What brings Christians together in the initial phase of church planting? For the sake of argument, let’s remove whatever feelings of “being called to this place” they might have. Using that phrase is often a kind of spiritual “trump card” and renders further conversation pointless – what Christian is going to argue with me when I say “God told me so”? In my own experience, this argument is often (not always) used to mask uncertainty and unpreparedness.
So what brings a group of Christians together to plant a church? What is the vision that draws them toward the work in front of them? In Western culture where there is or once was a strong Christian presence, I am afraid that this binding factor is more often than not a certain, desired style of “doing church” and the hopes of being a part of a growing church in that style. Statements are made such as:
“We need a church that has more relevant preaching.”
“We need a church that does more for families.”
“We need a church that is more serious about the arts.”
“We need a church that feels more alive.”
When looking at where that group wants to plant their desired church, often the justification is given that the lack of a church of that style in that place is evidence of the need/opportunity to plant that type of church.
But is “style” a good, strategic reason to plant a church? There are a few arguments in favour of this type of strategy.
- The argument from differentiation
The argument here is that more choices of different styles of church give more chances for different kinds of people to come to Jesus. This is a marketing principle that is used in any competitive market (a market in which two or more organisations offer similar products to the same group of people). Pepsi and Coca-Cola, for instance, are in the same market and must continually differentiate themselves from each other in an effort to increase their share of the market. For the new local church organisation, the hope is that by offering another style of church (type of gospel presentation, worship service, community experience, etc) they will appeal to a new segment of the population (or appeal to the same segment of the population more effectively).
- The argument from representation
In cities in which a church already exists, this argument simply states that the non-existence of a church from a particular denomination or a particular theological slant signals the need/opportunity to plant that type of church there. By this I mean specifically theological representation within Evangelicalism (1). In this argument it is said that since there is, for instance, no pentecostal church in a particular place that this signals the need/opportunity to plant one, even if a baptist and a reformed church are already there.
In reality, one of those two arguments lies at the heart of most church planting strategies in the West, as far as I am able to determine. They are arguments that deal primarily with issues of style. Without suggesting any arguments against that type of strategy yet, I’d like to simply offer a few questions.
1. Concerning the argument from representation, if the pentecostal church planter believes that the baptist and reformed churches in a particular area are truly Christians and that in their gatherings the gospel is proclaimed, in light of the Great Commission, is it a strategically justifiable use of Kingdom resources to plant a church in that same area?
2. Concerning the argument from differentiation and in light of the Great Commission, does a differentiation strategy give enough consideration to the existing, gospel-centered churches and to the cause of the Kingdom in that particular place or does it complicate that cause?
(1) For instance, the lack of evangelical church in a particular place could signal the need/opportunity to plant one there. in that case, those planting the new church have legitimate reason to doubt that the type of gospel being represented by churches outside evangelicalism is not a gospel that proclaims faith in Jesus alone for salvation.