Domestic Church Planting
a 4-Week Class by Mike Sullivan

PDF | Word


   Course goals and expectations.

   What is domestic church planting?

   Why should we plant churches in the U.S.?

   Church planting movements in the U.S.

   The establishment kills, but the Spirit gives life.

   The biblical rationale for church planting.


   Are you cut out to plant a church?

   Characteristics of unsuccessful church planters.

   The role of assessment and "boot camps."

   Factors to consider when selecting a field.


   Studying your field.

   Defining and explaining what your church proposes to do.

   "Core groups" vs. "launch teams."

   Recruiting a launch team.

   Leading your launch team.

   Church planting/launching techniques.


   Growth strategies.

   How to establish key values at the beginning of your church.

   Next steps.

   Values that will help or hinder church planting at Xenos.

   Church Planter Panel.



Course goals and expectations

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to plant a church? Maybe you've felt God tugging on your heart to start a new church somewhere. Or maybe you're interested in helping someone else get a new church up and running. This course is for people who are interested in participating in a church plant here in the United States. During our time together, I hope to:

   Explain why we need more churches in the U.S.

   Survey two important American church planting movements.

   Provide a theological foundation for church planting.

   Help you discern whether God wants you to plant a church.

   Provide a rough sketch of what church planters do.

   Steer you toward "next steps."

I've never planted a large church, but I have started a few house churches from scratch. I am currently involved in a Bible study for urban kids called "Renegade" that I helped start in the summer of 2008. Renegade began with two junior high students and now serves more than 50 kids of all ages. If you'd like to review additional publications about church planting, check out the footnotes and bibliography. There you will find excellent books and articles written by seasoned church planters.

I'll give you a few readings for homework each week. There will be no test. At the end of our fourth week together, you'll have the chance to interact with area pastors who have planted thriving churches.

What is domestic church planting?

Domestic church planting involves starting new, independent, self-sustaining, and reproducing churches here in the U.S.

By "church" I mean an assembly of Christians (not a building), in keeping with the way the Bible uses this term. [1] In this course, we'll be talking about planting "new" churches that haven't existed before, "independent" churches under their own leadership, "self-sustaining" churches that do not require outside financial support, and "reproducing" churches that plant new ones. We'll focus on how to do this "in the U.S." That last bit may seem strange because there are so many churches in America. But we can make a strong case that more churches are needed right here in this country.

Why should we plant churches in the U.S.?

1. Christianity in America is in decline.

A. Most individuals in the U.S. would still call themselves Christians, but Americans are slowly becoming less Christian.

"86% of American adults claimed to be Christians in 1990; 76% in 2008. Meanwhile, the number of Americans who claim no religious affiliation has nearly doubled since 1990, rising from 8 to 15 percent." [2]

So many Americans claim no religion at all that the "no religion" [3] category now outranks every other major U.S. religious group except Catholics and Baptists.

There are signs of religious decline all over the country. In Ohio, the number of people in the "no religion" category increased by 9% from 1990 to 2008. During that time, the "other Christians" category, which includes Evangelicals, shrank by 8%. [4]

More and more people are walking away from religion altogether. "The challenge to Christianity in the U.S. does not come from other religions but rather from a rejection of all forms of organized religion." [5]

"To the surprise of liberals who fear the advent of an evangelical theocracy and to the dismay of religious conservatives who long to see their faith more fully expressed in public life, Christians are now making up a declining percentage of the American population." [6]

B. The drift away from Christianity we see in individuals is visible in churches as well.

"Eighty to 85 percent of American churches are on the downside of their life cycle."[7]

Growth in the number of churches is not keeping pace with growth in the population. "In 1900, the U.S. Census Bureau counted 212,320 churches. In 1995, 345,406 churches existed in the U.S. During that same time period, the U.S. population tripled."[8] Today, even though 2500 churches are being planted each year[9], thousands more are closing their doors.[10]

"Despite growth and immigration that has added nearly 50 million adults to the U.S. population, almost all religious denominations have lost ground since the first American Religions Identification Survey (ARIS) survey in 1990."[11]

2. There are plenty of non-Christians to reach in the United States.

A. Lack of funding has left many segments of the U.S. population underserved by church planting.

"By even conservative estimates, approximately 40 percent of United States residents... live in multihousing communities, yet only 5 percent of them (in the U.S. that's an estimated 5,000,000 of 100,000,000 persons!) have any significant connection with any kind of church. This population segment constitutes the largest unreached people group in North America. According to, 60 percent of the unchurched in North America live in multihousing communities. Most people who will go into such communities will not have spent seven years in college and seminary."[12]

Many of the low-income families in the North Linden area of Columbus have had little or no contact with the church. From what our team can tell, there are very few Bible-believing groups trying to reach them. Many rural areas in Ohio are also underserved by churches. This may be due, in part, to the simple fact that low-income, low-population areas are not appealing to pastors and church planters who want a good income.

B. U.S. cities are filling with immigrants for whom there are no good churches.

"Globalization means that new mobile populations are coming constantly into cities and even non-cities."[13]

The Columbus Dispatch estimates there are anywhere from 15,000 - 80,000 Somalis in Columbus.[14] Most of them are Muslim. Who will plant churches among them? Danny Walker's recent work among Bhutanese immigrants (20+ conversions in 2009) proves that some immigrant communities are receptive to the gospel.

You can learn where America's subcultures are located and to what extent they have been reached by the gospel at this website:

3. New churches are more effective at reaching non-Christians than existing churches.

"Churches under three years of age win an average of 10 people to Christ per year for every hundred church members. Churches three to 15 years of age win an average of 5 people to Christ per year for every hundred church members. Churches over 15 years of age win an average of 3 people to Christ per year for every hundred church members."[15]

"The average new church gains most of its new members (60-80%) from the ranks of people who are not attending any worshipping body, while churches of over 10 to 15 years of age gain 80%-90% of new members by transfer from other congregations."[16]

Findings like this support church growth expert Peter Wagner's claim that "the single most effective evangelistic methodology under heaven is planting new churches."[17]

Many people assume that American megachurches are reaching huge crowds of non-Christians. It might appear that way, but studies we've conducted suggest that they are mainly attracting Christians. Often the bulk of their growth comes at the expense of other groups.[18]


There is still much work to be done in the United States. Individuals and churches are drifting away from Christ. The fastest-growing religion is no religion at all. Some segments of the population have never been effectively reached, and new immigrants who don't know Christ are arriving every day. We also know that new, vital churches will be more effective at reaching the growing number of non-Christians than existing ones. Therefore, if we want to reverse the decline of Christianity in America, we must plant new churches!

Church planting movements in the U.S.

1. The Methodists (1776 to 1850)

Any study of church planting in the United States should include the story of the Methodists. To appreciate what God accomplished through this amazing movement, I will compare them to another Colonial-era denomination, the Congregationalists.



# of Churches

% of Adherents

















In 1776, Congregationalists were the largest Christian denomination in the U.S. Over 20% of all American churchgoers attended a Congregationalist church. But America was soon to receive a steady stream of immigrants, contributing to a surge in population from 2.5 million in 1776 to over 23 million in 1850. Where would these new Americans go to church?

Despite adding more than 2600 churches between 1776 and 1850, the percentage of American church goers attending Congregationalist churches fell to just 4%. Meanwhile, the originally much smaller Methodists (2.4% of all church goers in 1776) surged forward. By 1850, 2.6 million people (over 34% of American church goers) were attending over 13000 Methodist churches! What explains the vastly different outcomes for these two denominations?

A. Methodists aggressively opened new fields.

Congregationalists relied on highly trained clergy who expected a supportive congregation, nice facilities, and a regular salary. This made them reluctant to seek posts in newly settled areas. By contrast, Methodist itinerant preachers called "circuit riders" followed settlers as they headed west into the frontier.

"While the mission of some other churches may be to settle, the peculiar prerogative of the Methodist Episcopal Church is to push out into destitute regions, to break new ground, to urge upon the masses generally the saving truths of the Gospel."[20]

R.S. Beggs relates a story[21] about an itinerant preacher named Richmond Nolley that illustrates "the energy of the primitive Methodist ministry."[22]

"In making the rounds of his work, Nolley came to a fresh wagon track. On the search for any thing that had a soul, he followed it, and came upon [an] emigrant family just as it had pitched on the ground of its future home. The man was unlimbering his team, and the wife was busy around the fire. 'What!' exclaimed the settler upon hearing the salutation of the visitor, and taking a glance at his unmistakable appearance, 'Have you found me already? Another Methodist preacher! I left Virginia to get out of reach of them, went to a new settlement in Georgia, and thought to have a long whet, but they got my wife and daughter into the Church; then, in this late purchase [at] Choctaw Corner I found a piece of good land, and was sure I would have some peace of the preachers, and here is one before my wagon is unloaded.'

Nolley gave him small comfort. 'My friend, if you go to heaven you'll find Methodist preachers there, and if to hell I am afraid you will find some there; and you see how it is in this world, so you had better make terms with us, and be at peace.'"[23]

Methodist ardor to reach the lost made them effective in the country and the city. Soon, even in urban areas, Methodists were reaching more people than older, more established denominations.

B. Methodists were willing to work with new groups of people.

Early on, Methodists grasped the unity of the Body of Christ. They spoke out against slavery, and witnessed to African Americans. Gradually, thousands of African Americans came to Christ and entered Methodist churches.[24] Unlike other denominations of that era, the Methodists were willing to give African Americans meaningful ministry roles, including the opportunity to preach to blacks and whites.

C. Methodists used innovative methods to plant churches.

Methodist itinerant preachers went from settlement to settlement, preaching the gospel and gathering converts into congregations. Before circuit riders left to preach in other places, these new congregations chose one of their own to lead. Some of these new leaders had sat under Bible teaching in an established Methodist church back east, but many had not. Circuit riders checked in every so often to keep young leaders and their churches from veering off track.

Older denominations like the Congregationalists were too dependent on paid, trained clergy to work this way. Instead of penetrating new fields, many of their best teachers aspired to be seminary professors. George Whitefield lamented that once so occupied, they replaced "faith with theology and belief with unbelief."[25] "They earned more esteem from publishing their sermons in books than from bellowing them to multitudes in open fields."[26]

D. Methodists had a larger pool of available leaders.

Methodist pastors were usually "unpaid, local amateurs."[27] They were cheaper and required much less training than their Congregationalist counterparts. Freed from burdensome financial and educational requirements, the Methodist movement was able to field a larger number of leaders.

E. Methodist teachers connected with their audiences.

Despite their lack of education, many Methodist leaders were very effective. "Methodist clergy were of the people. They... spoke in the vernacular, and preached from the heart."[28] Meanwhile, the urbane lecturing of established Congregational leaders increasingly distanced them from the average person in their pews.

Want to learn more about the Methodists and why they were so successful? Read C. C. Goss' book, The Statistical History of the First Century of Methodism, published in 1866.[29] His careful analysis of early Methodist records leads to interesting conclusions that I won't, unfortunately, have time to cover in class.[30]

God used the Methodist movement to reach millions of people, but eventually, it slowed down. Professional clergy replaced amateur pastors. Circuit riders dismounted and settled into comfortable parsonages. Congregations that once affirmed racial equality fell back into segregation. Pastors went to seminary for training. The establishment crept in. Just as in many movements before and since, energy gradually shifted away from expansion and toward maintenance.

2. Calvary Chapel (1965 - Present)

One of the most remarkable church planting movements in recent history started in a small church called Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, California (CCCM).

In the spring of 2008, Xenos Elder Ryan Lowery and I spent a week at CCCM. We met with Chuck Smith, the founding pastor, and had extended conversations with Carl Westerlund, the director of the Calvary Chapel School of Ministry, and many key staff people. Thanks to the gracious hospitality of our hosts, we received an insider's look at the Calvary Chapel movement.

When Chuck Smith began leading CCCM in 1965, there were 25 people in attendance.[31] From this humble beginning the church has grown to over 9,500 people. It has also spawned over 1,000 churches in the U.S. The Vineyard movement, which started when John Wimber parted ways from the Calvary Chapel movement in the 1970's, has itself planted more than 550 churches.


Seeing the Calvary Chapel movement up close for a week was a great experience. During our flight back to Columbus, Ryan and I took some time to discuss what struck us most about our visit:

A. Church planting

Church planting is a core value in the Calvary Chapel movement. The original Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa has planted many churches which themselves have planted additional churches.

B. Calling

CCCM is always looking for individuals who have been called by God to start a new church. Calling is essential. "If there is one characteristic that is absolutely essential for effective ministry, it's that we must first have a sense of calling-the conviction in our hearts that God has chosen and called us to serve Him."[32]

C. Giving and receiving

CCCM routinely releases the best workers in their church to start new ministries. When these new leaders see their ministry flourish, the often return the favor by sending their best servants back to Costa Mesa for in-depth training. This creates a dynamic environment at CCCM. People serving in a variety of ministry settings bring back ideas and experiences that invigorate the sending church.

D. Churches from home Bible studies

CCCM's weekend services grew rapidly in the 1970s, drawing people from Orange County and surrounding areas. Some of these folks gathered together in homes for additional fellowship and Bible study. Greg Laurie, a well-known pastor in the Calvary Chapel movement, took over one of these Bible studies in Riverside, a two-hour drive north east of Costa Mesa. Under his leadership, it became an independent church. Today it has well over 15,000 people![33] Additional Calvary Chapel churches sprung up in the Los Angeles metro area, and then up and down the California coast.

Many of these church plants were "cold starts" where a planter and his wife start a Bible study in their home. I met a man at their School of Ministry who had done this. He began by forming a support group for recovering addicts. Some of the people in this group were responsive to the gospel, and he discipled them. Then he invited them to participate in a small Bible study to form closer relationships. This small group grew and eventually became a new church.

Unlike most Xenos home churches, which multiply when they reach 30 people or so, Calvary Chapel church planters allow their groups to become 50 or 60 strong. This group becomes the core of a weekend service, and the original home Bible study is then broken down into smaller weeknight studies to provide fellowship. Some of our current Xenos home groups are located a good distance away from our large meeting locations. Perhaps the leaders of some of these groups should consider growing their group into what we call a "Central Teaching" or even a new independent church instead of simply multiplying into two new home groups.

E. Training

Like the early Methodists, Calvary Chapel leaders see no need to rely on seminaries to prepare pastors. Nevertheless, ten years into the movement, Calvary Chapel opened the School of Ministry at Costa Mesa, and the Calvary Chapel Bible College in nearby Murrieta. These training programs are available to church planters, but they are not the engines that drive church planting. Most of the church planters who went out from CCCM in the 70's were trained personally by Chuck Smith. He brought them on staff to serve in various roles as apprentices, and met with them periodically to offer training and guidance.

F. Financial support

Calvary Chapel church planters almost always go out with very little financial support. They have to hold a job down to pay their bills and feed their family. This bi-vocational arrangement continues until the planter's congregation is large enough to pay him a full time salary. They assume if God is behind the work, the planter will succeed. If God isn't behind it, no amount of money will make it successful.

