‘They will know you are my disciples by the love you have one for another’ (John 13:35).
When Jesus called the first disciples to follow him, it was in the context of relationship. Jesus, in commissioning us to make disciples (Matt 28:19), is commissioning us to be building community: the church.
But what is the best model for establishing a new church?
The revelation of Christ is the foundation of all church planting – ‘by wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established’ (Proverbs 24:3).
When I think “how-to” or which is the best model to apply, I think R.E.S.T
- Reason: what we can examine, study and test intellectually
- Experience: what we can feel and emotionally sense
- Scripture: what is revealed in the word of God, both descriptively and prescriptively
- Tradition: what has worked before and what the Lord has used previously
Scripture is not the only source of understanding and wise judgment, but it ought to be the non-negotiable plumb line.
We understand “not all trees in the forest are the same height but every tree is important.” We understand that a dynamic, diverse, and supportive ecosystem needs less artificial fertilizers than a single monoculture limited in genetic strength. Therefore, the diversity of models is not only to be expected but encouraged and celebrated.
Our personal experiences teach us that no “one size fits all.”
There were culturally homogeneous churches, such as the church in Jerusalem and Corinth, and there were diverse cultural churches like Ephesus. There were small churches – the church in Colossae had no more than 50, in Philippi under 150, in Ephesus many thousands – yet every church was important and given great attention from leaders like Paul.
There have been great churches of all sizes big and small. Throughout history, the predominant church size has been approximately 100 members. We plan for the norm, adjust for the exception, and celebrate all.
Learnings from C3
Mark Kelsey at Presence Conference in 2019 outlined a description of types of churches in C3. His list included urban, suburban, regional, churches in remote regions, churches in developing countries, and churches in regions of persecution. All with the same C3 culture but with various approaches.
The following are some approaches we have used (the headings are for description only):
The hub church
A team of pastors travels between 3 to 5 churches of up to 70. C3 Reach Bangladesh churches use this approach. We identify an evangelist, a pastor, and a manager. The evangelist goes into a new area followed by the pastor, then the manager coordinates all the hubs.
The reverse church
This approach is used in locations where believers are persecuted and the safest place to worship & teach is in homes. This can lead to isolation and a lack of accountability. We reserve the order in the west where we worship and teach in larger groups and fellowship in homes. The larger gathering is for fellowship and socializing only and the smaller groups are for teaching and worship. C3 Reach Egypt uses this approach.
The satellite hub
Establish one large central church and create smaller satellite churches each 1 to 5 hours away from the central church. Each satellite church has a pastor and a core team, and they visit once a month. C3 Reach Kazakhstan uses this model.
The home church network
In extremely dangerous situations, the only possibility is to have churches under 30 that meet in homes. Once every month, the pastors of the home church gather either online or in person.
Eight things that are present in the gatherings of all the models are:
- Intentional prayer and worship
- Preaching/teaching the word
- Community Evangelistic activities – including practical acts of service
- Development of the leader and monthly reporting to the supervisor
- Regular social activities
- Intentional focused development of ‘next leaders of the next plant’
- Intentional connection to other C3 churches
Defining the “how to do”
Rather than starting with a pre-set model, we start with a process of formational questions:
- “What are the broader cultural values in the context we are planting?”
- “What is the outcome we want?”
- “What do we need to do to achieve this outcome?”
- “What will it look like if we do the things we need to do?
If you are interested in the material we use, you can contact us at c3churchryde.com.au.
Effective delivery of the gospel requires integration between form (what is seen), function (what we do), and feeling (what we desire others to experience).
Ultimately our perfect model is Jesus and our methods focus on how we can be Spirit-powered and connect-driven in the specific cultural context.
Our church plant is now in its 8th year. Debbie and I stepped out to plant C3 Subang (now known as Destiny C3) in 2011 with a team of 9 others. The church has since developed into a group of 7 churches catering to the different communities in Malaysia, India and the Philippines. We also run a UNHCR recognized refugee school which to-date is committed to the education of approximately 80 refugee children from nations that include, Pakistan, Syria, Bangladesh and India.
