Is God Really Calling You To Plant a Church?

cross-with-roots3-e1288037811724“Do we really need another one?” I asked with an annoying tone. I must have been bothered by it, because I asked my passenger Dakota her thoughts on the subject. Dakota is my Golden Retriever, and from what I could tell she was all for it, as long as they gave away tennis balls to all visitors.

In my town, it would seem there is a new church starting every couple of weeks. I understand the idea behind planting a new church. It is suppose to be the most effective form of evangelism known to mankind. At least that is what I was told in seminary, and it would seem our young leaders are being indoctrinated with the same idea.  But is it true?

I think the greatest form of evangelism is one on one. More people are still introduced to God and Jesus Christ via interaction with people outside the congregational walls. Period.

Church planting certainly has its place.   Is it possible to over plant the church? Can there be too many churches in a city? If you are considering planting a church where the church already exists in abundance, it would be wise of you to thoughtfully and unselfishly pondered that question.   I think the answer is a resounding YES!  Take a look at Colorado Springs, CO.  Do you think it needs one more evangelical congregation?  The red dots are churches.

Churches in Colorado Springs

Over church planting in a city can cause a stumbling block for evangelism.  So many different churches can lead non-christians to believe that even Christians can’t figure this stuff  about ultimate issues out.    I can imagine the questions that arise in the mind of the non-Christians: “Why are there so many churches if the claims of Christianity are true?  Isn’t the fact that there are so many different churches PROOF that Christianity is false? Why are they starting another one?  Why do they all believe different things?  If they can’t agree on what the truth is, maybe they are all just a bunch of misguided, well-meaning people who I should not take seriously.”

We won’t even talk about how one more church plant will dilute the scarce resources of leaders, servants, and dinero.

I applaud you for wanting to step out in faith and make a real difference in people’s lives.  Still, I want to issue a challenge to if you are thinking about planting a church.   If God is calling you to a particular area that is church saturated, perhaps it is NOT to plant your own church.  Perhaps you are being called  to come alongside someone else. Here’s an idea:  If God has called you to come to a city where there are hundreds of churches, why not find a job like Paul did and the rest of us do.  Why not volunteer to help another local church like the rest of us?  Why start something new?

Be honest with yourself, isn’t what you are thinking about starting exactly the same thing as the last 35 guys who came here to start something?  Does God really need 36 congregations that are essentially the same thing?   Perhaps it would honor God more and make a bigger impact on the community if you went and helpedp the last guy God sent here.  They don’t have enough money to pay you, but they need your help.  Just a thought.

Want to be challenged more or get more upset?  Read our post “Would The Apostle Paul Plant a Seeker-Sensitive Purpose Driven Church?

Check out the result of 4 different polls and the challenging conclusions arrived at in our post It’s Official: People Don’t Want To Sing So Much On Sundays.

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About Jim

Not For Itching Ears is a blog dedicated to discussing the American Evangelical church. It is a place for people to share their thoughts on a host of issues relating to this subject. Jim is available to speak at weekend services, and retreats at no cost to churches in Florida. Contact us for more information.

Posted on April 14, 2014, in Christianity, Church Leadership, Contemporary Church Culture and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. For me the big question has always been: Why not go and support an existing congregation?

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  2. Great thoughts! New churches are desperately needed! But, “being called” to an area is a funny thing. I think it’s funny how many potential church planters are “called” to warm places like one of the Carolinas and how few people feel “called” to Cleveland. I’m a part of a church plant in Cleveland and I can’t tell you how desperate our city is (any many mid-west cities just like it) for new vibrant churches. Only 1 out of every 10,000 people attend church- and there aren’t churches for people to attend. I believe there are areas that are “church saturated”….but there are so so many that are not! For a small plug. My family absolutely love Cleveland- God is definitely up to something here- and if any potential church planters read this— COME TO CLEVELAND (says a booming voice).

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    • Maybe if more NFL players felt called to Cleveland…wait that is a different topic.

      Please don’t take this the wrong way, but I am going to attempt to challenge your conclusions for the sake of clarity and dialouge!

      You said,

      I can’t tell you how desperate our city is (any many mid-west cities just like it) for new vibrant churches. Only 1 out of every 10,000 people attend church- and there aren’t churches for people to attend

      .

      It sounds like what you are saying is that there are not enough of the “right kind” of churches, not that there are not enough. I did a quick Google map for churches in Cleveland Ohio and according to that map, there are over 1100!

      It would be interesting to know what you define as a vibrant church, because that it the primary thing you say Cleveland needs more of. How does a vibrant church differ from a non-vibrant church? How is their ministry different? What is so special about these vibrant church services that Cleveland is in desperate need for them, as opposed to being in need of Jesus and the Gospel that the other bodies of Christ offer? Think about what you are saying. Are the other churches in Cleveland dead, listless, sickly and abandoned by God?

      To a casual onlooker, it seems there are quite a few churches in Cleveland. According to the US Census of 2010, the population of Cleveland Ohio is just under 400,000 people. According to the yellow pages there are 286 Baptist churches, 58 non-denominational churches, 85 Lutheran churches, 54 Church of Christ churches,19 Nazarene churches, 29 Assembly of God Churches, 6 Foursquare Churches, 11 reformed churches. There are 137 Eastern Orthodox and Catholic related churches. All in all there are 1290 churches listed in the yellow pages in Cleveland. Lets just round it down to 1000 and do the math: That equates to one church for every 400 people. That is a big difference from the 1 for every 10,000 figure you used.

      You suggest that a new church is needed because there is not enough room for all the people. Are these other churches in Cleveland so full that there is no room for people to sit? IF that is the case, well, THAT is a GREAT problem to have! I think the churches could add staff, and services and build to help accommodate the sheer volume of people who are being turned away every week, unable to get in. If you mean there is not enough room potentially for all the people of the city to attend, that is a different story. In my humble opinion, if the current churches of a city have lots of room for the community to come if they came, starting new churches to accommodate those who aren’t coming, is not a good reason. From a practical point of view, this NEVER happens.

      Of course, I have helped plant several churches, so I am not un-biased here. However, I think when you look at the numbers and facts, it might be easy for one to conclude that neither God nor the people of Cleveland truly need on more church there. There is a significant witness there already. You are right, that there are some areas where the church is needed. When I look at that Google map of the churches of Cleveland, I don’t see a barren land, I see one that is saturated with the Gospel witness.

      These are just my thoughts on the subject. I think the point of the blog post could be applied to Cleveland. Go plug into an established church whose vibrancy is unquestioned and help them!

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  3. Jim. Thanks for your thoughts- I appreciate the discussion.

    I don’t question God’s presence or working in smaller churches. But, I will say this- churches have life cycles and periods when they’re more effective. I believe a church will be most effective for about 30 years, and then slowly decline unless there’s some sort of change or growth agent that takes it to the next level. Even our church is a part of that cycle. We live in a suburb on the east side of Cleveland and I can let you know that 3/4 of the churches around here are small enough that they don’t have a full time lead pastor. They’re small and getting smaller. Again, I’m not saying God isn’t with these churches. But, they may not being doing the things they did at first- and with the same vibrancy they once had.

    BUT, I do think there is such thing as a “vibrant” and “not-vibrant” church. I would consider a “vibrant” church to be one who cares about people who are far from God- and does something about it. (Are people being baptized?) And if that church was picked up out of the community- the community would be devastated? Would they even notice? There was once a view- build it and they will come? That worked in the 50’s. But, today the feeling is- build it- and I don’t care. We have to actively go out and show Christ’s love to people first. That’s different.

    I think churches need to be honest with themselves about where they are- health wise. If a person has cancer and only has 6 months to live, I’m not going to tell them everything’s going fine. They have to be honest with themselves about where they are. If a city is full of churches that are dying- literally- then they need to be honest about that. Then, either do something about it, or allow it to happen. I’m not saying God’s not working in their midst, or in their lives- but they have to be honest about where their church is in their life cycle.

    That’s one reason we need new churches. Now, I will say this. I don’t think we need new churches for church people. If every church is going after the same pool of people- to get guy down the street to come to our church b/c our services are cooler than their services- then that’s just wrong. That was never Jesus’ heart. And when you think of church and starting new churches, I have a feeling that’s what you’re thinking of? Because if that’s the case than I totally agree with your argument. Why do we need more churches for church people to go to? Aren’t there enough churches for them? I would actually agree with that. In almost any city, there’s plenty of churches for churched people to go to. They should attend and make it awesome from the inside.

    BUT…..that’s not why we start new churches. It’s not for “church” people but for people who are far from God. We didn’t start our church to go fishing in the same pool of fish as the other churches. We don’t advertise on Christian radio stations. In our suburb- there are over 22,000 people and most of them don’t go to church anywhere. If there are different kinds of churches that can go after and reach them- then we need that. In our city, there are only 3 other churches- and they’re more like the kind I mentioned above. Instead of thinking how to please Christian people, we need to think, “As long as one person feels far from God in our city and there isn’t a church that’s going after them and loving them- then we need to figure that out.”

    Really, I could talk forever about this. And it sounds like you could also.Thanks for your thoughts. I was just in TN. the other week and I’ll share this. There were churches everywhere! And not just small churches- lots of big churches. On the one hand I was thinking, “Man, this city needs another church like a punch in the face.” But, I was there for Sunday so wanted to visit a few churches. I tried to find a church that had a heart for people far from God- really cared about people who felt far from God- and couldn’t! Most churches talked about how they were more true to the gospel than churches down the street. So, if someone wanted to plant a church like that there- I would say YES!

    Now, there are places in N.C. or Phoenix, or a few cities in CA. where there are a bunch of new churches and every street corner on Sundays has 4 signs pointing to new churches meeting all over the place. If all of those churches are loving the community and going after people far from God- then that’s probably not the best place to start a church.

