THIS ARTICLE ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN GO WEST! VOLUME 2 ISSUE 5.
Continuing from last issue, Timothy Keller answers the question, Why Plant Churches?
WE ALSO PLANT CHURCHES BECAUSE WE WANT TO CONTINUALLY RENEW THE WHOLE BODY OF CHRIST
It is a great mistake to think that we have to choose between church planting and church renewal. Strange as it may seem, the planting of new churches in a city is one of the very best ways to revitalize older churches in the vicinity and renew the whole body of Christ. Why?
FIRST, THE NEW CHURCHES BRING NEW IDEAS TO THE WHOLE BODY
There is plenty of resistance to the idea that we need to plant new churches to reach the constant stream of new groups and generations and residents. Many congregations insist that all available resources should be used to find ways of helping existing churches reach them. There is, however, no better way to teach older congregations about new skills and methods for reaching new people groups than by planting new churches.
It is the new churches that have freedom to be innovative, so they become the Research and Development Department for the whole body in the city. Often the older congregations have been too timid to try a particular approach or absolutely sure it would “not work here,” but when the new church in town succeeds wildly with that new method, the other churches eventually take notice and gain the courage to try it themselves.
SECOND, NEW CHURCHES ARE ONE OF THE BEST PLACES TO IDENTIFY CREATIVE, STRONG LEADERS FOR THE WHOLE BODY
In older congregations, leaders emphasize tradition, tenure, routine, and kinship ties. New congregations, on the other hand, attract a higher percentage of venturesome people who value creativity, risk, innovation, and future orientation.
Many of these men and women would never be attracted or compelled into significant ministry apart from the appearance of these new bodies. Often older churches “box out” people who have strong leadership skills but who cannot work in more traditional settings.
New churches in a city thus attract and harness people whose gifts would otherwise not be utilized in the work of the body. These new leaders eventually benefit the whole body in the city.
THIRD, THE NEW CHURCHES CHALLENGE OTHER CHURCHES TO SELF-EXAMINATION
In general, the success of new churches often challenges older congregations to evaluate themselves in substantial ways. Sometimes it is only in contrast with a new church that older churches can finally define their own vision, specialties, and identity.
Often the growth of the new congregation gives the older churches hope that “it can be done,” and it may even bring about humility and repentance for defeatist and pessimistic attitudes. Sometimes a new congregation can partner with an older church to mount ministries that neither could do by itself.
FOURTH, THE NEW CHURCH MAY BE AN “EVANGELISTIC FEEDER” FOR A WHOLE COMMUNITY
The new church often produces many converts who end up in older churches for a variety of reasons. Sometimes the new church is very exciting and outward facing but is also very unstable or immature in its leadership. Some converts cannot stand the tumultuous changes that regularly come through this new church, and they move to an existing church.
Sometimes the new church reaches a person for Christ, but the new convert quickly discovers that he or she does not fit the socioeconomic makeup of the new congregation and gravitates to an established congregation where the customs and culture feel more familiar. Ordinarily, the new churches of a city produce new people not only for themselves but for the older bodies as well.
In summary, vigorous church planting is one of the best ways to renew the body of Christ in a city, as well as the best single way to grow the whole body of Christ in a city.
There is one more reason why it is good for the existing churches of a region to initiate or at least support the planting of churches nearby. Find out this final reason in the next issue of GO WEST!.
How do Keller’s arguments make you feel? Leave us a comment.