The church planting journey for us began with a lot of apprehension. Was this the right step? Do we have what it takes? Who are we called to? What if we failed? Is this really what God wants for us? We had, as most church planters would, lots of questions… questions that we wrestled with even as we were being drawn by the call.
The questions you ask yourself as you go on this journey can be life altering. The wrong type of questions can derail your journey, while the right questions can clear a path for you.
There are many questions that we asked ourselves on our church plant journey and below are 3 important ones that every potential church planter should ask themselves.
Am I called to this?
Church planting is not just a nice idea or a noble choice of profession. It is a call. Be certain of your calling, because it will form the foundation of your church plant journey. It will be the fuel in your tank that will keep you going regardless of the challenges that come your way. Many people in ministry quit during tough times because they start to doubt their call. We can start to believe that the presence of a roadblock indicates the absence of a call, “maybe I’m not called to this”, “maybe I was wrong”, and before you know it, we are daydreaming about exit strategies.
As Debbie and I began this journey, we had to be certain that we were called to this, and our certainty of the call is what drove us to push through some of the most challenging circumstances that would have otherwise derailed our journey.
When you view your challenges through the certainty of your calling, you see roadblocks not as something to stop you, but something that you are meant to push through.
You view the challenges as necessary inconveniences that you are called to work through that will serve to bring you closer to your destiny. We stay the path not because it is easy, we stay the path because we are certain that we are called by God to be here.
Whose church is this anyway?
Many times, we can, either consciously or unconsciously, view the church plant as our project and God as the external consultant that we reach out to – to endorse our ideas, approve our decisions or help us through the difficult stages of the building. This mind-set often sees us carrying burdens that we were never meant to carry, trying to build by our own strength, which brings us unnecessary stress.
Whose idea was this in the first place? This is God’s idea, His project, His Church and He chose you to be a part of it. This church was birthed in God’s heart long before you even knew what a church plant was. Wasn’t it Him who said, “I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it”? Don’t the scriptures say that unless the Lord builds the house we labour in vain?
This is a fundamental truth of church planting, yet it is a truth that we many times lose sight of. We get caught up with the “business” of church planting. We tend to push God into a consulting role rather that seeing him as the chief architect and master builder.
He invited you to be a part of HIS church plant, and whenever we forget that, we end up dealing with frustrations and anxieties that can lead to burn out.
Whenever I find myself stressing more than usual, it’s always because I’ve taken the burden off God and started carrying it myself. I’ve made it about me, my success, my project, my church, and that was never God’s intention. I ask myself, whose church is this in the first place?
Remind yourself often, that this is God’s project, His church plant, and He is the master-builder. Cast all your burdens upon Him.
What’s unique about my calling?
Since everyone is unique, there will be a uniqueness about your calling. You may start off looking like another church, but there will be a look, a feel that is uniquely yours. Each of us are given different “talents”. God delights in the multiplication of the talents but the means through which that multiplication comes may differ from church to church, community to community, nation to nation. What’s unique about the community that God put you amongst? Unity may not necessarily equate to uniformity.
One of the great dangers of church planting surfaces when we are focused on trying to duplicate the calling of another.
Yes there is much that we can learn from others, there may be strategies and ideas that we can get and apply from other churches, but we must be faithful to the uniqueness of our calling, that’s where we will find our greatest breakthroughs.
In the midst of our church planting zeal and eagerness to learn from and emulate the successful ministries of others, we had to stop to notice what God was doing in our midst, the kind of people that He was sending our way, the doors that He was opening, especially the unexpected ones. Sometimes we can look for what we want God to do and miss out on what God is doing.
When we stopped to ask ourselves what was unique about what God was doing in our ministry, we started to see doors open for ministry that we never had considered before.
So there they are: three questions for the church planter. There are many more, but these are at the top of my list and I trust will be in yours as well.