In the movie "The Matrix," Neo is asked what he'll need when he enters the matrix. His answer? "Guns, lots of guns." It is his way of saying that change is resisted and powerful tools need to be accessed in order to effect that change.
How will RM people effect change in the postmodern world? "Churches, lots of churches."
Peter Wagner, church growth expert, has said that church planting is the single most effective church growth strategy, bar none. He wasnâ€™t just popping off or pushing an agenda. He was making an observation.
There are many challenges to church planting for Churches of Christ and RM churches:
Member Fear: Members frequently fear that church planting is the same as a church split. This is probably because so many members have either experienced or almost experienced a church split. Furthermore, so much of the historical proliferation of Churches of Christ has been the result of a church split. So, church planting is automatically connected with church pain, unhealthy church life, or disgruntled members trying to force their way. Most members of a RM church have never seen a healthy church plant and at the same time have seen unhealthy church splits, so the barriers in the category of member fear to healthy church planting are legion.
Leadership Fear: Although most ministers and elders would not say that attendance and contribution are the primary marks of a healthy church, the concept of church planting threatens both their attendance and contribution, and that is enough for resistance to be their first reaction. Initial questions that show up include: â€śWhatâ€™s wrong with what we are doing here?â€ť â€śWhy drain off our most talented members?â€ť â€śHow will we meet our budget?â€ť Rarely is their first response something like: â€śWeâ€™ve been praying for church planters to develop in our congregation,â€ť â€śHow can we help make your church planting vision come true?â€ť â€śLetâ€™s explore the real possibilities of forming a team, training the team and making this thing have the greatest chances for succeeding.â€ť When church planting is done right, it is nothing to get be offended about. Rather, it is the sign that something special is happening in that body of believers. It should come as great news. How many churches can we plant? Thatâ€™s the question.
Past Church Planting Failures: Old church planting models used by RM churches have proven to have a high failure rate. Many of the RM church plants outside the Bible Belt have sought to reproduce a Southern rural version of church, which once had a terrific attraction in Southern rural locations, but have never had much success anywhere else. Although Churches of Christ exist in almost every county in the United States, most are not only small (nothing wrong with small), but cloistered, huddled, and circling the wagons against the evil culture that is closing in on it. Church planting efforts I experienced as a child in the North included a church planter, a campaign group from the supporting congregation, and an initial push. They would enter a new place one week and set up the church the next. After the church had attracted a few solid and committed members, the church planter would leave to plant a new church, leaving behind a young Southern preacher from a conservative preaching school from the South. This is not the only model used, but it is a common one. It is not a terrible model. At the same time, it was not a terrifically effective model.
Bigger Is Better?: Larger and medium sized churches of Christ and RM churches have often swallowed whole the mega-church model of church growth. With juggernauts like Willow Creek and Saddleback, it is easy to believe that this is the wave of the future. Though it is tempting to view larger churches as successful churches, there are significant problems with the â€śbigger is betterâ€ť approach. Lynn Anderson cautions that much of the growth large churches are experiencing is really the result of the consolidation of failures. Smaller churches who are dying lose members to larger churches who feel vibrant and dynamic. A minister friend of mine in a large Church of Christ stated it this way: â€śWeâ€™re the cream of the crap.â€ť Most church of Christ and RM people fail to realize that there is no mega-church model in the Bible, but even more importantly, the most significant church movements globally are small group and house church based models, which can be small or large.
Church planting is for people with theology degrees and proper training: Well, yes and no. Church planting is a gift you are born with as much or even more than it is something you learn how to do. However, people with a natural gifting toward church planting who are not trained to do it, but believe that training is required are automatically given barriers to their calling (if I may use that word) that are unnecessary. Planting a small house church or simple church does not require a theology degree. It didnâ€™t in the new testament and it does not now. Some on the job training or some targeted training will serve them well.
The good news is that Churches of Christ and RM folks in general are finally catching on to the vision of church planting. The RM is actually on the very front end of what I believe will be a very successful and meaningful church planting movement over the next fifty years (hopefully longer). I want to share with you three RM church planting movements in their early stages.
Stadia: This group started in the Independent Christian Churches a few years ago. They are the oldest of the three groups Iâ€™ll discuss. They have created a system for church planting that is more thoughtful and research-based than previous efforts. Currently they boast a church plant success rate of over 80%, almost a complete reversal from previous church planting efforts. What Stadia does well is to plant churches in growing suburban areas that are mostly white in the South and the West. Although they are not likely to be mosaic in nature, at least they know what they are good at and stay within those parameters. Stadia is located in Vacaville, California. They are planting a bunch of churches.
Mission Alive: Headed by former missionary to Africa and Abilene Christian University missiology professor, Gailyn VanRheenen, Mission Alive has adopted Stadiaâ€™s church planter identification and equipping processes. Mission Alive is a Church of Christ church planting movement. It is theologically thoughtful and open to new ways of doing Churches of Christ. Mission Alive is headquartered in Carrollton, Texas. Dr. VanRheenen also hosts a website called, missiology.org.
Kairos: Also headed by a former missionary and college professor at Cascade College, Stan Granberg, Kairos has adopted the Stadia model. Still in its infancy, Kairos has big dreams about church planting. Kairos is also a Church of Christ church planting movement. It is headquartered in Portland, Oregon.
These movements are reason for optimism in the RM. It will be the means by which the RM does not become Amishized or almost completely die out over the next 100 years. But, these movements are not going to be sufficient for the postmodern culture. Although many of these churches will be able to be culturally relevant and countercultural, with their heritage, they will be limited to what is acceptable and therefore struggle to connect to art and music crowd. That is unless they make an emergence from their heritage, which is most certainly possible.
Other places to look for church planting are the Simple Church Movement and Emergent. The Simple Church Movement encourages people to plant house churches and to keep church as simple as possible. They are quite restorationist in nature so far as church structure is concerned. Emergent is a movement that is on the cutting edge of culture (although they would not say they are at the stage of being a movement yet) as they seek intentionally to follow God in the way of Jesus. If emergent can keep to the spirit of its cause (conversation), then emergent will not just become another denomination, but rather will support the planting of experimental churches, which could evolve into anything. Kind of exciting.
Anyway, church planting is necessary in the post-restoration era, and it's not just for those people over there. I am about to overstate something, but it needs to be overstated. A healthy church is a church planting church.