    Since our church has started, we’ve worked very hard to love the community and the best part about it is- a handful of the more established churches in our area have started loving the community too. We’re not the biggest congregation, but we serve like crazy and some of them have said, “If they can do all that with only a few people, why can’t we.” So, we’ve seen one older church buy books and mentor student at our local elementary schools, and help students with reading- all kinds of stuff. It’s amazing to see each church use their gifts to love our community and watch what God does.

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    • I have helped plant 3 churches and led one church plant, so I am not against the idea. I think my views are shaped a lot by the town I’m in. Every Friday, the signs go up. There are so many churches trying to get started. Interestingly enough, they almost all have the same basic DNA as your church in Cleveland. How many NEW ones do we need, because there are lots of them that are already successful. I can see an Eastern Orthodox church plant as there is one in a town of 500,000. But one more non-denominational church plant that is focused on providing great music, short messages, excellent brewed coffee in a casual laid back atmosphere? We have plenty of those.

      You do raise an interesting question, at least in my mind: Who is the church for? My understanding of the gospel, the scriptures and church history is that the church gathered is comprised of the called out ones, believers. As we leave our gatherings, we become the church scattered, taking Christ into our jobs, neighborhoods, communities and relationships. That is where the real impact is made in the lives of the lost ones. I think you and I would agree on that one.

      I don’t know about your experience, but I can say that every church plant I have been a part of (4 now), has started out with the attitude of “We don’t want to reach the churched, and we are not starting this to reach churched people. We want to reach the lost.” Yet, it turns out that the vast majority of people who come to the church are believers who are unhappy with their current fellowship. What have you seen at your church plant? Be honest, what is the percentage of transfer growth compared to conversion growth?

      I’ve been there, I am guilty of this! I would highly respect and applaud any pastor of a church plant who said publicly, and had it as part of the “What we Believe” page that if you are a Christian already, you can’t come here. No one would ever say something so ridiculous, because we all know that the church plant would totally fail! We say it, but few of church plant teams actually live by it. Which is rather convenient. We can say ( and I’ve said it!) We don’t want to reach the churches so it sounds impressive, yet when it comes to time for the offering and the need to get people involved in the work of the ministry we will welcome them with open arms.

      You talk about small church getting smaller, I wonder what kind of experience you have in that. I pastored a smaller church back in the 90’s. We had a great ministry. We were very involved in the community, we provided substantial groceries to the needy in the community. We shared Christ, and had a very strong preaching ministry. People knew us and we were extremely well known for our good works. Yet people would always leave to go to one of the new more exciting “vibrant” church plants or the larger mega-churches. Sometimes the very reason that great, life-changing small churches get smaller is because there are so many church plants in the area, not because they are not vibrant works of God.

      You said “If every church is going after the same pool of people- to get guy down the street to come to our church b/c our services are cooler than their services- then that’s just wrong.”

      Why is that wrong? Is it wrong because we think our services are cooler that the other churches, or is it wrong because we are going after the same pool of people? Isn’t that what every church plant is doing, going after the same pool of people at least in theory? That group being the lost.

      I love having these conversation with guys who can have them without calling you names, so I appreciate the dialogue, and I’m sure the other readers do as well.

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  4. I feel like your last reply explained some of the issues you have and I definitely agree with the heart of all of those. If we’re a church that’s doing our best and making a difference, but people in your church leave to head down the street to the “cooler” church, the one with a shorter message, louder music, and casual, laid-back atmosphere- that’s frustrating. And if every Friday, signs pop up on the street corners advertising those churches- I get it. And that frustrates me too.

    I really do agree with you that there are some areas that don’t need new churches. If there’s already a bunch of churches going after people who are far from God- then find a place where there aren’t. I would probably never plant a church in Colorado Springs, or a few of the big cities in N. Carolina, and probably not Phoenix, AZ. (not saying for certain, just from what I hear from church planters there)

    But, I would caution that not every “cool” church is going after people far from God. Really, I think you get that and are even challenging that new churches really are reaching non-Christians. I think there’s a lot of pastors who start a church and “say” they’re going after people far from God, but they’re not really. I can go on a church’s homepage, read about 2 pages about their church and know if they’re going after people far from God or not. (And it has nothing to do with being cool or not or what sort of music you offer, etc.) BUT…there really are some that are effective at reaching non-Christians.

    In 5 years our church has had over 120 baptisms and are about to have about 18 more. That makes up about half of our church. We can name another 20 who haven’t made a decision yet. We get A LOT of, “I grew up Catholic but….haven’t been in years….” This is a different pool. I am always reminded how few churches are going after this pool when I have to explain to the person trying to sell me radio time why we don’t want to advertise on the Christian radio station. They don’t understand, every other church they talk to does.

    And just fyi. I do agree that church is for Christians. But, our heart beats and bleeds for people who are feel far from Him. I believe part of the reason 3,000 were saved on that first day of Pentecost is because of the people’s love and openness, and their willingness to explain clearly- and in a way they understood, the truth of God’s love and what was happening. What happened as soon as the Holy Spirit was poured out into individuals lives? They went out and began to share about God in a way and language that everyone understood. We get a glimpse of God’s heart right there.

    This will probably be my last response for this topic. Great discussion. I appreciate your thoughts and where you’re coming from in your city.

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