teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you’ and part of what he has commanded us to make disciples. In other words, to be a disciple of Jesus is to make other disciples who in turn make new disciples. And that means outreach is always central to what we do. Outreach is not a phase towards Christian maturity; outreach is one of THE signs of Christian maturity.

Now, I find this very challenging as a minister, because I find that more and more of my time is spent with people inside the church than out. And that means, Pete and I need to make sure we are maintaining close relationships with those outside our church community. Of course, we love spending time with everyone at Inspire. We want to love you, serve you, pray for you and see you grow. But part of seeing you grow as disciples of Jesus will be you, yourselves, making other disciples yourselves as you pray, invite and speak of Jesus to those who are not Christian. And so outreach is never just a phase in our lives or our church life. It’s one of the very reason Inspire exists.

3. How are we doing?

Of course, the question we need to ask ourselves is how are we doing with this? Here are some of the diagnostic questions we were given and I’d love to hear your thoughts. On a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 is low, not true and 5. is high, very true.

1. At Inspire, we are encouraged and expected to share our faith with others.

2. At Inspire, leaders train and encourage us to share our faith with others.

3. I regularly speak about my faith to others.

4. I regularly make relational connections with new people in my neighbourhood or at work.

5. At Inspire, we are trained and encouraged to pray regularly for our nonbelieving friends.

As I say, I’d love to get your thoughts so please do email me your responses – the more the better – so we can get an accurate picture of how we are doing at Inspire.

In the meantime, do be praying that we don’t lose our outreach focus individually or corporately as a church.

Let’s be praying that the Lord would help us to see that central to being a disciple is making disciples of others so that – whatever our gifts in this area – praying for others; sharing our faith with others; longing for others to know and experience the love of God in Christ is a key marker of genuine Christian maturity.

And let’s be praying that the Lord would continue to warm our hearts with his infinite love for us in Jesus Christ. Like any relationship, the more you appreciate the other person, the more you want to tell others about them. Well, there is no one like our God. To be known by him … forgiven … loved … his precious child … the more we appreciate this … we won’t need to worry about a lack of evangelism. You will want to tell others about Him. And no one will be able to stop us.