As we saw with the Methodists, this keeps costs down. Existing church leaders are not forced to limit the number of new plants because of budgetary concerns. Once new churches are up and running, they do not depend on outside support to survive.[34] Most denominations spend large amounts of money up front on pastor salaries and start up costs.[35] So Calvary's approach to funding is unusual.

G. Evangelism

We saw earlier that many megachurches grow primarily by attracting people from dying churches. What seems like growth in the kingdom is actually just reshuffling the deck. But CCCM does not fit this growth pattern. They have managed to win a fair number of new converts. Before Ryan and I visited Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa, another group from Xenos visited CCCM. After speaking with dozens of people, they found that about 48% of them had come to Christ through CCCM. This is a much higher percentage than any other church we know of outside our own. From what we can tell, many of the new converts were won through three primary avenues: Greg Laurie's Harvest Crusades, personal evangelism by people in CCCM, and K-WAVE 107.9 FM, CCCM's radio station.

H. Aversion to strategy

Ryan and I heard a CCCM assistant pastor warn against embracing specific ministry methods. His recommendation: "just be you and teach the word." He saw imitating another church as seeking vision from men (vs. hearing from God in your own setting). We also heard him say, "effectiveness comes from following God's leading, not from style, strategy, etc.," and, "the greatest works of God are unique works of God." That said, the CCCM church planting class, which we've had a chance to review, does have a few "strategic" sections.[36]

I. Broad definition of ministry success

CCCM is trying to raise mature disciple of Christ who follow God's leading into ministry. Where that takes them varies widely (e.g. starting a recovery ministry for addicts, supervising a home for troubled youth, planting a church in Eastern Europe).

J. "Realevance"

"Realevance" is being relevant by being real. It is the opposite of religion. Sometimes, in trying to be relevant, Christians become irrelevant and lose credibility. CCCM staff strive to avoid this, and were quick to point out, "Chuck Smith never tried to be a hippy. He is who he is."

K. Bible, Bible, Bible

CCCM is more committed to teaching the entire Bible than most churches. They teach verse by verse through books of the Bible at weekend services. Most Calvary Chapel leaders have listened to the "C2000 series," 300+ sermons by Chuck Smith on every book of the Bible. Chuck's teachings were expository on Sunday morning (2 Corinthians), verse-by-verse on Sunday evening (2 Corinthians), and more in-depth verse-by-verse on Wednesday evening (14+ months in 1st John). The Sunday PM and Wednesday PM meetings were open to anyone. Many were growing under this teaching ministry and seeking out ways to serve. 

The establishment kills, but the Spirit gives life

Most Christian movements follow a predictable cycle: renewal, growth, prosperity, institutionalization, decline, sometimes renewal/sometimes death.[37] Calvary Chapel, at least in Costa Mesa, was showing signs of institutionalization at the time Ryan and I visited. Growth peaked there in the 70s. It has levelled off since, and even declined. One person on their staff admitted that attendance at the mother church was lower during the time of our visit than any time he had worked there, and he started in the 70s. That said, CCCM and other Calvary Chapels are still full of life and engaged in effective ministry. Many Methodist denominations and churches are much further along the cycle. Some may see renewal, but others have completely lost their way. It makes me wonder what will happen at Xenos.

In their church planter training materials, Calvary Chapel lists symptoms of institutionalization. Each symptom was exhibited by the Pharisees, who were heavily entrenched in a dead religious establishment.

1. Insistence on doing what has always been done.[38]

2. Resting on your laurels.[39]

3. Being threatened by displays of God's power.[40]

4. Having greater concern for outward appearance than inner purity.[41]

5. Fear of / disdain for sinners.[42]

6. Evaluating truth claims by expert opinions versus coherence with scripture.[43]

7. A desire to protect social status.[44]

To these symptoms, I would add:

8. Prosperity.

Finke and Stark are convinced that prosperity was an important factor in the decline of denominations based in New England.

"Religion brought forth prosperity, and the daughter destroyed the mother." - Cotton Mather, 17th Century Puritan minister

"Boston is a large and populous place, and very wealthy... too much conformed to the world. There is much of the pride of life to be seen in their assemblies. Jewels, patches, and gay apparel are commonly worn by the female sex. The little infants who were brought to baptism, were wrapped up in such fine things, and so much pains taken to address them, that one would think they were brought thither to be initiated into, rather than to renounce, the pomps and vanities of this wicked world." - George Whitefield[45]

9. A tendency to overqualify leaders...

Both the early Methodists and Calvary Chapel see seminary training not just as unnecessary, but as potential threats to church planting. Lower requirements for training pastors enabled both movements to mobilize new church planters quickly.

10. ...while lowering standards for everyone else.

After their statistical study of denominations that have done well in the U.S., Finke and Stark note:

"To the degree that denominations rejected traditional doctrines and ceased to make serious demands on their followers, they ceased to prosper."[46]

"Religious organizations can thrive only to the extent that they have a theology that can comfort souls and motivate sacrifice."[47]

What can we learn from Calvary Chapel and the Methodists? They remind us that church planting can succeed in the U.S. It has happened in the past, it's happening in our own day, and it will happen again.

Xenos is a critical stage in our own history. Will we be able to duplicate what has happened here in other places, or will we gradually turn inward? Are there signs of a healthy movement, or symptoms that the establishment is creeping in?

The biblical rationale for church planting

No one can deny that church planting bears tremendous fruit, but does the Bible advocate church planting? A survey of the New Testament reveals that church planting is implied in the Great Commission, a natural result of the expansion of the gospel, and a deliberate strategy employed by Paul and others.

1. Implied in the great commission

Just after his resurrection, Jesus commissioned his disciples to carry out a great task:

(Matthew 28:18-20) "And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, 'All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 'Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.'"

The main verb in this command is to make disciples. The verbs for "go," "baptize," and "teach" are participles that explain what making disciples involves. In the book of Acts we see how the first Christians carried out this process. Peter went to the temple precinct to preach the gospel. When listeners received the good news, they were baptized. Luke says new Christians were "added to their number" or literally, "added together" (Acts 2:47). In other words, converts were not saved in isolation, but rather brought into community. These growing disciples "devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer" (Acts 2:42). They received training in the context of Christian fellowship.

Jesus always envisioned his disciples growing in love together.[48] Learning to obey Christ was never meant to be an individual endeavor. Paul said it was only "as each part does its own special work" that the "whole body is healthy and growing and full of love."[49] This is the environment disciples need in order to grow. Therefore Jesus' command to make disciples requires the establishment of a community of Christians, a church.

"Jesus' command [the Great Commission] instructed his listeners to evangelize and to gather the new believers into local congregations where they could be discipled, baptized and taught. In that setting, the process of their growth would occur."[50]

2. A natural result of the expansion of the Gospel

The first few chapters of Acts do not reveal a deliberate plan to form new churches. But we do see people receiving the gospel and associating in groups to follow Christ together.

A. Small gatherings

The first assembly of Christ-followers met in the upstairs room of a house where the apostles lived. This assembly included the apostles, less Judas, the brothers of Jesus, Jesus' mom, and many others-about 120 believers total. This early group was "of one mind" (Acts 1:14) and "continually devoted to prayer" (Acts 1:14) as they gathered to hear the apostles speak (Acts 1:15ff).

Originally, this single gathering of Christians in Jerusalem comprised the entire church. "On the day of Pentecost," Luke says "all the believers were meeting together in one place." (Acts 2:1)

Then the Holy Spirit came, as Jesus promised, and the number of believers in this original group grew quickly. The Holy Spirit empowered Peter to preach the gospel, and thousands of people were converted (Acts 2:41).

This now enormous congregation broke down into smaller groups to share meals and take communion in private homes (Acts 2:46). Luke doesn't mention any deliberate plan to bring this about. These home gatherings probably formed spontaneously through friendship and family ties. Since there were thousands of believers, there must have been hundreds of gatherings like this.

B. Persecution and itinerant preaching.

Jewish authorities began persecuting Christians in Jerusalem, forcing many to leave (Acts 7; 8:1-4). These Christians preached the gospel as they travelled to new places. Philip is given as a prime example. He started preaching in "the city of Samaria"[51] (Acts 8:5). Luke says that many believed and were baptized there (Acts 8:5-24).

Probably hundreds of Christians like Philip left Jerusalem to flee persecution. Many of them shared their faith in Christ as they went (Acts 8:1,4), making converts in the villages of Judea and Samaria.

C. Association.

New believers who heard Philip preach in Samaria associated in crowds at first. They listened and watched Philip perform miracles "with one accord" (Acts 8:6). They also assembled together when Peter and John arrived to give them the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:14-17).

Converts in other locations also gathered into small communities. There was a group of "disciples at Damascus" (Acts 9:2,10,19) before Paul ever arrived. Cornelius' relatives and close friends in Caesarea formed another Christian community. At Lydda there were a number of Christians ("saints" in Acts 9:32). There was also community of disciples at Sharon (Acts 9:35) and Joppa (Acts 9:38).

Luke never tells us how these Christians came to associate with each other. Christians in various locations probably sought each other out for friendship and support. Whatever the reason, the result was the formation of churches, small assemblies of believers.

3. A deliberate strategy employed by Paul and others.

Luke's description of Paul's ministry in the middle of Acts reveals a more developed approach to planting new churches. Read Acts 14:21-23. Notice that Paul and Barnabas' work starts with "preaching" to make "disciples" (Acts 14:21) and ends with "churches" (Acts 14:23). Let's break down the steps involved.

A. First, they "preached the gospel."[52]

B. Next, they "made disciples." They met together with young converts for prayer, communion and Bible study. At this stage, a local church was born.

C. Then they "returned," which implies they were gone for a while. After letting the new church develop a life of its own, they came back to check its progress and to urge believers in it to continue following Christ. Luke repeatedly says they did this by "strengthening and encouraging" the brethren (Acts 15:32,41; 18:23).

D. Finally, they "appointed elders." The norm was to appoint more than one, or a "plurality," of elders to oversee each church.[53]

We can't reduce the complex story of church planting in the New Testament to a simple script, but we can recognize in each of these activities an essential component of the church planting process. Let's take a closer look at each one.

A. Preaching the gospel

The Holy Spirit sent Paul and Barnabas on a preaching tour of Asia Minor (Acts 13:1-3). During this first "missionary journey," they went from town to town like Methodist circuit riders "proclaiming the word of God" (Acts 13:2,5). They preached the gospel in Psidian Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra.

On these visits and on subsequent trips, Paul began by preaching to the Jews, usually in a local synagogue.[54] If there was no synagogue in town, he tried to meet Jews who lived there and shared the Gospel with them (see "place of prayer" in Acts 16:13). Converts won through these initial contacts already knew each other and easily formed the nucleus of a church.

In Athens, where no synagogue is mentioned, Paul managed to work his way into a different social network. He spoke with Epicurean and Stoic philosophers, and was eventually given the opportunity to preach the gospel to their philosophical society at the Areopagus. Converts he won there also had a natural affinity for each other (Acts 17:32-34).

When Peter arrived at Caesarea to meet Cornelius, he introduced the gospel to yet another social network: Cornelius' extended family and friends. They met in Cornelius' home to hear Peter speak. Like Jews in a synagogue, or the society of philosophers in Athens, they already had strong social ties. No one would have to encourage them to gather together as a church.

IMPLICATION: These examples suggest that church planters should learn how people organize themselves in the communities they are trying to reach. Then they should find away to get the gospel into these social networks so converts will already have relational ties with each other. In North Linden, suburban social networks (schools, the work place, sports leagues) are either broken or non-existent. The two primary organizing structures we've found are gangs and large numbers of people living under the same roof. We haven't done much work among gangs. But we are seeing some success simply entering people's homes and bringing the gospel into their social setting.

B. Making disciples

The act of preaching the gospel is closely associated with making disciples (Acts 5:42-6:1; 6:7; 14:21). When people responded to the gospel message by turning to God and asking for forgiveness, they became disciples of Christ (Acts 18:27). Paul worked hard to thoroughly ground these new disciples in the word. Whether his stay in a particular town was short or long, he used every opportunity to equip believers. During a brief visit at Troas, he taught all night (Acts 20:7,11). Despite being at Thessalonica no more than a month,[55] he taught the Christians there extensively and sent Timothy to provide additional instruction.[56] At Ephesus, Paul "reasoned daily in the school of Tyrannus" (Acts 19:9), taught "publicly and from house to house," (Acts 20:20), and "for three years never stopped warning each of them night and day with tears." (Acts 20:31)

IMPLICATION: Church planters should imitate the strong emphasis on gospel preaching and training in Paul's ministry. They ought to have a plan in place from the outset to teach people in their new church "the whole purpose of God."[57] This plan should include a provision for in-depth training that goes beyond what is covered in weekly services.

C. Returning, overseeing, and encouraging

On his way to planting new churches, Paul returned to existing ones to check on their progress (Acts 15:36). During these visits, Paul devoted his time to teaching and exhortation. The goal of his instruction was to love and build up his listeners. When necessary, he also disciplined wayward Christians and corrected false teaching.[58]

Of course, Paul could only visit one church at a time. To provide adequate oversight for his growing network of churches, he relied on dozens of coworkers to gather information and relay his instructions. Paul's ability to form these coworkers into a team of like-minded servants is an often overlooked key to the success of his church planting ministry.

"In his friends [Paul] was able to call forth a devotion which knew no limits. Priscilla and Aquila risked their lives for him in a dangerous situation (Rom. 16:3 ff.). Epaphroditus of Philippi overtaxed his strength and suffered an almost fatal illness in his anxiety to be of service to the imprisoned apostle (Phil. 2:25-20). Timothy readily surrendered whatever personal ambitions he might have cherished in order to play the part of a son to Paul and help him in his missionary activity, showing a selfless concern for others that matched the apostle's own eagerness to spend and be spent for them (Phil. 2:19-20)."[59]

Without the help of his team, Paul could never have overseen so many churches. His friends provided him with critically needed financial support (1 Cor. 16:17), comfort (2 Cor. 7:6), and protection (Acts 9:25). Together with Paul they prayed for the welfare of each of their churches (Phil. 1:3-11; Col. 4:12). They also taught local congregations, corrected false teaching, opposed bad influences in the church, and encouraged believers to remain true to the gospel.[60]

IMPLICATION: If you want to plant a network of churches, the churches you start will need oversight. And to give them proper oversight, you'll need help. Even if you hope to found a church and stay to pastor it, you'll need to build a team of people around you in order to succeed. The importance of team building in church planting is confirmed by research:

"70 percent... of all churches beginning with a committed core group became self-supporting... Those churches started without a committed core group had a 38 percent... success rate. Starting with a committed core group of believers has a significant effect on the church's ability to become self-supporting over time."[61]

Careful students of Paul can't miss the depth of affection he had for his coworkers. He loved them, esteemed them, and appreciated their service. Perhaps this is why he "attracted friends around him as a magnet attracts iron filings."[62] Ask God to give you the same love and affection for your partners in ministry.

