The responses to my previous posting about hospice care for dying churches have not given much attention to the “new birth” aspect. One way to ease the loss of dying is to provide something that will live on after the present congregation is gone. One way for this to happen is to give birth to a new church or congregation.
Although many in the moderate Baptist movement seem to think church planting is a great idea, the actions fall short of the rhetoric. If we are really serious about this, we need to put more of ourselves into this effort.
Several years ago, church strategist Peter Wagner stated, “The single most effective evangelistic methodology under heaven is planting new churches.” Why is this? Let me suggest some reasons.
- New churches are not burdened with the baggage of established churches. Such baggage may include – but not be limited to – aging buildings in a declining area, numerous policies and procedures that have been developed over time, and a lack of vision for the future of the congregation.
- A new church starts with a specific, defined vision of what it wants to do and who it wants to reach. There is no ambivalence about what its vision and mission are.
- When you are small, you pay more attention to those who show up for worship and outreach events. Those folks are given an unusual amount of attention and cultivated as potential members.
- Leaders of a new church hone their message to a fine edge. They reflect upon their theology of church and mission and try to put that into concrete structures and actions.
- A new church and its leadership are often more dependent on prayer. They realize that this will not happen without a great outpouring of God’s grace. They understand that their best efforts can only do so much and then something else must kick in.
Of course, one reason that moderate Baptists don’t concentrate more on new church plants is that we may be ambivalent about evangelism. Do we really want all the trouble of assimilating these new folks into the church? Will they want to stretch what it means to be Baptist? Giving birth can be a risky business. Babies are messy and take a lot of time and attention. Parenthood should not be entered into lightly, but failure to do so robs one of great joy and hope for the future.
Ircel Harrison is an associate with Pinnacle Leadership Associates and director of the Murfreesboro Center of Central Baptist Theological Seminary. A version of this column appeared previously on his blog.
Ircel Harrison is coaching coordinator for Pinnacle Leadership Associates and is supplemental associate professor of missional theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary.