The biblical reason
The gospel can expand and multiply many different ways in a person’s life or a church’s or city’s, but one of the main ways it expands is through robust church planting efforts - as we see numerous times in the book of Acts. In fact, it’s a repeated pattern. The gospel is preached in a city, some believe and some reject, the converts are baptized and gathered for corporate worship and life together, and then some of those are sent out to plant new churches in that city or elsewhere. The Apostle Paul is a big part of this, but he also commissions associates like Titus and Timothy in cities to “put into order what he (Paul) left behind" (Titus 1:5), which was basically a call to further establish the local church, train up leaders, organize for public worship, etc.
If we’re looking for an example in the Bible of a Christian thriving individually (outside of a local church community), or a biblical command that encourages a kind of “just me and Jesus”-type spirituality, we’ll be looking for a very long time. It just doesn’t exist. The movement from conversion to church life (and church planting) was beautifully instinctual for the early church. It should be for us as well.
The statistical reason
We need more churches here in the United States.
In 2005, only 17.5% of people in the U.S. attended church on any given weekend (American Church in Crisis (ACC) by David Olson). These numbers could be skewed downwards if we factor in that this number includes unhealthy, non-gospel-centered churches that—biblically speaking—aren’t really churches. So, it’s even worse than it appears.
About 4,000 churches close every year. Approximately the same amount of new churches start each year. However, to keep up with population growth, an additional 3,200 churches need to start every year (ACC).
- The number of unchurched Americans is increasing by a rate of 1 million per year (Church Leader’s Intelligence Report, 04-01-09).
Think about it: how many mature, thriving, healthy, gospel-centered, Jesus-loving, missionally-living Christians do you know on your block, in your dorms, or in your work-places? Chances are, not too many. America is a very secular (and spiritually misguided) place, and increasingly so as time goes on. There is so much opportunity right here in our country and right here in our wonderful, but broken city of Minneapolis/St. Paul.
The missional/evangelistic reason
Tim Keller: “Much traditional evangelism aims to get a ‘decision’ for Christ. Experience, however, shows us that many of these ‘decisions’ disappear and never result in changed lives. Why? Many decisions aren’t really conversions, but often the beginning of a journey of seeking God. Only a person who is being ‘evangelized’ in the context of an on-going worshipping and shepherding community can be sure of finally coming home into vital, saving faith.”
We couldn’t agree more. Evangelism isn’t just for easily identifiable non-Christians. It is, of course. But it’s also for Christians. And people who think they’re Christians but aren’t. And those people who are joyfully receiving the gospel now, but who might not be next year when the cares of the world creep in and choke it out. The Church is the God-ordained means by which we all persevere in the faith, so if we seek to truly evangelize a city, we need more churches, not just individuals who share the gospel with other individuals once with no connection to a local church whatsoever.
The church renewal reason
Planting churches is a renewing thing for sending churches as well. It almost always grows churches numerically in the long run. It reminds those who stay why they are there and what the mission truly is. It infuses life and excitement into the church and creates opportunities for involvement, leadership, and spiritual gift implementation that otherwise might not be there.
So, church planting churches usually have an easier time maintaining a leadership development and evangelistic “culture”. They avoid plateauing and stagnating. They apply the belief that “It’s not about us!” on a very sacrificial level, figuratively giving away a part of their body, which resembles how Jesus gave his body for us, that we might live.
CHRIS WACHTER / LEAD PASTOR