D. Appointing elders[63]

To solidify their gains on their first missionary journey, Paul and Barnabas appointed elders in "every church" (Acts 14:23). They installed these elders after each church had existed for awhile. Elder appointments were preceded by a time of prayer and fasting, presumably to seek God's wisdom regarding whom to select. Then Paul and Barnabas put them before God for consideration as servants ("commended them to the Lord", Acts 4:23). Ultimately it was the job of the Holy Spirit to determine who should lead (Acts 20:28).

In his own life, Paul pointed to the fruit of his labor as God's stamp of approval on his ministry (2 Cor. 3:1,2). He and Barnabas likely looked for similar evidence to identify who was fit to serve as an elder. Character and competence in the word (1 Tim. 3; Titus 1), faith, being Spirit-filled (Acts 6:5), and having a good reputation (Acts 16:2) were also important factors.

IMPLICATION: Churches can form in the absence of leadership. But they should be led whenever possible. In Titus 1, Paul insists that churches on Crete be in good order with qualified leadership. When church planters start a church, if they don't plan to lead for the long term, they should appoint one or preferably more than one leader.

IMPLICATION: Prospective church planters should seriously consider not just going and starting a single church, but going to several places and starting several churches! This is the approach Paul took. There is nothing wrong with starting a church and staying long term to lead it. We have at least one example in the New Testament of a Christian worker who did just that.[64] But Paul and the Methodists have shown the tremendous fruit that can be born through a more mobile approach.


What does the Bible say about church planting? Planting churches is consistent with the great commission. Churches emerged wherever the gospel spread, showing Jesus' commitment to build his church. Church planting was not isolated activity. Paul planted churches almost everywhere he went.

"The life of Paul and the action of the early church demonstrate that church planting was a primary activity. Any church wishing to rediscover the dynamic nature of the early church should consider planting new churches."[65]

So the New Testament provides ample support for making church planting a key emphasis in our ministry. We'd be foolish not to employ such an effective strategy for carrying out the Great Commission.

Week 2

Are you cut out to plant a church?

If you're interested in planting a new church, it's natural to ask yourself, am I cut out for it? Am I the kind of person who could/should do something like that? Hopefully anyone interested in planting a church would have the humility to wonder about this.

Fortunately, God can use people with a broken, sinful past to build his church (1 Tim. 1:15). Anyone who has read the story of English pastor John Newton[66] knows what God can do through a sinful person who once was far from him. God delights to do great work through the most unlikely people-this is how he demonstrates his power and glory.

That said, church planting isn't for everyone. To get a better feel for what church planters are like are what they do, we'll start by considering Paul's reflections on his own role as a church planter.

Exercise: Have half the room read Acts 20:17-38 and the other half read 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12. Ask students to make observations in two broad categories: What are church planters like (character qualities)? What do they do? Ask them to tie their observations to the text. Write down what they say on a whiteboard.

Now that we gave a good profile of what a church planter is like, let's turn our attention to four important areas that will help us determine whether God would have you plant a church: character, consecration, gifting, and calling.

1. The importance of character and competence in the word

The early church commissioned men to plant churches with exemplary character who were known by their congregations to be fully committed to Christ and gifted to teach the word.

Consider Barnabas. He was generous (Acts 4:36,37), an encourager, a good man full of the Holy Spirit and faith (Acts 11:22-24), and a prophet who taught the word ("they" in Acts 11:26; Acts 13:1).

Timothy was spoken well of by people who know him (Acts 16:2). He was a faithful (1 Cor. 4:17) worker who could strengthen and encourage others (1 Thes. 3:2). He also had teaching-related gifting (1 Tim. 1:18.19; 2 Tim. 1:6-8; 2 Tim. 4:5).

Church planters like Barnabas and Timothy are the DNA of the churches they plant, the founding pattern that others will follow. If deacons must first be tested (1 Tim. 3:10), if elders must be able to teach (1 Tim. 3:2), if the church should not make a new convert an elder (1 Tim. 3:6) nor appoint an elder "too hastily" (1 Tim. 5:22), the same is true of a church planter.

Church planters should be "proven" in the local church first. If they aren't currently loving anyone (the true measure of character), then their efforts to plant a church won't amount to much (1 Cor. 13:3).

Even when the church was looking to fill less visible roles, they sought people who had a good reputation with outsiders, who were filled with the Spirit, who were wise (which implies knowledge of the word), and who were responsible (Acts 6:3).

IMPLICATION: Church planters should have similar qualities. Ideally, they would satisfy the requirements of deacons and elders listed in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. God isn't limited to these guidelines, and he may, at times, choose to use someone who "grows into the job." But local churches who are attempting to identify and send church planters should prefer candidates who meet these qualifications.

"For both types of ministry [pastoring and church planting] there is one basic essential: spiritual integrity... Christian leaders lead first and foremost through their mature character."[67] 

2. Consecration

Before considering what specific ministry God may be directing you towards, it's good to reflect on who you are in relation to him.

(1 Cor. 5:19,20) "Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body."

God owns you, and you exist to glorify him. Watchman Nee explains:

"Once we have made the discovery of the fact that we are the dwelling-place of God, then a full surrender of ourselves to God must follow... The difference between victorious Christians and defeated ones is not that some have the Spirit while others have not, but that some... recognize the divine ownership of their lives while others are still their own masters."[68]

Before we seek to do a great work for God, we should first turn our lives over to him to direct us. This kind of "all in" attitude is a prerequisite for anyone who would plant a church.

"He is not calling us to devote ourselves to his cause: he is asking us to yield ourselves unconditionally to his will. Are you prepared for that?"[69]

What if God's plans for you don't involve church planting? How will you respond? Our first priority is to make ourselves available to God for the work he has for us. If God does want you to plant a church, an attitude of full surrender, of embracing your identity as God's slave, will help you hang in there when the work is difficult.

"The one who is called to preach, and answers that call, must give up his entire life for the service to His Lord. There can be no misunderstanding at this point. Going into the ministry will not cost you something; it will not cost you dearly; it will cost you your life and everything in it! Are you willing to abandon your life to God's service, expecting nothing in return for your efforts?"[70]

Fortunately, Jesus promised that there will be a return for our efforts. If we lose our life for his sake, he says, "we will find it."[71] This grace upon grace is one of the most repeated promises in the gospels and extra motivation for slaves like us!

3. "Apostolic" gifting

Aubrey Malphurs, a well known expert on church planting, says "[the gift of apostleship] is important for those who decide to spend their lives planting churches."[72] Statements like this are common in church planting books. But the terms "apostle" and "apostolic gifting" can be confusing. What is the gift of apostleship? Do church planters really need to have it? If so, how can we recognize when someone is a gifted apostle?

In the New Testament, the word apostle is used as a title and to describe a spiritual gift. Apostle (Gk, "apostolos") simply means "messenger," which captures the essence of what apostles do. They take God's message to places where it hasn't been heard and proclaim it. The gift of apostleship[73] is a divine empowerment to carry out that task.

Jesus designated twelve of his disciples as apostles[74] and gave them the authority to speak on his behalf. He promised to send the Spirit who would help them remember his teachings[75] and reveal God's plans for the future.[76] Before he ascended to heaven, Jesus commissioned this unique[77] group of men to take his message to the remotest parts of the earth.[78] Some time later, Paul and James became apostles, and were given the same authority and commission. These "foundational"[79] apostles spoke for God and wrote down the revelation they received in letters to churches.[80] They were also involved in church planting. Peter and Paul are obvious examples, but church tradition indicates that the other apostles planted churches as well.[81]

The New Testament mentions additional Christian workers called apostles (Rom. 16:7; 2 Cor. 8:22,23; Phil 2:25) who taught God's word and collaborated with the foundational apostles to plant churches. Luke calls Barnabas an apostle[82] and explains how he planted churches with Paul on his first missionary journey. Paul also called Titus an apostle.[83] He assisted Paul in planting churches in Crete.[84] These individuals shared the same title and gifting as the foundational apostles, but their message did not carry the same authority. What they taught had to be consistent with the teaching of Paul and the original apostles.[85]

The New Testament descriptions of apostles just cited show a connection between apostleship and church planting. This may be why Paul lists apostleship first in his list of spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12:28). People gifted as apostles today are engaged in the same kind of work, but like Titus and Barnabas, they teach and serve under the authority of the original apostles.

How can we identify people that God has empowered to be an apostle? Unfortunately, the Bible doesn't provide a test. All we have to go on are descriptions of what apostles are like and what they do. To the observations we made in our discussion of Acts 20:17-38 and 1 Thes. 2:1-12, we can add these two characteristics:

A. Starting a new ministry from scratch: In 1 Cor. 9:2, Paul cites the existence of the church at Corinth as "the seal" of his "apostleship in the Lord." In other words, the Corinthian church itself, which he planted, was visible evidence of Paul's apostleship. Notice that Paul's work at Corinth involved more than preaching the gospel. Paul was empowered by God to establish converts into loving Christian community. This suggests that the ability to start a new work where nothing has existed before is a sign of apostolic gifting.

B. A mixture of toughness and dependence on God (2 Cor. 11:12, 23-28; 2 Cor. 11:30; 12:9): When Paul defends his apostleship in 2 Cor. 10-12, a strange paradox emerges. On the one hand, Paul is clearly a tough, tenacious, hard worker who has learned how to serve God through very difficult circumstances.

(2 Cor. 11:17) Are they servants of Christ?-I speak as if insane-I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death.

On the other hand, we see a man who is fully aware of his own weakness and limitations.

(2 Cor 11:30) If I have to boast, I will boast of what pertains to my weakness.

(2 Cor 12:9) And He has said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness." Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses.

Paul's toughness was not just an extension of his temperament or personality. God empowered him to serve through tremendous adversity, and he knew it. God seems to give apostles like Paul resilience and staying power. Observers watching an apostle should see someone who (a) isn't a quitter, who can handle setbacks, and who isn't scared away by opposition, and (b) has an ongoing awareness of their need to depend on God.[86]

Along with these positive characteristics, the Bible also gives us ways to recognize false apostles. True apostles like Paul and John told believers to look for these warning signs:

   Teaching that does not cohere with doctrines taught by the "foundational" apostles (2 Cor. 11:4), which we now have recorded for us in the New Testament.

   Status seeking (2 Cor. 11:12).

   Dishonesty (2 Cor. 11:13).

   Moral compromise ("evil" in Rev 2:2).

Before we leave the subject of apostolic gifting, a quick word about pastors. In Ephesians 4:11, Paul makes a distinction between "apostles" and "pastors." That's because pastors and apostles have different job descriptions.

A pastor shepherds the flock.[87] Shepherding is one of the main responsibilities of the elders of the local church (Acts 20:28, 1 Peter 5:2). Pastors shepherd by setting a good example (1 Peter 5:2), and by protecting their flock from "wolves" who spread false teaching (Acts 20:28). Of course, this requires that pastors themselves teach.[88]

Church planters with the gift of apostleship must also be able to pastor and teach. We saw this when Paul described his initial work with the Thessalonians.[89] But church planters must do more. They have to start something where nothing exists. This requires a willingness and ability to go to a new location (2 Cor. 8:17; "frequent journeys" 2 Cor. 11:26; Phil 2:28; 2 Tim. 4:10), and a drive/calling to start new works in a new places (Acts 9:15; Rom. 15:20).

Pastors function well within an existing ministry. People with apostolic gifting thrive in an unscripted environment. They can develop a vision for a new ministry and begin working toward it. Of course, this doesn't just come from an entrepreneurial personality. God empowers them and infuses them with his vision to start a new work. Have you ever started a Bible study that wasn't part of an existing ministry where people came to Christ and grew with the Lord? That is probably the most telling sign of apostolic gifting!


A. The gift of apostleship is closely tied to church planting, therefore we should prefer church planters who have apostolic gifting. Daniel Sinclair notes, "In my observations over the past twenty-two years of working with pioneer church planting teams, if a team lacks apostolic gifts (that is, no one on the team seems to have that breakthrough type of apostolic gifting), then they are rarely very effective."[90] This has proven true in Xenos' foreign missions work. The teams we have sent out that have lacked apostolic gifting have not fared well.

B. While we're looking for signs of apostolic gifting, we should also pay attention to obvious disqualifiers. Character is our first consideration (1 Cor 13:1-3).

C. Being an effective pastor/home group leader does not necessarily mean you are well-suited to plant a church. Pastoring and church planting are different skill sets.

D. Being involved in a church planting effort doesn't require apostolic gifting. Paul needed a supporting cast to be effective. You can make a major contribution to a church planting effort, even if you don't have the gift of apostleship.

4. Calling

We are all responsible to make disciples (Matt. 28:18-20). And the world needs new churches where disciples can grow. Does that mean every Christian has a mandate from God to plant a new church? Obviously some are not qualified because of moral failure, and others don't know the Bible well. But what about individuals who have good character and sound knowledge of the word? Can they assume God would endorse their efforts to plant a new church? Most church planting experts would say "no." They insist that individuals must be "called" by God to this work. In the absence of a call, they would advise against attempting to plant a church.

Is there biblical evidence that calling is this important? Certainly there are some ministries that every Christian should engage in, like evangelism and encouragement. But there are other ministries that are only for a few. Paul asks, "All are not apostles are they? All are not prophets are they? All are not teachers?"[91] The assumed answer is "no." Paul states this same concept in positive terms when he affirms that God has uniquely designed and gifted Christians for specific ministry roles.[92] Because of the close association between apostolic gifting and church planting, most would argue that church planting is one of those ministries that is for some, not all.

Let's look at situations where individuals were called to specific ministry roles to see if we can learn what happens when God calls someone to a particular ministry.

A. Judas' replacement: The first Christians agreed on potential candidates to replace Judas and asked the Holy Spirit to narrow down their selection.

(Acts 1:23-26) "So they [the brethren] put forward two men, Joseph called Barsabbas (who was also called Justus), and Matthias. And they prayed and said, 'You, Lord, who know the hearts of all men, show which one of these two You have chosen to occupy this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.' And they drew lots for them, and the lot fell to Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles."

B. Paul: God called Paul to be an apostle (Rom. 1:1; 1 Cor. 1:1; Gal. 1:15,16, etc.). But he announced Paul's call to Ananias (Acts 9:11,12), and Ananias confirmed Paul's call by laying hands on him (Acts 9:17). Later, Barnabas sought out Paul and brought him to Antioch to teach (Acts 11:25,26).

C. Barnabas: When the church in Jerusalem heard that a large number of Greeks were coming to Christ in Antioch, they sent Barnabas as their emissary to observe what was going on, to teach, and to encourage them (Acts 11:22-24).

D. The first missionary journey: The Holy Spirit directed the local church at Antioch to "set apart" Paul and Barnabas "for the work to which I have called them."[93] This was the catalyst for their first missionary journey together.

E. Judas (Barsabbus) and Silas: The church at Jerusalem selected these "leading men among the brethren" who were prophets to accompany Paul and Barnabas (Acts 15:22-27,32).

F. John Mark and Silas: These men became involved in church planting after Barnabas and Paul parted ways. Barnabas insisted on taking along John Mark (Acts 15:39). Paul recruited Silas (Acts 15:40). Both had the support of the believers at Antioch (Acts 15:40b).

