Church Plants and Missions: What Works

The Churches of Christ split 100 years ago over missionary societies. As a result, we’ve found ourselves with each congregation acting as its own missionary society. A deacon gets handed the task of overseeing a missionary or two with no training, no help, and nowhere to turn. And as a result, we often fail where we could have succeeded. And sometimes we invest a lot of money in an effort that someone with experience would have known had little chance of success.

The solution is to form organizations that gather up experienced people, who keep up with the literature and the mission field, and who can help us make wiser decisions.

I know of three organizations involved in domestic church planting within the Churches of Christ: Mission AliveKairos, and Stadia.

Stadia began among the independent Christian Churches but now works with the a cappella Churches of Christ as well.

Mission Alive and Kairos are both indigenous to the Churches of Christ. I happen to have much more experience with Kairos and think very highly of them.

Similar organizations for foreign missions include Missions Resource Network, Eastern European Mission, and The Continent of Great Cities (specializing in Latin America).

Here’s the rule: don’t support a missionary or church plant unless EITHER —

* The work is done in cooperation with one of these agencies or a similar agency or

* The work is already well underway and it’s working well — and you’ve visited the mission point yourself (or have spoken to someone who has).

Why? Because the odds of success if you do otherwise are very poor indeed.

Why you must work with an agency

What works? Well, these are the key ingredients in the US and in any Westernized country and in many others —

* A trained leader. Preaching for an established US church is not training for founding a new church. Not by itself. A Bible degree is even less so. Obviously a church planter must be well-schooled in the scriptures, but he also needs training specific to a very difficult work.

* An experienced leader. Sending out a team scratch out of college is a recipe for disaster — or, at least, under-performance. Those who, like me, hire people for a living know that people straight out of school don’t have a clue about how to do what they were trained for. Nothing — NOTHING — replaces experience, no matter how smart, well schooled, and zealous that person may be.

* An assessed leader. Not all leaders have the personality needed to be successful at planting. Or maybe the leader does but his wife can’t cope with the stress of raising children far away from home. Many of these agencies test and evaluate leaders to be sure they are suitable to the task.

* A plan. It’s astonishing how many people we send into the mission field who just assume they’ll figure it out as they go. Who’d start a business without a plan? How can you count the cost without a plan? Just as business plans are constantly changing, so must a church planter’s plans. But having no plan at all leads to wasted time, energy, and money — frustration and burn out for all involved.

* A mentor. Just as is true in your business and my firm, anyone starting out has to have a mentor — someone who helps the leader deal with problems, modify the plan as necessary, and hold the leader accountable. There’s just something about a regular phone call asking: did you do what you planned to do? Did you deal with that personality conflict? How can we do better next time?

* A network. A leader should have regular contact with others in the field doing the same things he is doing. They can share ideas — successes and failures, hold each other accountable, encourage each other, and listen. It’s just unimaginable the loneliness we sometimes impose on our missionaries.

* A sponsoring church. With the help of an agency such as I describe, the sponsoring church can be coached on how to support the mission work — through cards and letters, visits, prayer, calls, short-term mission work — just all sorts of things. Indeed, if someone comes to you asking for money and hasn’t thought about what kind of support he needs from you other than money, he doesn’t know what he’s doing.

I met a church planter whose plane ticket to the training center was paid for by a Sunday school class who sold their jewelry to raise the money. That planter was so moved and grateful that he’ll never give up on the work. That kind of support matters far more than the check.


7 Responses

  1. It’s interesting that the opposition to missionary societies didn’t arise until after those groups became politicized. When they were merely focused on missions, no one objected.

    There’s an old saying that goes: “We mustn’t be so autonomous that we become anonymous.”

