This article by Dr. Tim Keller appeared in GO WEST! Issue 2 Volume 2.
WE PLANT CHURCHES BECAUSE WE WANT TO BE TRUE TO THE BIBLICAL MANDATE
1. JESUS’ ESSENTIAL CALL WAS TO PLANT CHURCHES
Virtually all of the great evangelistic challenges of the New Testament are basically calls to plant churches, not simply to share the faith. The Great Commission (Matt. 28:18–20) is a call not just to “make disciples” but to baptize. In Acts and elsewhere, it is clear that baptism means incorporation into a worshiping community
with accountability and boundaries (cf. Acts 2:41–47). The only way to be truly sure you are increasing the number of Christians in a town is to increase the number of churches.
Why would this be? 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. Many decisions are not really conversions but are only the beginning of a journey of seeking God. (Other decisions are very definitely the moment of a “new birth,” but this differs from person to person.) Only a person who is being evangelized in the context of an ongoing worshiping and shepherding community can be sure of finally coming home into vital, saving faith. This is why a leading missiologist like C. Peter Wagner can say, “Planting new churches is the most effective evangelistic methodology known under heaven.”
2. PAUL’S WHOLE STRATEGY WAS TO PLANT URBAN CHURCHES
The greatest missionary in history, Saint Paul, had a rather simple twofold strategy. First, he went into the largest city of a region (cf. Acts 16:9, 12), and second, he planted churches in each city (cf. Titus 1:5—”appoint elders in every town”). Once Paul had done that, he could say that he had “fully preached” the gospel in a region and that he had “no more place . . . to work in these regions” (cf. Rom. 15:19, 23). This means Paul had two controlling assumptions: (a) that the way to most permanently influence a country was through its chief cities, and (b) the way to most permanently influence a city was to plant churches in it. Once he had accomplished this in a city, he moved on. He knew that the rest that needed to happen would follow.
“But,” many people say, “that was in the beginning. Now the country (at least our country) is filled with churches. Why is church planting important now?”
Find out in the next issue of GO WEST!