G. Timothy: Paul recruited Timothy to be on his church planting team (Acts 16:1). He was "well spoken of by the brethren who were at Lystra and Iconium" (Acts 16:2). Paul linked Timothy's teaching and leading to prophecies spoken about him (1 Tim. 1:18), presumably by Spirit-filled Christians whom God used to confirm his calling.

H. Seven men of good reputation: The congregation of disciples in Jerusalem selected seven men to serve tables who had a good reputation and who were filled with the Spirit and with wisdom (Acts 6:2,3).

I. The leaders of new churches: We saw earlier how, after a time of prayer and fasting, Paul and Barnabas appointed leaders in the churches they started on their first missionary journey (14:23).

In most of these situations, two parties are involved in the selection of individuals for ministry: the Holy Spirit and the local church. This leads us to the following definition of a call: The Holy Spirit working through the Body of Christ to set apart an individual for a specific ministry role.


A. If you want to plant a church, that's good. Paul encourages Christians to aspire to serve in leading roles ("If any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do.", 1 Tim. 3:1). But we should also recognize God's role in the selection process. Paul told the elders at Ephesus to shepherd "the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers" (Acts 20:28).

B. Lean against your American tendency to think and act as an individual. Aspiring church planters would do well to reflect on this observation by Scott Thomas:

"While western culture promotes and encourages the personal call and entrepreneurial spirit of the planter, the New Testament by contrast stresses the corporate initiatives of congregations in selecting suitable people for Gospel ministry."[94]

Having become convinced that a call is indeed important, many aspiring church planters agonize over whether or not they have truly been called by God.

"Many... are... wondering and questioning the whole matter. In the process, the enemy would seek to convince that it is all your doing, your desire, your imagination, just your pride! After all, why would God call you to the ministry? And to even entertain the thought just proves your own arrogance! Every one who is genuinely called will go through this and must work through this until it is personally resolved."[95]

"It is like the farmer who was plowing in his field when God called. He saw the clouds in the sky form the letters G P C, which he understood to mean, 'Go, preach Christ!' When he shared the story with a close friend, he was wisely challenged with the question, 'How do you know that the letters didn't mean, 'Go, plow corn?'"[96]

Knowing we need guidance and encouragement, God uses several means to confirm his call. Here are a few.

A. Through other people. Because of the Bible's strong emphasis on the corporate nature of our call to ministry, it's vitally important, if you're feeling called to plant a church, that you talk about it with people who know you. Ask them what they think. Do they agree that you are well-suited to start a new church? If God has placed a desire on your heart to start a new work, he is likely speaking to other believers about it as well. Pray with them and seek clarity and direction from God. We should value the affirmation and support of our local church when assessing the validity of our call.

B. By putting a similar burden on someone else's heart. If God is leading you to plant a church, he will probably put people in your life who are captured by the same vision and want to help. God often deploys his servants in teams. Jesus sent his disciples out two-by-two (Luke 10:1). God called Barnabas and Paul (Acts 13:1-3). And even after they split, both men showed their aversion to serving solo by immediately seeking out new ministry companions (Acts 15:39,40).

C. Through your past ministry experience. Paul pointed to the fruit of his labor as visible evidence of his commendation by God (2 Cor. 3:1,2). He and Barnabas likely looked for similar evidence to identify who was fit to serve as an elder. What has happened in your past ministry? Have you started a new work before? Did God use it to change lives (1 Cor. 9:2)?

D. Through your own burdens and desires. If your call is genuine, you're probably feeling an inward desire (Phil 2:13) to do the kinds of things that church planters do, like starting something new in a new place, preaching the word and deeply investing in other people. Do you have those desires?

E. By providing opportunities. Having an opportunity to do something doesn't mean you are called to do it. But God will open doors (Col 4:2-4) and put opportunities in front of us that are consistent with what he wants us to do. God gave Paul and Apollos opportunity to conduct their preaching ministry (1 Cor. 3:5). Paul realized his desire to stay with the Corinthians was contingent on God allowing it (16:5-7). What open doors are before you in your current situation?

As you ponder the ways God confirms his calling, don't forget to watch out for these red flags.

A. Sometimes we can mistake a strong desire to leave an unpleasant situation for a call. Our desire to leave our present post could be due to a variety of factors:

Some people are temperamentally predisposed to being restless. Being bored and wanting to try something new is not a good reason to start a church.

Others may be running away from problems. Maybe you're disappointed with your friendships. Maybe you have a point of contention with God (e.g. an unwillingness to forgive someone who hurt you). Or perhaps it is difficult to see how your present ministry will ever bear fruit. Planting a church may be an attractive new venture, but it won't make these problems go away.

Sometimes we've been embarrassed, and aren't happy with how we're perceived by other people. A new start may seem attractive, but our character flaws won't be changed by leaving. Wherever we go, our flaws will follow.

B. Some people see church planting as a way to make a name for themselves. We've all heard the success stories: a visionary church planter starts with a handful of people and a dream. After years of hard work, the small flock grows into an enormous church. Book deals and speaking tours follow. It all sounds very appealing, but rarely happens. Most pastors will spend the best part of their lives faithfully serving the people God has entrusted to them in relative obscurity. If you're looking for fame and high visibility, you've picked the wrong profession. Your "call" is just a self serving attempt to build a sense of self worth on a shaky foundation. God is already delighted to call you his child! Your name is written in the book of life.[97] Isn't that enough?

"We must be aware of identifying with our ministry and making it a functional salvation and an extension of ourselves. Until we see this, we may be in the short term successful, but also driven, scared, and either too timid or too brash-until we see what we are doing. We are clashing our cymbals."[98]

Being convinced that God (not your flesh) is calling you to plant a church is important. Church planting is difficult work. Many church planters report that during low points, knowing God called them to their ministry kept them going:

"I don't see how anyone could survive in the ministry if he felt it was just his own choice. Some ministers scarcely have two good days back to back. They are sustained by the knowledge that God has placed them where they are. Ministers without such a conviction often lack courage and carry their resignation letter in their coat pocket. At the slightest hint of difficulty, they're gone."[99]

Because of this, Paul urged Timothy to draw on his own calling for motivation to "fight the good fight" in the face of opposition (1 Tim. 1:18,19).

If you are convinced God wants you to plant a church, here are two final words of advice.

A. It's important to share the vision God has given you with other people. But in your interactions with others, be aware that overemphasizing your call may have undesirable consequences. Chuck Smith warns,

"Emphasizing a call to the ministry tends to exaggerate the distinction between clergy and laity."[100]

Even as you share that you've been called by God to plant a church, keep stressing that every believer is a minister of God, and that God has a specific ministry role in mind for each person. God is calling everyone to significant levels of service, even if they haven't had a "Damascus Road" experience, and even if their calling doesn't involve church planting.

B. It's also important to remember that unlike the Word, which has objective authority, your call is subjective. Sometimes Christians think they are called when they aren't. We could cite numerous contemporary examples of people who were "called" to ministries for which the later proved to be ill-suited. Francis Schaeffer strikes the right balance of confidence and humility regarding his call:

"When the Lord led my wife and myself to begin L'Abri, the leading was so clear that not to have moved forward would have been disobedience. And yet if you had asked me at that time if I was as sure of this as I was that which Scripture taught, I could not have said yes. But as the years have passed there is no doubt that we did understand the leading of the Lord [in beginning L'Abri]."[101]

Characteristics of unsuccessful church planters

When a church plant fails, it's often difficult to diagnose what went wrong. Some people think they are called when they are not. Others are truly called, but their church plant fails for other reasons. Todd Hunter, the former National Director for the Association of Vineyard Churches, prepared an "autopsy report" of 22 failed church plants. He focused his research on the characteristics each church planter. He came up with the following profile of a church planter who is likely to fail:[102]

1. Does not have the ability to identify, recruit, train, deploy, monitor, feed and reproduce workers and leaders (95%).

2. Uses ineffective methods of evangelism, and is unwilling to be ruthless at evaluating the results of those methods (77%).

3. Has no clear plan and goals which results in working hard at the wrong things or a lack of focus (77%).

4. Has no proven track record under supervision or authority (73%).

5. Emphasizes being a nurturer / enabler / facilitator rather than an assertive leader who is equipped (68%).

6. Fails to adequately research and understand the community in which they try to build a church (64%).

7. Has no local or extra local support or encouragement from other leaders (64%).

8. Is unsure about the Holy Spirit's leading for the church (59%).

9. Is not willing to take responsibility for church growth (55%).

10. Has ego strength problems. The success or failure of the church is tied to the planter's self image (55%).

11. Is unsure of their call (50%).

This list is helpful, but obviously not exhaustive. Nothing is said here about moral lapses, marital problems, personal tragedies, and other factors which often contribute to failed church plants. The results do imply, however, that confident, assertive, and directive leaders are more likely to succeed than leaders who lack those qualities.

The role of assessment and "Boot Camps"

Most church planting organizations require prospective church planters to participate in some kind of assessment experience. The purpose of the assessment is to evaluate a church planter's suitability for church planting.

Assessments usually last a few days and can be quite intense. Spouses are typically required to attend so assessors can get a good look at the church planter's marriage. Assessment activities include:


   Simulations where the church planter is put in a problem solving situation and asked to come up with a solution.

   Group activities.

   In-depth interviews.

Some assessment centers measure how well church planting candidates stack up against Charles Ridley's 13 characteristics of successful church planters.[103] Ridley is a leading pioneer in church planting assessment.

If you sense God's calling to plant a church, I recommend getting assessed. Here's why:

1. Most church planting experts believe that church planting candidates who go through an assessment process are more likely to succeed.

"Assessed church planters substantially outperformed those who had not been assessed. Assessed church planters led churches with at least a 20 percent higher attendance each year during the first 4 years than planters who were not assessed. In year three, churches led by assessed planters were 27 percent larger than their counterparts."[104]

2. Assessments help resource providers (churches/denominations who supply people, equipment, land and money) use their resources wisely. Church planting can be expensive both in personnel and dollars. Churches and denominations should have reasonable confidence that the planter is ready and their call is authentic. Certainly a church planter seeking to draw people and funding from a local church or denomination should be willing to undergo an assessment if asked.

3. Church planting is costly to the people involved. Failed attempts to plant a church can leave a church planter in a weakened spiritual state. People in a poorly led church plant can also be adversely affected. Whether the plant succeeds or fails, the entire endeavor will be very demanding on the church planter's family. An assessment helps sending organizations spot potential problems before planters are out on their own.

4. A good assessment can help the church planter prepare for a successful plant. Assessment helps church planters better understand what to expect when they plant their own church. Talking with a seasoned church planter/assessor grounds the idealism of aspiring church planters in reality. Assessments can also clarify next steps for a planter, and identify character and skill deficiencies that need attention.

5. A careful assessment provides a time of reflection that can either confirm a legitimate call, or expose a false sense of call. As stated earlier, it is possible for someone to be mistaken on this point. An assessment invites an objective outside opinion.

Boot camps offer church planters intensive training for anywhere from two days to two weeks. Acts 29, a church planting network founded by Seattle pastor Mark Driscoll, offers one of the better known boot camps.

"Acts 29 Boot Camps are church planting conferences open to the public that focus on the vision of church planting, calling of the planter, mandate to multiply churches and the theological foundation for gospel-centered church planting."[105]

Acts 29 Boot Camps combine training with an optional assessment on the third day of the event. Other boot camps only offer training, and still others require successful completion of a church planter assessment before attending. Here are a few other boot camps that we know of:

I can't vouch for the quality of these training events. If you attend one, let me know what you think!

Factors to consider when selecting a field

Sometimes God calls people to start a new work in a specific location. Paul's vision of the man from Macedonia is a classic example:

(Acts 16:9,10) "A vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing and appealing to him, and saying, 'Come over to Macedonia and help us.' When he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them."

But is a call to a specific location necessary before you set off to plant a church? Many pastors report receiving a more general call to ministry and then later, after prayer and reflection, settling on a specific location.

Rick Warren, the founder of Saddleback Church in Orange County, California says he received a "call to ministry"[106] in 1970. Three years later, as he listened to a sermon at the First Baptist Church, in Dallas Texas, Warren felt God specifically calling him to pastor a single church for the rest of his life. He greatly admired the pastor, W.A. Criswell, and waited after the service to meet him. When Criswell shook Warren's hand, he told him, "Young man, I feel led to lay hands on you and pray for you."[107] Criswell immediately laid hands on him and asked that God would give Warren a double-portion of Spirit and grow his future church twice as big as his own.

After several more years in seminary, Warren and his wife prayed for guidance about where they should start their ministry. They considered world missions, but sensed God guiding them toward a major metropolitan area in the United States.

After this, Warren "practically lived in university libraries"[108] studying data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Through his research, he discovered that the three most unchurched areas in the U.S. were Washington, Oregon, and California. He also learned that the Saddleback Valley in Orange County was the fastest growing area in the United Sates. That last bit of statistical info captured Warren's attention, and then he heard God say, "That's where I want you to plant a church."[109]

Warren's story is interesting, because it shows how a burden for a specific location or group of people can evolve over time as you pray and consider where God might have you serve.

Here are a few factors to consider as you weigh out where to start a new church:

1. God may not call you to a place. Instead, he may have a particular group of people in mind for you to serve, right in your home town. It isn't necessarily more spiritual to go somewhere. What matters most is following God wherever (or to whoever) he leads.

2. A call (or at least a burden) to serve in a particular place often arises from exposure to needs. When Paul was in Athens, the spiritual state of the Athenians prompted him to speak up.

(Acts 17:16-17) "Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was being provoked within him as he was observing the city full of idols. So he was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and in the market place every day with those who happened to be present."

We have seen members of our own church cultivate similar burdens by making trips back to the town where they grew up, going on a short-term missions trip, or working in an inner-city school.

"I have come to the conclusion that it is much better to call most Christians to look outward first in discovering their callings. Expose believers to the needs of people and let them see if God burdens their heart."[110]

Even when you don't have the opportunity to physically visit a potential church planting site, simply learning more about the area can strengthen your burden.

"For many who are on the front end of the church planting process-aware of the call but unsure of the place-prayerful and reasonable consideration of rapidly growing cities full of people most naturally open to the gospel can very often be the seed bed out of which vision and calling is discovered. Vision rarely occurs in a vacuum-but it often comes as we thoughtfully expose ourselves to the pragmatic realities of significant needs and fresh opportunities."[111]

3. Paul wanted to preach where the name of Christ had never been heard.[112] He wasn't interested in laboring in another Bible preacher's backyard. Church planters should prioritize serving in locations (or among people) where the Gospel is not being communicated effectively. As we discussed earlier in the course, there are still people and places right here in the U.S. that meet this criteria.

4. Paul also concentrated his preaching efforts on major urban centers. He stayed for quite a while in the larger cities of Ephesus and Corinth. His work spilled over from there into surrounding regions. At Ephesus Luke says "all who lived in Asia [not the continent but the Roman province around Ephesus] heard the word" (19:10).