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  2. From a seasoned domestic church planter I would say that we (churches of Christ) have a lot to learn yet a lot to share.
    Between 1850-1950 we planted churches by making other denominational believers think their error was damning. Then promoting unity under that debate wagon.
    The effort was almost violent. If those affiliated with churches of Christ moved somewhere that there was no cofC they just held a gospel meeting invited a gospel preacher and converted a few friends and here we go.
    So effort and no fear are the first great elements of domestic church planting that I think are still good today.
    Here is the difference America is now Post Modern, Post Christian and denominationalists every where are fighting not to gain actual new believers in Christ but to save their own denominational name.
    So the second point is point is church plants should not be purposed to save a certain denomination or religious group. In fact they should not have any visible ties to any traditional religion at all.
    People now no longer ask what is true rather they ask do I want to be like you or essentially is there truth in our behavior not just our comp and rhetoric.
    So the third point for domestic church planters is constantly transformed lives. A transparency that is tied to a faith that is open and honest; reflects a constant specific need for God. Without transformation there is no way to convince the average postmodernist that God works within the lives of the believer.
    Lastly church domestic church planters must be able to know why they believe what they believe and quickly be able to give backed up reliable references for it. Did you know that most Christians now don’t even know why they think the Bible is the divinely inspired word of God? We are now not engaged in a debate with our religious friends over worship styles or pet doctrines we are in debates with militant atheists and agnostics like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. We are also in a debate with the religions of the world since they are the ones who have been immigrating the US for the last 20 years.
    Last point is to learn how to defend the faith not against the Baptists or Lutherans but against atheists, agnostics, new ageism, and the five major world religions.
    Paul says all this in one sentence “Become all things to all people in order to win them to Christ!”. Why is it so hard for us to apply this verse in a contemporary context?
    Ah! I am done!

  3. Tim,
    Thank you for the old saying! Autonomous is derived from words literally meaning “self law.” This harks back to the sin of Eve! Hyper autonomy is almost as bad as a super-organization that rules over the local churches. Certainly the type of organization Jay mentioned is appropriate.

    I’ve seen too many “teams” go out – inexperienced, idealistic, no plan (except pipe dream expectations of instant success), and little thought of what to do on arrival. They end up becoming a “mission enclave” that has little or no impact on the local people. I know. I have been there and done all of that.


  4. Tim,

    I’ll be circling back to missionary societies. It’s a very important topic as the progressive Churches of Christ decide who they are going to be.

  5. I like anything that expanse the kingdom whether it be personal or church organized or Religious affiliated. And I agree some professionalism is helpful. But I can say having been apart of a church plant in the Northwest that the complexities of misinterpreting demographics and culture can defeat in the best in the church. While we are looking for squeaky clean well breed coC people to lead the charge we have forgotten to disciple those with precarious past those yearning for change and hope. My experience with the less professional crowd has shown me they are willing to go where most of us dare not.

    And I say even though the coC plant I was a part of failed one somewhat embarrassing member succeeded when he left to the go to the Christian church. His desire was to warn others of the terrible problems he had with sexual addiction and drugs. He wanted to help people with marriage because his nearly fell apart. But his desire didn’t fit into the ideas of the church plant which was geared to the affluent urbanites in the area. But the Christian church embraced him, mentored him, let him teach and then let him start his own church and be a pastor. Now that’s church planting.

  6. Jay,

    I don’t feel as strongly as you about refusing to support church planters and missionaries that didn’t work with one of these organizations, but our team did work with Missions Resource Network, and it’s a quality program led by some remarkable Christian individuals. They have a very well-rounded approach, and are able to assess individuals and help with dynamics, at the same time encouraging a team to explore their own theology of, and strategies for, mission. They do a great job of not telling teams “how to do it,” rather allowing those teams to hear from God, while also receiving guidance from their staff and others they are able to bring in.

    There were a few complications with our team, because the Africa coordinator actually lives in Africa — so we found that difficult at times. But we’re here on continent with him now! Anyway, they have a good program, especially if mission teams can start working with them early in the process of team formation (we started with MRN a little late in the game). But much better than their program, even, are their hearts. They’re good people, seeking to do what God would have them do.

  7. Joe, that was one of the best blog comments I’ve ever read. Thank you for taking the time to share those thoughts with us. My favorite line was this one:

    People now no longer ask what is true rather they ask do I want to be like you or essentially is there truth in our behavior not just our comp and rhetoric.
    So the third point for domestic church planters is constantly transformed lives. A transparency that is tied to a faith that is open and honest; reflects a constant specific need for God. Without transformation there is no way to convince the average postmodernist that God works within the lives of the believer

    My struggle to find people with those traits (open and honest faith; constant specific and unabashed need for God) is one of my hardest things to cope with in my community of faith. I’m losing my mind in a church where nobody wants to admit that they really need God to act right now, or else they’re a hopeless wreck.

    Jay, I find it just hysterical that Alexander Campbell was firmly against the society until he was elected president. At least, that’s the anecdote I’ve heard! 🙂

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