Once major urban centers had been reached, Paul was ready to move on to new regions. Read Romans 15:19b-20. Notice that Paul says, "from Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ." Paul is not asserting that he covered every aspect of the gospel in his preaching. He makes that claim in other places.[113] Here he is saying that his mission to preach the gospel was fully carried out from Jerusalem to Illyricum (northwest of Macedonia). Paul didn't personally plant a church in every village in this giant swath of territory, but he started churches in every major urban center within it. Apparently he thought this was enough.

"In little more than ten years, St. Paul established the Church in four provinces of the Empire, Galatia, Macedonia, Achaia and Asia. Before AD 47 there were no Churches in these provinces; in AD 57 St. Paul could speak as if his work there was done, and could plan extensive tours into the far west without anxiety lest the churches which he had founded might perish in his absence for want of his guidance and support."[114]

IMPLICATION: If you are not sure where God wants you to serve, consider going to a city. God may call some people to plant churches in rural areas. And they shouldn't be discouraged from doing so. But established churches looking to spend their resources wisely should be aware of the strategic advantages of cities.

The Redeemer Church Planter Center has decided to focus on an urban church planting strategy. In Redeemer's Church Planter Manual, co-written by Tim Keller and J. Allen Thompson, the authors point out, "Paul's missionary work was urban-centered... Christianity spread better in the urban Roman Empire than in the countryside. Why? 1) People in the city are less conservative, more open to new ideas. 2) Christian evangelists found that, in the city the gospel could spread faster into influence centers-law, politics, arts, etc., and into diverse national groups. By the year 300 A.D., over half of the urban populations of the Empire were Christian while the countryside was pagan. (The word paganus means country-man!) The early church was urban."[115]


Studying your field

Once you've settled on your target area/group, it's important to learn as much as you can about the people you're trying to reach. It never hurts to get the facts.

(Proverbs 24:3-4) "By wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established; and by knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches."

Remember Todd Hunter's characteristics of failed church planters? The fifth most common trait was "they failed to adequately research and understand the community in which they tried to build a church." This was true of 64% of the failed church planters he interviewed.[116]

You can learn about your target field in many ways. Here are the two of the best: conducting ethnographic and demographic research.

Ethnographic (a.k.a. "qualitative") research is usually done with a very small sample of the population you are trying to study. The goal is to learn in-depth information about a few individuals who live in your target field. This information is normally gathered through interviews and conversations.

Demographic (a.k.a. "quantitative") research seeks to form a generalized description of a large group of people. It involves surveying a "representative sample" of the population and making generalizations based on the data obtained.

Both kinds of research are very useful. Let's take a closer look at each approach.

1. Ethnographic (qualitative) research

Goal: To gain in-depth understanding of individuals.

When Paul arrived in Athens, he studied what he saw carefully. He "observed the city full of idols" (Acts 17:16). He "observed that they were religious in all respects" (17:22). He gained this information through walking tours and careful inspection:

(Acts 17:23) "For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, 'TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.'"

Paul increased his knowledge of the people of Athens by "reasoning... in the market place every day with those who happened to be present" (Acts 17:17). Paul didn't just declare the gospel. He went back and forth with his listeners, sharing Christ, responding to questions and objections, and then sharing Christ again. Paul also "conversed" with Epicurean and Stoic philosophers (Acts 17:18). During these conversations, Paul assessed everything he saw and heard through a spiritual grid.

IMPLICATION: We should walk through the towns or neighborhoods we're interested in reaching, noting how people live. Where do they work? What are their "monuments?" What are their interests and passions? We should also engage people in conversation, share our worldview, gauge their responses, and hear what they have to say.

If we observe and listen carefully enough, we'll discover idols, just like Paul did. These idols typically won't be figurines of deities as they were in Athens. Instead we'll notice that people are devoting great amounts of time, treasure, and emotional energy to certain things that give them a sense of meaning, purpose, and identity (e.g. A student of Columbus would be struck by the huge RVs and elaborate equipment displayed by tailgaters near Ohio Stadium during a home football game).

"Idols are not just on pagan altars, but in well-educated human hearts and minds. The apostle Paul associates the dynamics of human greed, lust, craving, and coveting with idolatry (Ephesians 5:5; Colossians 3:5). An idol is something within, a creation that is inflated to function as a substitute for God."[117]

We want people in the area to put their faith in Christ. But we'll find that many of them have put their faith in something else. C.K. Chesterton said, "when we cease to worship God, we do not worship nothing, we worship anything."[118] Finding out what that "anything" is should be a primary goal of ethnographic research.

Through our idols we hope to gain power and control over our lives. But unlike the true God who is ever present and reliable, idols fail to deliver on their promises. The result of putting one's faith in them is disaster. Instead of finding freedom and control, we wind up enslaved. Helping people see this dynamic in their own life is an important stage in bringing them to Christ.

IMPLICATION: A key part of gathering ethnographic information is uncovering the idols in which people put their trust. What matters most to people? What are they putting their hope in? Who/what do they look to when they are sad, confused, or afraid?

The video at the link below is an entertaining example of ethnographic research. It features Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, and Terry Moran from ABC's Nightline. Driscoll takes Moran on a driving tour of Seattle's idols. Like Paul in Acts 17, Driscoll comments on various "objects of worship."

Conversations and interviews

Ethnographic research requires meeting with people face-to-face wherever you can-on the street, in a coffee shop, at a restaurant, in a grocery store. One way to do this is by volunteering/working in area stores or social service agencies to get to know people and to build relationships. People may be suspicious of your intentions at first, but if you're transparent about your faith, honest about your interest in planting a church, and diligent to work harder and be more useful than everyone around you, over time you will establish trust and build relationships. Through friends formed in settings like this and the many conversations you have with them, you will gain priceless insight into the lives of people in your target area. You will also cultivate an authentic love for the people that you are trying to reach, regardless of how they respond.

Below is a list of topics to explore in interviews and conversations. Your goal is to find out what people are like: What are their preferences, hobbies, goals, values? What social structures organize their community (families, gangs, mosques, churches, schools, sports leagues, clubs/societies)? What is their world view? You'll need to be flexible and realistic about how much you can learn in a single conversation. People won't have much to say on some topics, but they'll talk on and on about others. Let them drive the conversation, and do your best to remember what you hear.

A. Personal stories

   What has been happening in their life?

   What are their most pressing needs?

   How did they come to live in this area?

B. Social connections

   Are they involved in a smaller group within their community (gang, church, school faculty, football team)?

   What role do they play in that smaller group?

   Are they in a position of influence? If so, how do they influence others? 

C. Interests/preferences

   What kind of music and movies are they into?

   What do they do for recreation?

   Who do they like to be with? Who are they avoiding?

D. Outlook on life

   What do they perceive to be their biggest problem?

   What goals do they have?

   Are they hopeful or despairing?

   Are things the way they should be? If not, what needs change?

   What do they wish for?

   What are they afraid of?

E. Spiritual beliefs

   What aspects of the Christian worldview do they grasp?

   What do they accept and reject about Christianity?

   How do they explain suffering?

   Who do they pray to?

   What do they find most objectionable about faith and spiritual things?

   What kind of church do they think the area would benefit from? What would it look like?

F. Community networking

   Would they come to a meeting with other people who are interested in starting a new church?

   Are they interested in coming to an investigative Bible study where they can get their questions answered?

   Do they know anyone who might be good source of information on starting a new church in this area?

   Do they know of anyone else who might be interested visiting a new church?

As you are looking for people to interview, pray for the opportunity to talk with "key" people in the area. Key people could include school officials, police officers, church leaders, neighborhood activists, and "gate keepers" (opinion leaders in a large social group). Even a short conversation with an influential person who knows the community well can yield a vast amount of information.

Additional tips

   When multiple people conduct interviews and compare their notes, they produce more reliable information than a single interviewer.

   The best information comes through relationships, not from interviews.

   Don't carry around a clipboard. Remember what you hear and write it down afterwards.

   During your conversations, pray that God would help you uncover who is receptive. Receptive folks are often "experiencing the pressures of major life transition, such as relocation, forced employment change, divorce, marriage, childbirth, or the illness or death of a loved one."[119]

Why have we spent so much time talking about ethnographic research? As we will see shortly, this is a great way to build relationships and eventually develop a "launch team." I'll explain what I mean by "launch team" in a bit.

2. Demographic (quantitative) research

Goal: To gain a general understanding of a large group of people, usually in a particular area.[120]

The closest thing we have to a demographic study in the Bible is an occasional reference to a census-counting the total population or numbering troops and tribes. Today, we have quick access to detailed information about any town or region in the United States. Church planters who take advantage of this information will better understand the people they hope to serve and where to focus their efforts. Topics of interest for demographic research include:

   Number of people living in the target area.

   Education level.

   Income level.

   Average age.

   Religious affiliation.

   Crime statistics.

   Existing churches.

   How long has each church existed?

   What is the average age of people in each church? Are they trending older or younger?

   Is weekend attendance growing or declining?

   Who are they reaching?

   What socio-economic group predominates in their congregation?

   Which of their ministries are most effective?

   Housing (% owner occupied, rental, condo, etc.).



   Growth trends.

   Work patterns.

   Subcultures in the target area.

   The spiritual receptivity of each subculture.

   The degree to which each subculture has been reached with the gospel.

   General values/sensitivities in each subculture.

There are numerous sites on the web which provide varying levels of demographic information. The first three sites below are free; the rest charge for their services.

A. The U.S. Census Bureau ( is the easiest place to start. They offer free "Fact Sheets," which provide basic information about people living in a city, county or zip code. For example, in the 43201 zip code (where Xenos' 4th street building is located), the Census Bureau fact sheet says that over 15,000 of the 21,000 people in the area live below the poverty line. The majority of kids in this area are elementary age. Also, there are 147 grandparents in the area who are the legal guardians of their grandchildren.

B. Melissa Data ( allows you to look up information within a zip code by category: public schools, types and numbers of businesses, etc. The information they provide is geared to assist companies with marketing. More detailed information is available for a fee.

C. Church Marketing Solutions ( offers two detailed demographic reports for free. One report covers the zip code you are interested in. The other report covers a one-mile radius around a specific address.

D. Easy Analytic Software, Inc. ( has reports called "ring studies" ($20 to $80) that give more detailed information than reports available on free sites. They provide good customer support, and offer even better information for a higher fee.

E. Link2Lead ( provides very detailed information specifically designed for church planting. For under $200, customers can obtain a report that describes the family structures, pressing concerns, and receptivity to the gospel of each subculture in a particular geographic area.

After you get a better feel for who you want to reach and what they are like, reflect on your original call to plant a church and ask yourself:

   Has my burden for working in this area increased or decreased as a result of my research?

   Have I shown the ability to connect with people in this area/culture? Is there a certain kind of person in the target area I most identify with/ feel comfortable with?

   Do I need more training (e.g. language) to effectively serve the people I am trying to reach?

   What do mature Christians who know me say about my ability to adapt to the unique features of this culture/area?

Demographic and ethnographic research will usually deepen your burden for the area/people you are trying to reach. My own conversations with residents in North Linden opened my eyes to needs I never knew existed. I met people with a genuine interest in spiritual things. I also learned about their day-to-day lives and struggles. This led to important innovations in our ministry (e.g. family meals before each Bible study) that have helped us be more effective.

Through your research, you may also become aware that you and your family aren't a good fit for your target field. That's fine. Better to discover this early on than several years into a church plant!

Defining and explaining what your church proposes to do

Jesus gave the church a mission statement:

The Great Commandments: "Love the Lord your God" and "love your neighbor as yourself" (Mt. 22:37-40).

The Great Commission: "Make disciples of all the nations" (Mt. 28:18-20).

Jesus also provided a description of what would happen as this mission was carried out: a gradually expanding number of disciples who preach the gospel (Acts 1:8) will enjoy loving, unified fellowship (Jn. 13:34,35; 17:21) until every ethnic group in the world has heard the gospel (Matt. 24:15).

But exactly how will you and your team carry out Jesus' mission, and work toward his vision in the field you have chosen to reach? God has left the details up to us, and church planters will have to explain those details to the people they lead. These details will be constrained and informed by your core theological beliefs, expressed in values that shape the culture of your church, and guided by God's vision for your ministry.

1. Core theological beliefs are those primary issues of theology that define what we believe about God, Jesus, the Holy, Spirit, man, sin, the Bible, the role of the Church, and salvation. These non-negotiables define who we are and what we believe.

Doctrinal statements should avoid churchy language and state beliefs in plain terms that seekers can understand. This is not a place to be creative. If your statement of faith is informed by the Bible, it will be similar to those of other Bible believing churches. Xenos' statement of faith is good. There are many other good examples. It is important for people to know you are not innovating in this area, and that you have carefully connected each core belief with supporting Bible passages.

2. Values come from your core beliefs and guide what actions you prioritize and honor.

"A value is a standard for judging worth, what is important, and what I am committed to. Values determine, to a great extent, a person's behavior, what one will do in a given situation."[121]

When you walk into any church, it has a "feel," an atmosphere. This "feel" varies widely, even when churches have identical statements of faith. Why? The difference is largely due to what each church values-what they think is important. People who have been to a church 3 to 5 times can usually identify what some of the important values are. They might notice, "This church is really into Bible teaching," or "They are committed to helping couples have strong marriages."

At Xenos, we value:

   Equipping everyone to serve.

   Home church body life.



   Frontier missions.

   Multiplication of disciples and home groups.

   Leadership development.

   Working with youth.

Common values in other churches include:

   Loving people as they are.

   Creativity: presenting God's word in fresh and interesting ways.

   Excellence: people honoring God and loving others with all their might.

   Having fun.

   Discipleship: establishing young believers in their faith.

   Life change: people taking their next step toward maturity in Christ no matter where they are.

   Corporate prayer: people coming together to praise God, to thank him, and to ask him for help and guidance.

   Community: being a "church family."


   Mercy and justice: people using their resources to care for the poor.

Values may overlap to some extent with core beliefs, but are usually more specific to the setting in which the church planter is called to minister.

Here are some important values at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. Some (not all) of them are shaped by Redeemer's urban setting:

   The centrality of grace and the Gospel.

   Christ as Lord of every part of life.





   Church planting.[122]

How do you come up with a set of values? Here are a few suggestions:

A. Start by reviewing your core beliefs. Reflect on what we've said earlier about the church. What must churches do? Which practices are essential?

B. Think about your experience in Xenos and other churches. What values did you embrace? Which ones do you want to build into your new church?

C. Review the information you gathered from your research. Consider the trends, felt needs, and challenges that people face in the area you want to reach. What Biblical teachings (e.g. racial equality; eternal vs. temporal values; God's concern for the poor) will you need to emphasize to be effective?

D. What are the people on your team burdened and gifted to do? How could their gifts and passions be used to reach people in the target field? And how might their efforts affect the values of your church? The core of people who later became Willow Creek Community Church used to gather in the basement of South Park Church to listen to Bill Hybels' band, The Sonship Express, and to hear a short Bible study. Because performances were a key part of their gatherings, they attracted other artists as they grew. These performers helped Willow Creek use art forms like music and drama to reach non Christians. Over time, creative use of the arts became an important value at Willow Creek.

Small changes in DNA profoundly affect the way an organism functions. Core beliefs and values affect the church in a similar way, and should be chosen carefully. Fortunately, values are easier to establish when a church is just starting out. Once a group has met for awhile, values solidify and become very difficult to change.

After you've settled on your key doctrines and values, you can devise ways to build them into your church. Of course, you should be able to identify biblical principles that explain or imply the importance of each one. Your values should also reflect biblical emphases.

3. Vision is a description of what it will look like when your church carries out Jesus' mission in the area where you have chosen to work among the people you are trying to reach. It is "a clear, challenging picture of the future of your ministry as it can and must be."[123] God's specific vision for your church may come as part of your call. It can also evolve over time as you ask him for direction and prayerfully reflect on your core beliefs, your values, and the people in your target area.

Church planters often use a "vision statement" to explain what they believe God would have their church do. Good vision statements are memorable, easy to communicate, and consistent with the church planter's core beliefs and values.

Consider the sample vision statements below. Exercise: Read the statements below with students and ask them to comment on the strengths and weaknesses of each one:

A. Chase Oaks Church, Plano, Texas

"To build bridges of irresistible influence to our neighborhoods, community, and world."[124]

B. Harvest Christian Fellowship, Riverside California

"Harvest Christian Fellowship's vision is to know God and make Him known through relevant communication. In every ministry, outreach, and service, we desire to bring Christians closer to God and to bring nonbelievers to a saving relationship with Him. It is always our goal to accomplish this by showing how God's Word and faith in Him are applicable and relevant to everyday life."[125]

C. Mars Hill Church, Seattle, Washington

"By 2011, MHC will become a movement of countless lives transformed by Jesus. We envision upwards of 10,000 people worshiping Jesus spread throughout multiple churches of all sizes, all on mission for the gospel (Acts 1:8)."[126]

D. Saddleback Church, Lake Forest, California

"It is the dream of a place where the hurting, the depressed, the frustrated, and the confused can find love, acceptance, help, hope, forgiveness, guidance and encouragement.

It is the dream of sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ with the hundreds of thousands of residents in South Orange County

It is the dream of welcoming 20,000 members into the fellowship of our church family-loving, learning, laughing, and living in harmony together.

It is the dream of developing people to spiritual maturity through Bible studies, small groups, seminars, retreats, and a Bible school for our members.

It is the dream of equipping every believer for a significant ministry by helping them discover the gifts and talents God gave them.

It is the dream of sending out hundreds of career missionaries and church workers all around the world, and empowering every member for a personal life mission in the world.

It is the dream of sending our members by the thousands on short-term mission projects to every continent.

It is the dream of starting one daughter church every year.

It is the dream of at least fifty acres of land, on which will be built a regional church for south Orange County-with beautiful, yet simple, facilities including a worship center seating thousands, a counseling and prayer center, classrooms for Bible studies and training lay ministers, and a recreation area. All of this will be designed to minister to the total person-spiritually, physically, and socially-and set in a peaceful inspiring garden landscape.

I stand before you today and state in confident assurance that these dreams will become reality. Why? Because they are inspired by God!"[127]

E. Willow Creek Community Church, South Barrington, Illinois

"Willow is committed to

   Raising the level of risk when it comes to reaching out to those who are far from God.

   Coaching Christ-followers as they pursue full devotion to God.

   Unleashing unprecedented levels of compassion into our broken world."[128]


F. Xenos Christian Fellowship, Columbus, Ohio

"Xenos should set out to build a highly trained, grace motivated, caring, leadable, cohesive, committed, and flexible force of Christian servants all operating for the right motives most of the time--namely, serving the Lord and doing his will."[129]

Whatever you come up with, your vision statement must be a clear statement of what you think God wants to see happen that can be easily communicated and easily understood.

"Core groups" vs. "launch teams"[130]

We saw earlier that it is preferable to plant a church with a team of people. Research shows that churches planted by teams have a higher survival rate. Now let's be more specific about what a church planting team looks like. Keller and Thompson make a helpful distinction between a "core group" and a "launch team."

Core group: These are people who are involved in your new church from the very beginning. They plan to attend the new church on regular basis and are committed to varying levels of service-from "I plan to show up consistently" to "I will devote a substantial amount of time to help." Folks in the core group may or may not have a clear understanding of their own role in the new church. They may also have stronger ties with each other than with people in the target field.

Launch team: A launch team is not your initial congregation. Nor is it a group of people who have promised to help with the launch of your church. It is "a group of 'evangelistic bringers' who have been selected and trained by the church planter to assist in the first stage of the founding of the church."[131] These individuals are fully behind the vision and leadership of the church planter. They have a clear understanding of what is expected of them, and an outward focus. Ideally, a launch team will include brand new converts from the area where the church will be planted.

Recruiting a launch team

Assembling a launch team is a church planter's first test of leadership. Building a team requires:

   Knowing what kind people you would like to have on your team (i.e. character, personality, ministry experience, cultural background, life situation, age).

   Knowing which roles you will need to fill in your new church (i.e. administrative support, teachers, service coordinators, children's ministry workers, youth workers, etc.)

   Looking for people with gifts that complement your weaknesses.

   Praying that God would send the right people your way.

Remember that ideally your team will include a few folks newly won to Christ through your relationships with people in the area.

Here are a few questions to ask when considering a potential member of your launch team:

   What type of relationship do they have with you? Can they follow your lead? Do they seek and take advice from you?

   Have you enjoyed working with them in the past?

   Do they have similar ministry values and a similar view of the church? In a large, established church, people may have a wide variety of opinions on non-essential doctrines. They may also disagree over which ministries are important and which aren't. That's inevitable and healthy in most cases. But early on, the church planter should seek people who have identical core beliefs and similar values. Frequent disagreements among your team members at the beginning of the church plant can leave people demoralized and without a sense of direction.

   How healthy is their marriage? Is their spouse (if they have one) in agreement with what they want to do?

   Do they also have a sense of calling?

   Do friends/pastors/other leaders think this would be a good ministry for them to pursue?

   What in this person's past makes you believe they will succeed in your field?

   Are they likely show initiative and work hard in a new environment with little feedback or supervision?

   Have they ever brought a new person to the church they currently attend? Have they ever led someone to Christ?

Don't be afraid to say "no" to people who want to join you. You aren't obligated to provide a church home or a role on your team for anyone who is interested.

Exercise: Read the following case study out loud to students, then ask them the questions for discussion below.

"Tom and Judy Allen arrived in Seattle in July 1997 to begin their church plant from scratch. They only had a few contact names and 'literally, no one interested in planting a new church in the city.' On July 2, Tom preached at a PCA church north of center city. After the service a (believing) Korean-American couple and their (unbelieving) Filipino housemate approached Tom and expressed interest. That same afternoon a (quasi-feminist, quasi-believing female) Japanese-American law student called their home to find out 'when your services are...'

Tom gathered these four individuals the next Sunday in order to pray. He made it clear that these times of prayer were for 'asking God what he thought our church should look like.' After about a month and adding a few more people, Tom decided to begin a Sunday afternoon Bible study for the skeptical, the curious and the committed. The Bible study grew over the course of three months from the original 4 people to around 25. But this group was not the launch team!

Although the Bible study's stated purpose was to expose our unbelieving friends to the Gospel, the unstated purpose (known only to Tom) was the assessment of those attending.

As the group met on Sundays at 4pm, Tom watched closely to see those individuals who actually brought their unbelieving friends-these were the people he began to gather into a different meeting-a Launch Team meeting at 2pm on Sundays.

In other words, the only people whom he asked to be on the launch team were 'evangelists' and new converts (they had about eight during this phase).

Tom's process in developing the launch team included the following:

1. He began to take them through their philosophy of ministry.

2. He began to talk about goals and launch indicators:

A. Twenty people committed to the launch team.

B. Locating the best possible facilities for worship.

C. Finding the best possible, indigenous, worship/arts director.

D. Regular experience of people being converted to Christ.

3. As the group moved toward an actual launch, Tom delegated tasks to such an extent that once they began, he had very little to do besides showing up.

Within a month of the launch, Tom dissolved the Launch Team and evenly divided them into three geographic groups-the beginning of their Community Group ministry. Because all of the Launch Team members were so carefully chosen, the majority of the people gladly began the Community Group phase, seeing it as the 'next thing' they needed to do."[132]

Questions for discussion:

   What are the advantages/drawbacks of using a Bible study to identify potential members of your launch team?

   What is potentially good and bad about the way Tom disbanded the launch team and led them into a new ministry focus?

Leading your launch team

Once you have team of people who are willing to join you in the project of planting a new church, what should you do with them?

1. Meet together: Meet on a regular basis to pray, offer training, and flesh out the practical steps that need to be taken to actually start a new church. Launch team members must understand the biblical support for each core belief. They must also be persuaded that the new church's key values are grounded in biblical emphases.

2. Do ethnographic research: Everyone on your team can do ethnographic research to better understand the people you're trying to reach. When team members compare notes, they will come up with more accurate observations and conclusions. Swapping stories is also a great way cultivate a deeper burden for people who live in the target area.

3. Witness

During each interview, walking tour, or conversation with a member of the community, launch team members should continually pray that God would use them to bring someone to Christ. Tim Keller reflects on his own church planting experience:

"I came to realize that, by far, the most important person to recruit to this new church was neither the long-time Christian nor the non-Christian. They key person was the brand new Christian, because he or she was without the baggage of expectations from former evangelical churches, and still had lots of strong relationships with non-Christians who could be invited to church."[133]

Everyone on your launch team should be committed to routinely engaging in evangelism.[134] Launch team members express their commitment by:

   Relationship building in the target area ("go and be"). This might involve attending Rotary Club meetings, PTA meetings, volunteering at a food bank or school or library, or frequenting the same stores/gas stations to cultivate relationships.

   Praying about five people they could lead to Christ, even if they don't yet know the people they are praying for very well.

   Being quick to spot new people in "come and see" gatherings (e.g. cookouts, playgroups, evangelistic small groups), engaging them in conversation, and following up with a phone call or a visit.

Your team may also need coaching on starting spiritual conversations, sharing their faith, and responding to Christians they meet who are interested in your new church.

Some Christians in the target area may be actively involved in another evangelical church. They shouldn't become part of your launch team, but they may know some non-Christians who are warming up to the Gospel. Out of fellowship Christians in the area can be a great addition, especially if they have a lot of friends in the area who don't know the Lord. But they can also be very resistant to embracing your vision for the church. It all depends on their background. Newcomers are churched-Christians who are new to the area. They may have theological/strategic views of ministry out of step with yours. Or they might fit right in. They usually do not have strong ties to the community. Use discernment. Complainers are disgruntled older Christians who don't like their current church. It probably won't be long until they find fault with yours. When even a small number of newcomers and complainers attend a young church, it can be difficult to establish healthy DNA.

4. Brainstorming how you will implement key elements of church life: There are several practical questions to answer as you think through the steps involved in launching your church. Church planters can develop a sense of team ownership by working through these details with the church planting team.

A. How will your church describe itself to the community? The Xenos website describes Xenos as "a culturally relevant, non-traditional and non-denominational church with mainstream biblical doctrines. We develop community through home groups led by volunteers." What do you want the community know about your church?

B. How will new people first come in contact with the life of your church (in large weekend meetings, in home groups/small groups, in classes, etc.)?

C. What style/features will your meetings adopt (music/no music, lecture, discussion, sharings, communion/no communion, etc)?

D. How should you teach? What misconceptions will you need to dispel? What vocabulary-level should be used (minimally educated, high school educated, college educated)? How long will your teachings be?

E. What provision will there be for body life: small groups, home churches, men's groups, women's groups? Which are likely to be most effective and why? Will they be open to non-Christians? Can you meet in the homes of people you want to reach? If not, where will small groups/home groups be held?

F. How will you establish young believers in their faith? How will you equip and mobilize older believers?

G. What criteria will potential meeting space need to satisfy (main room seating, available parking, kitchen access, visible location, rooms for your children's ministry, etc.)?[135]

H. What will be your main strategies for building relationships and gathering people to your church (e.g. play groups[136], sports leagues, cookouts, community volunteering)?

I. What will you do to equip people to reach out? Excluding sermons and relationships, where else will you proclaim the gospel? On the streets? From door to door? In classes that address felt needs (e.g. marriages, parenting, etc.)? Over the radio?

J. What provision, if any, will be made for child care? At which meetings?

K. Who will do what? Who will oversee the children's ministry? Who will handle logistics (e.g. locating a meeting space, overseeing set up and tear down, handling collections, etc.)? How many hours per week will be required for each person?

Of course, your view of what churches should do in each of these areas has been heavily influenced by your own church experiences, and by models of church that are common in our culture. It will take some effort to resist the strong pull to simply do what has been done before.

In planting a church, you have a rare opportunity to wipe the slate clean and create structures that facilitate the essential functions of the church in a way that fits your target field.

Some traditions may be worth maintaining, but others will hinder your work. Reflect on your ethnographic and demographic research, and keep directing your team back to the way the New Testament describes the essential functions of a church. What will those functions look like in your setting? Remember, if your church does not speak directly to the situation of the people in the field you are trying to reach, you may wind up attracting people from nearby communities that are more like you than the people in your target area.

5. Choose a few things you will do well. Trevor Bron, in his paper "Five Truths Churches Struggle to Accept" maintains that "churches can do only five things well... For most churches these are the 'Big 5': Worship, Teaching, Small Groups, Kid's Ministry, and Student Ministry."[137]

You may disagree with the "five things" Bron has chosen. But there are a limited number of things a new church can do well. While your church is small and understaffed, you will have to decide which ministries you can and cannot focus on. This process of narrowing the scope of your church's activity should be guided by your core beliefs, key values, and vision statement.

Can you name a few things your church must do in your setting in order to be effective (e.g. clear Bible teaching, community geared towards families, serving the poor, etc.)?

Keller and Thompson point out, "Each congregation needs to discern its own specific calling, based on the gifts of its leaders, members and the opportunities in its community."[138]

The ministries you do choose focus on should be suited to the team that you have. Good football coaches design their offensive and defensive schemes around the abilities of their players. Choose ministries that maximize the gifting and strengths of your launch team.

6. Set measurable goals. God is goal-oriented (Eph. 1:10; Luke 13:32, John 17:4, Heb. 12:2). So was Paul (1 Cor. 9:26,27, Phil 2:13,14; 2 Tim. 4:7,8). The Bible encourages all Christians to "run to win" (1 Cor. 9:24), to compete for an "imperishable wreath" (1 Cor. 9:25), to "press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 3:13,14), "to run with endurance the race set before us" (Heb 12:1).

Church planters should not be afraid to state measurable goals and strive for them. People more geared toward shepherding may resist this. But goal setting is a biblical activity, and it's important.

Good goals should be:

A. Specific enough to be evaluated.

e.g. "70% of our folks consistently attending a small group." vs. "People involved in fellowship."

e.g. "Our leadership team will pray together for an hour each week." vs. "Committed to prayer."

e.g. "We will engage in three service projects, invite friends in the community to participate, and share how our relationship with Christ motivates us to serve. We will hold four seeker small groups where the gospel is presented." vs. "Engaged in evangelism."

B. Aligned with your key values and 3-5 things you want to do well (see above).

C. Broken down into smaller steps.

e.g. "At least half of our people will take two classes that we offer, and 75% of them will pair up with someone to follow a Bible reading plan." vs. "Everyone growing in Bible knowledge."

7. Pray. Your launch team should be praying together on a regular basis. Every Christian servant "who does not make prayer a mighty factor in his own life and ministry is weak as a factor in God's work and is powerless to project God's cause in this world."[139] Oswald Sanders explains why: "The goal of prayer is the ear of God. Prayer moves others through God's influence on them. It is not the prayer that moves people, but the God to whom we pray." If the launch team isn't praying, the church may be doing something, but it won't be a work of God.

Corporate prayer is also a great way to forge unity around shared values, and to refine your team. Launch team members who are not truly walking with the Lord will find it tiresome to be in a team of people who spend long hours in prayer together for a church plant!

During Launch Team prayer meetings, Keller and Thompson[140] recommend "frontline,"[141] vs. "maintenance" prayer. Maintenance prayer is "designed more to preserve the status quo of the inward-looking church."[142] Frontline prayer involves:

A. Confidently claiming God's promises. Participants know that through their identification with Christ, they have been released from the power of sin and given authority to carry out his will. They can now appeal to the authority of Christ when making requests.[143]

B. A heartfelt desire to reach the lost and see God's kingdom advance. This would include subordinating our agenda to God's will and being willing to obey God, even when we're afraid.[144]

"Prayer is not a convenient device for imposing our will on God, or for bending his will to ours, but the prescribed way of subordinating our will to his. It is by prayer that we seek God's will, embrace it, and align ourselves with it. Every true prayer is a variation on the theme `your will be done.'"[145]

C. Being of "one mind." The unity of purpose that early Christians felt when they met together and prayed is a regular theme in Acts.[146]

D. Making specific requests and expecting answers. "The simple fact is, we are too vague and, as a consequence, too indifferent in our prayers and prayer-meetings. We do not seem like people asking for what they want, and waiting for what they ask. This is what destroys our prayer-meetings, rendering them pithless, pointless, powerless; turning them into teaching or talking-meetings, rather than deep-toned, earnest prayer-meetings."[147]

This kind of prayer should be a regular feature of launch team meetings.[148] The team should pray long and hard, not just in a perfunctory way to open and close their discussions. The church planter should lead the way in this area and model deep commitment to prayer.

Keller and Thompson also encourage everyone on the launch team to solicit prayer support from people they know who are not participating in the church plant.

Church planting/launching techniques

There are many different ways to start a new church. Several approaches are listed below.

1. Congregational models: A sizable group of people is sent out by the local church.

A. Hiving Off: This is a plant from an existing church that usually involves a large number of people-at least a couple dozen and maybe many more. First the leadership of the existing church identifies a church planter who feels called to plant a church somewhere nearby. Then they give the church planter permission to recruit people from within the church who live in the target area/culture. The church planter gathers people who are willing to join in the new venture, and together they start a church. The resulting church has independent leadership and its own finances. Most people involved in the plant do not need to relocate in order to participate.

B. Colonization: Similar to "hiving off," but the church is planted in a new geographic area.

C. Satellite/multi-site: One church has multiple sites where large meetings are held. This approach is similar to "hiving off," but the new congregation(s) remain under the leadership of the parent church. These large meetings may have a live teacher or use video (e.g. At Xenos: North, OSU Campus, West and East Side central teachings).

D. Multi-congregational churches: Folks in a church start a new meeting in the church's existing facilities for a new ethnic group or age group they are reaching.

E. Accidental parenthood: When disagreement in the church leads to a division, unhappy members may leave to form a new church.

2. Mission models: An individual, couple, or small team of people is sent out by the local church.

A. Apostolic: The planter establishes a church and moves on after a while to start another church (e.g. Paul, Methodist circuit riders).

B. Founding Pastor: The planter starts a church and stays on to be pastor once the church is up and running (e.g. Xenos, Saddleback).

Mission models can be carried out solo (just the church planter and spouse) or in teams. But remember, solo church planters have a lower success rate.

The New Testament doesn't prescribe (command) a particular church planting technique. What it describes is apostolic planting in teams.


Growth strategies

How do churches attract new people? How do they grow? The phrases "crowd gathering" and "core building" describe two very different approaches to drawing people into the life of the church. After describing both approaches, we will consider the strengths and weaknesses of each, and ask whether the Bible prefers one over the other.

1. Crowd-gathering (outside-in):

Rick Warren, the well-known pastor of Saddleback Church, offers a summary of this approach: "A crowd is not a church-but a crowd can be turned into a church."[149] Priority is placed on gathering a large group of people to attend a weekend service. The hope is that having a strong turnout for the first meeting will give a new church enough momentum to keep growing. There are two essential steps to taking this approach:

A. Careful planning and preparation for a public "launch meeting." A launch meeting is the first official large meeting of the new church, attended by the church planter, his launch team, and the people they have invited. Going public is usually preceded by months of work establishing a healthy core of workers who assist in making the first meeting successful. Often churches have a few small groups up and running before they host their launch meeting.

Rick Warren started Saddleback Church using a crowd-gathering approach. He went door to-door for twelve weeks introducing himself to hundreds of people. He surveyed them about their needs. Then he wrote a letter of invitation that went out to 15,000 people. In addition to this, Warren adds, "we also used a lot of advertising that first year because we didn't have enough relationships to rely on word of mouth to build a crowd."[150]

Some church planters mail 50,000 postcards to households in the target area, inviting families to attend "the grand opening of our church." They often repeat the mailing a few times, knowing that a certain percentage of recipients will respond. For example, a quarter-percent response rate to 50,000 postcards will bring 125 people, and some of those people will bring friends and family members.

Once the crowd shows up at the first meeting, the church planter hopes that the music, teaching, child care, and overall experience are good enough to bring people back. Various strategies can be used to entice people to return for a second meeting.

When investigators start coming consistently, the goal then becomes moving them toward deeper levels of involvement. Warren says, "for about that first year, about all we tried to do was build a crowd and introduce them to Christ."[151] His next task was to turn the crowd into a church.

B. Integrating of new members into the life of the church. Warren says that during this phase, the church planter must define a clear pathway for greater engagement in the life of the church. He recommends:

"Begin by moving the unchurched from the community to your crowd (for worship). Then move them from the crowd into the congregation (for fellowship). Next, move them from your congregation into the committed (for discipleship) and from the committed into the core (for ministry)."[152]

Warren's book, The Purpose Driven Church, explains what needs to happen to facilitate each of these steps.



   Some folks will not come to a church unless they perceive it to be "legitimate."[153] A large group of people meeting in a public space boosts credibility in the minds of many outsiders.

   If you have an outstanding teacher, this approach gives that teacher the opportunity to quickly impact a large number of people.


   If a very large number people come to the launch meeting, the church planting team may not be able to establish all of the first-time guests in some kind of fellowship. If this situation persists, you may fail to establish healthy body life as part of the DNA of your new church.

   Keller and Thompson point out, "If you go public too soon, and it is done poorly, it is very hard to re-start later. First impressions are difficult to overcome."[154]

   People on the launch team who pin their hopes on the launch meeting may become passive and neglect personal evangelism.

   The church planter has no initial role in shaping the core beliefs and key values of the people coming to the large meeting. The new congregation will inevitably have a consumer mentality, and have beliefs that values that are different from those of the church planter. It will be difficult to get this new group to embrace the planter's vision.

2. Core-building (inside-out):

In this approach, the launch team becomes the nucleus of a home Bible study. The church planter and launch team work to foster healthy body life consistent with their values and core beliefs. Each member actively invites people they are meeting in the target field to the Bible study.

Evangelism is primarily done through relationships. Launch team members host or attend playgroups, dinner/discussion parties, and other social events to build relationships.

Over time, as the group grows, a second or even third group is started. Once all of the groups have a combined attendance over 75 people or so, the launch team finds a larger, public space to host a "central teaching" attended by all the home groups. In our culture, Sunday morning is a good large-meeting timeslot for families. Meeting times for youth are much more flexible.


   If you've coached your launch team on who to invite (see above), you are more likely to get a higher percentage of non-Christians. You will also have far fewer transfers than you would with a crowd-gathering approach.[155]

   An inside-out approach conveys a higher value for Christian fellowship to everyone involved from the very beginning of the church. This kind of fellowship is described and prescribed in the New Testament.

   Starting with a small, cohesive group makes it much easier to start your church with good DNA.


   Some people will not come out to a meeting in someone's home that isn't connected with an established church.[156]

   A network of house churches or small groups that does not offer a public meeting within year can lose momentum. Keller and Thompson warn, "Bible studies or cell groups alone won't hold people."[157]

   It can take awhile to develop "critical mass." This may demoralize some members of your launch team. Church planters using this approach must manage expectations.

Which approach is better?

In the early church we see a mixture of large[158] and small[159] gatherings. Large meetings featured evangelism (Acts 2:41; 4:4), preaching and teaching (Acts 5:42). In smaller groups, they shared meals (Acts 16:34), took communion (Acts 2:46), listened to teachings (Acts 5:42), prayed together (Acts 12:12), and encouraged each other (Acts 16:40).

We also see signs of "crowd-gathering" and "core-building." The apostles were already meeting with a committed core of people in the upper room who listened to teachings and prayed together. But they also attracted 3000 people into their church in a single day!

I wouldn't rule out core-building or crowd-gathering. But I am wary of using mass-marketing with a consumer-oriented appeal. Peter drew crowds by preaching God's word in a dynamic way, not by the promise of a strong children's ministry and the opportunity to make new friends. If we only emphasize what our new church has to offer, the crowd of consumers we attract will prove to be very difficult to work with.

Whichever approach you take, once you begin to meet, it is important to meet consistently. People shouldn't be wondering week to week when or where your meetings will be held. If you have a good turnout, great. If hardly anyone shows up, that's fine. Everyone should know that the meeting will go on with or without them. When there is a low turnout, don't bag your teaching. Proceed as normal. If the church planter is going on vacation, someone else should cover the teaching. If people in your church think you should cancel the meeting because of a competing community event, have the meeting anyhow. Dependable church planter teachings and steady attendance by the launch team will provide much needed stability in the early days of your church.

How to establish key values at the beginning of your church

Once a church is up and running, the church planter and launch team must reinforce the key values they settled on during their planning. What structures, practices, and teaching emphases will you employ to solidify key values in your new church? Below are listed a few key values at Xenos that have served us well, along with practical steps we have taken to instil these values. Seeing specific steps taken at Xenos may give you ideas for your own church. As you cover this material, ask students to reflect on what is good or what may be lacking in Xenos' approach to each area.

1. Corporate prayer

When a church planter and launch team have prayed together consistently during the launch phase of the church, they're in a good position pass this habit on to their congregation.

We urge Xenos home group leaders to pray with people in their groups on a regular basis. We also talk about the role prayer plays in healthy friendships, and encourage people to pray together whenever they meet. Young Christians are often afraid to pray out loud with other Christians. We work hard to help them overcome this barrier so they can experience the unity and warm fellowship that Christians enjoy during corporate prayer.

Corporate prayer sessions can be dry and tiring when someone prays on and on. Periodic reminders to keep prayers concise and to 'Amen' each other maintain the quality of group prayer sessions.

2. Evangelism

During your first few meetings, excitement about your church will be high, and folks will want to bring a friend with them. But that won't last forever. Helping your church maintain an outward focus takes regular teaching on the importance evangelism and consistent use of "go and be" and "come and see" approaches in order to build relationships with nonChristians and share the gospel.

Go and be: We advocate participation in "Go Groups" where Christians can pair up and volunteer in the community together. Being a helpful neighbor builds friendships with non-Christians, puts Christ in a good light, and opens doors to share the gospel.

Come and see: We work hard to make non-Christian guests feel comfortable and welcome at our weekend teachings. Tim Keller reflects on how this value worked out in the early days of Redeemer Presbyterian Church:

"Preaching and evangelism was to assume the presence of non-Christians even before we knew if any were there. If we preached as if they were there, they most definitely would be invited... We realized that the most crucial event in the life of our church was the moment a Christian came to worship and said, 'I want my skeptical friends to see this!'"[160]

"Come and see" events like Conversations and Cuisines[161] and social parties are also a great way to expose non-Christians to the life of the church.

Evangelism is an important emphasis in our equipping classes. And when individuals see fruit in evangelism, we make a point to rejoice with them. What we celebrate reveals what we value.

3. Loving personal investment

Jesus repeatedly taught that self-giving love was the key to an abundant life.[162] In our study of Acts 20 and 1 Thessalonians 2, we saw how Paul "imparted his own life"[163] to people in the churches he planted, as he "exhorted, encouraged, and implored"[164] each person. This level of involvement is not just for leaders like Paul, but should be the norm for all Christians.[165]

When believers form friendships centered on a shared commitment to follow Christ, there are many opportunities to invest in each other. Our main structure for facilitating this kind of close interaction is home church. There are additional opportunities for loving investment in the communities we are trying to reach.

God has also gifted each Christian in a unique way to serve others.[166] And so we repeatedly make the case from scripture that every believer should have a concrete ministry. Every member ministry is not just a lofty ideal, but a basic requirement for the local church to function the way it should.

4. Youth

Xenos has always emphasized working with youth. This emphasis can be measured in how we deploy our staff and spend our resources. Both of our senior pastors work with college students and pre-family adults. Many of our adults are mobilized to serve in youth ministries of various kinds. Starting out as a youth movement helped Xenos grow more quickly than it would have if we had attempted to start a church filled with families.

5. Serving together, not alone

Xenos was started in early 70's by two men who have served together ever since. They lead our board of elders, debate important decisions, and work together as a team. We value the wisdom and balance that their joint leadership provides.

The value of working together extends to every ministry in our church. We prefer to see home groups and ministry teams led by teams of leaders. And whenever someone takes on a big task, we try to surround them with the support they need to succeed. Certainly church planting would be one of those tasks!

"Those who try to plant a church without the support and counsel of others have greater risk and less chance of survivability. The church planter who meets with a group of church planting peers at least monthly increases the odds of survivability by 135 percent. We found that out of those church planters who were part of a peer group, 83 percent of their churches survived whereas only 67 percent of church plants among those who did not have a peer group survived. The old adage, 'You can't do it alone' is true. Church planters need to learn from each other and support one another through the blessings and the trials."[167]

Serving together provides accountability and a countermeasure to Satan's constant attempts to introduce error and distortion into the church. In physical warfare, Solomon says, "there is victory in an abundance of counselors."[168] The same is true in a spiritual war.

6. Financial Stewardship

New churches will benefit from having a "stewardship plan"-a process for mobilizing Christians to use their resources to advance God's purposes. At Xenos, our plan includes the following:

A. We teach the biblical concept of stewardship in our core classes.[169]

B. We involve our consistent givers in budget planning at our annual Fiscal Support Team Retreat.[170]

C. We explain our financial needs once a year in our home churches, and in our large weekend meetings. We want people to know how the church's resources are spent and how that spending is connected to our vision.

D. When individuals make a pledge, we give them feedback on their giving progress.

Having a stewardship plan of some kind is important, and it correlates with higher church plant success rates. "Of those church plants who had a stewardship development plan, 81 percent of churches survived whereas only 68 percent of church plants survived among those who did not have a stewardship plan."[171]

7. Discipleship and leadership development

We challenge everyone to participate in the work of making disciples, regardless of their maturity level. Anyone can start simply by being with people they are trying to influence (Acts. 4:13;20:28), taking notice of their needs (Phil. 2:3,4), and praying for them. When Christians embrace their identity as servants (Acts 20:19; Phil 2:3,4; 1 Cor. 9:19; 2 Cor. 4:5; 2 Cor. 6:4), they look for further ways to build up others. As they grow in their own knowledge of the word, God will give them opportunities to share what they have learned. Over time, their life of service will give them further influence because their lifestyle is gradually becoming worthy of imitation (Acts 20:35; 2 Cor. 9:13; Phil. 1:12-14; 1 Thes. 2:10-12).

God doesn't want everyone to be a leader. But we urge our existing leaders to always be looking to develop new leaders who are able to teach others.[172] If a church planter begins developing new leaders on day one, leadership development will more likely become part of the culture of the new church. Research shows that leadership training correlates with higher church plant survivability.

"If the church planter provides leadership development training for new church members, the odds of survivability increase by over 250 percent. Of those church planters who provided leadership training to church members, 79 percent of their churches survived compared to only 59 percent of church plants survived among those who did not provide leadership training. Clearly, it's worth the extra effort to develop leaders from the beginning of the church plant."[173]

8. A high view of scripture

Teaching and instruction are needed to make a case for each of the areas above. For this instruction, we turn to the Bible, the final authority on all questions of doctrine.

We also teach people how to study and accurately interpret the word for themselves. When church members are confident they can understand the Bible, they are more likely to read and obey it.

People must also be persuaded that the Bible is truly from God and trustworthy. Whether Christians or not, most newcomers have doubts about the reliability and truthfulness of the Bible. We spend five hours in one of our core training classes providing students with sound reasons for believing that the Bible is God's word (inspiration) and that we have the correct set of inspired books (canonicity).

Next steps

You may be convinced that God has called you to plant a church, but unsure what step to take next. Here are a few issues to consider:

1. Growing in public[174]

As we saw earlier, strengthening and encouraging disciples is a key task for church planters. Paul wanted his church planting partners Timothy and Titus to help the people they serve to grow spiritually.[175] But he also urged them to pay close attention to their own spiritual progress.

(1 Timothy 4:12-14) "Don't let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you teach, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity. Until I get there, focus on reading the Scriptures to the church, encouraging the believers, and teaching them. Do not neglect the spiritual gift you received through the prophecies spoken to you when the elders of the church laid their hands on you."

(Titus 2:7,8) "And you yourself must be an example to them by doing good deeds of every kind. Let everything you do reflect the integrity and seriousness of your teaching. Let your teaching be so correct that it can't be criticized. Then those who want to argue will be ashamed because they won't have anything bad to say about us."

Paul was eager to see Timothy and Titus advance in three areas: growing in godly character (1 Tim. 4:12; Titus 2:7a), teaching God's word (1 Tim. 4:13; Titus 2:7b), and using their spiritual gifts (1 Tim. 4:14). Paul's challenge to Timothy: "give your complete attention to these matters so that everyone will see your progress." (1 Tim. 4:15)

Paul wanted these men to grow in public. He wanted the Christians they led to see them progressing and growing spiritually. Paul believed this was essential part of influencing other people to grow.

"What your people need most from you is your personal holiness." - Robert Murray M'Cheyne

You cannot lead others into growth unless you are growing. Water can rise no higher than its own level. If you aren't growing in your own spiritual life, your ministry will lack the spiritual power needed to move people toward God. But if you are making progress, God can use your example to inspire others to follow him.

"Successful church planters are spiritual... many church planters are by nature entrepreneurs, mavericks, free spirits, sometimes even misfits... That energy can be harnessed and focused to be used for God's glory but only if the church planter is Christ-centered and transformed by the power of the gospel. In other words, a newcomer needs to leave the church being amazed by the awesome God the church planter serves, not what a cool preacher the church has."[176]

It will require sustained effort to become more like Christ, handle the word accurately, and use your spiritual gifts. This is evident from the verbs Paul uses: "discipline yourself," "labor and strive," "take pains with," "be absorbed in," "pay close attention to," "persevere in."[177] Fortunately, God supplies his life and power to bring this transformation about. When we are strengthened by his grace (2 Tim. 2:1), growth in each of these areas is possible.

2. Talk to other people about your burden:

If you think God is calling you to plant a church, tell your friends. Let them in on your plans and aspirations. Listen to what they have to say. Ask them to pray for you, and pray with them as you consider what to do next.

3. Training

We recommend taking as many adult education classes as you can. You will learn on the job, but classroom training can give you a good foundation that will help you as a teacher and leader.

4. Home group ministry

We always hear from missions agencies we partner with that extensive experience in home group work has been excellent preparation for our people who serve on the field. Xenos home groups are a great incubator for ministry skills. There are plenty of opportunities to teach and to learn how to serve. Make the most of them.

5. Money

Church planting experts disagree on the amount of financial support a church planter needs. A recent study commissioned by the Leadership Network found that, "on average, church planters receive financial support from their denomination for 32 months... Only 7% of planters are fully funded without any personal fundraising required (funding could come through national, regional, and local efforts). While 27% of survey respondents reported that their planters raise all of their own funding, the majority (55%) report that their planters receive denomination funds and raise their own support." [178] At the Vineyard Church of Columbus[179], church planters receive one time support of anywhere from $12-25,000. This money is managed by an elder board chosen before the new church starts. Some of the money goes for the planter's salary, some covers promotion and other ministry expenses. Church planters from other Vineyard churches get a one time check for $2,500 plus whatever their sending church will provide.

In the Calvary Chapel movement, financial support is the exception, not the rule. The Redeemer Church Planting Center takes a different approach. They commit to paying the church planter's salary for the first three years. Church planters from the Acts29 network are expected to raise most of their financial support.

Exercise: Ask students to discuss the pros and cons of low and high amounts of financial support. Tent-making church planters have limited time, and are forced to delegate responsibilities to their team. This can create a healthy vacuum for launch team members to fill. They also become contributing members of the community and build relationships through work contacts. But imagine what it would be like to hold down a job, lead a brand new church, and raise a family! Time on the job will inevitably reduce time for pastoring. This may slow the growth of the new church. An overtaxed schedule could also disrupt the church planter's family life.

Values that will help or hinder church planting at Xenos

If Xenos is going to become a thriving center of church planting, here are a few values we will need to embrace:

1. Being responsible about leaving current ministries. Home group and ministry team leaders should do their best to raise up new leaders to take their place. As we transition to new ministries, we should do everything we can to ensure that the people we have been serving will be cared for.

2. A willingness to allow new churches to be significantly different from ours. We don't want to plant new churches that reject our core theological beliefs. But in order to reach new people in new settings, our church planters must adopt a unique vision suitable for their field.[180] They will see the need to develop new structures and strategies which may make us uncomfortable. New churches will not and should not look exactly like our own.

3. A concern for the growth of God's kingdom outside our church. Paul was able to celebrate the advance of the gospel, even when the people advancing it had questionable motives.[181] Keller and Thompson see this value "in the way Paul... constantly takes his hands off new churches... What we have here is a concern not for his own power or his party's power (and even then, different apostles had their followers and emphases), but the kingdom as a whole. Test: When we lose two families to a church that brings in 100 other people who weren't going to any other church, we have a choice! Will we resent the 10 people we have lost or rejoice in the 80 people they kingdom has gained?"[182]

4. A willingness to let go of valuable resources and great people. It is hard to imagine losing some of the outstanding servants in our church to another ministry. Who could fill their shoes? Fortunately, God is committed to raising up workers to take their place.[183] After sending missionaries overseas, time and again we have seen God use their absence to mobilize other Christians to step up and serve. When God has clearly called someone to plant a church, we need to entrust our own ministry to him and let the person go. Research shows that churches who plant churches usually do not suffer long term losses. On the contrary, "It would appear that churches which sponsor church plants are positively affected in Sunday morning worship attendance, baptisms, and Sunday School attendance."[184]

A final thought

The church is the beautiful bride of Christ, his prized possession, the one for whom he died on the cross. Through the church Jesus is carrying out his plan of redemption and extending his kingdom. What a privilege it would be to partner with God to establish a new church!

Bill Hybels, the founding pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, is fond of saying, "the local church is the hope of the world... the church is the only God-anointed agency in society that stewards the transforming message of the love of Christ."[185] He's right. Apart from God, there is nothing on earth more powerful than a vital local church. Let's all pray that God will continue to use our churches to grow his kingdom, and that many people will one day be sent from this church to start new ones!

Church Planter Panel

Students will spend the last hour of class interacting with seasoned church planters who will share what they've learned and answer questions.


Allen, Roland. Missionary Methods: St. Paul's or Ours? Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1962.

Beggs, S. R. Pages from the Early History of the West and North-West Embracing Reminiscences and Incidents of Settlement and Growth, and Sketches of the Material and Religious Progress of the States of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri, with Special Reference to the History of Methodism. Cincinnati, Ohio: The Methodist Book Concern, R. P. Thompson, Printer, 1868.

Bounds, E. M. Power Through Prayer. Chicago, Illinois: Moody Press, 1979.

Bruce, F. F. Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1977.

Finke, Roger and Stark, Rodney. The Churching of America, 1776-2005: Winners and Losers in our Religious Economy. Piscataway, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 2005.

Goss, C. C. The Statistical History of the First Century of Methodism. New York, New York: Carleton & Porter, 1866.

Guinness, Os and Seel, John, eds. No God but God. Chicago, Illinois: Moody Press, 1992.

Hunter, Todd. "Autopsy Reports of Failed Churches and Characteristics of Successful Churches," (Association of Vineyard Churches, 1986), pp. 6-13. (accessed October 5, 2009).

Hybels, Bill. Courageous Leadership. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2002.

Keller, Timothy J. and Thompson, J. Allen. Church Planter Manual. New York, New York: Redeemer Presbyterian Church, 2002.

Keysar, Ariela and Kosmin, Barry A. "American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS). (Trinity College, 2008) (accessed Sept 14, 2009).

Malphurs, Aubrey. Planting Growing Churches for the 21st Century. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1998.

McGavran, Donald and Hunter, George. Church Growth: Strategies that Work. Nashville, Tennessee: Abingdon, 1980.

Meacham, John, "The End of Christian America," Newsweek (April 13, 2009).

Miller, John C. Outgrowing the Ingrown Church. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1999.

Neighbour, Ralph Jr. with Jenkins, Lorna. Where Do We Go From Here? A Guidebook for the Cell Group Church. Houston, Texas: Touch Outreach Ministries, 1990.

Patterson, George and Scoggins, Richard. Church Multiplication Guide: The Miracle of Church Reproduction. Pasadena, California: William Carey Library, 2002.

Powell, Dennis Duane "Church Planting Programs of Similar-Sized Denominations in the United States." PhD dissertation, Asbury Theological Seminary, 2000.

Robinson, Martin and Smith, Dwight. Invading Secular Space. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Monarch Books, 2005.

Schaeffer, Francis. The Letters of Francis Schaeffer. Westchester, Illinois: Crossway Books, 1985.

Sinclair, Daniel. A Vision of the Possible: Pioneer Church Planting in Teams. Waynesboro, Georgia: Authentic, 2006.

Smith, Chuck with Destetano, Merrie. Calvary Chapel Distinctives. Costa Mesa, California: Word for Today, 1993.

Smith, Chuck. Pastoral Ministry. Murietta, California: Calvary Chapel Bible College, 1989.

Stetzer, Ed. "Equipping Church Planters for Success," Enrichment Journal (Fall, 2009),
_036_equipping.cfm (accessed Sept 14, 2009).

Stetzer, Ed. Planting Missional Churches: Planting a Church That is Biblically Sound and Reaching People in Culture. Nashville, Tennessee: B & H Publishing Group, 2006.

Stetzer, Ed. "The Impact of the Church Planting Process and Other Selected Factors on the Attendance of Southern Baptist Church Plants." PhD diss., The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2003.

Summer, Thomas, ed. Biographical Sketches of Eminent Itinerant Ministers: Distinguished, for the Most Part, as Pioneers of Methodism Within the Bounds of the Methodist Episcopal Church. E. Stevenson, 1858.

Wagner, C. Peter. Church Planting for a Greater Harvest. Ventura, California: Regal Books, 1990.

Warren, Rick. The Purpose Driven Church. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1995.

[1] 1 Cor. 14:23; Col. 1:18; Eph. 5:28-30; Heb. 12:23; etc.

[2] John Meacham, "The End of Christian America", Newsweek, April 13, 2009, p. 34.

[3] Includes atheists, agnostics, and people who claimed no religious identity. Ariela Keysar and Barry A. Kosmin, "American Religious Identification Survey 2008 (Trinity College, 2008) (accessed Sept 14, 2009).

[4] Keysar and Kosmin, 2008.

[5] Keysar and Kosmin, 2008.

[6] Meacham, p. 34.

[7] Win Arn, cited in Aubrey Malphurs, Planting Growing Churches for the Twenty-first Century (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1992), p. 32.


[9] Ed Stetzer, Planting Missional Churches (Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman & Holman, 2006), p. 15.

[10] Stetzer claims that 3500-4000 churches close each year. Stetzer, Planting Missional Churches, p. 14.


[12] Stetzer, Planting Missional Churches, p. 10. "Multihousing" communities like apartments, condominiums, and dormitories house multiple individuals/families in close proximity to one another and offer shared amenities.

[13] Timothy J. Keller, J. Allen Thompson, Church Planter Manual (New York, New York: Redeemer Presbyterian Church, 2002), p. 232.

[14] SOMALINUMBERS.ART_ART_05-22-09_A1_O5DUK9V.html?sid=101

[15] Aubrey Malphurs, Planting Growing Churches for the Twenty-first Century (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1992), p. 44.

[16] Keller and Thompson, p. 30, citing Lyle Schaller, quoted in D. McGavran and G. Hunter, Church Growth: Strategies that Work (Nashville: Abingdon, 1980), p. 100.

[17] C. Peter Wagner, Church Planting for a Greater Harvest (Ventura, California: Regal Books, 1990), p. 11.

[18] This assertion is based on surveys conducted by Xenos college students during research trips to some of the nation's largest churches. Students interviewed scores of people at each church and asked them where they became a Christian. They came up with a percentage of attendees who said they came to Christ at that church. Willow Creek and Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa were by far the most effective at reaching non-Christians. None of the other churches we studied had conversion rates higher than 10%! These studies did not meet scientific criteria for sample size in every case, but the results are worth noting here.

[19] Roger Finke and Rodney Stark, The Churching of America, 1776-2005: Winners and Losers in our Religious Economy (Piscataway, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 2005), pp. 55 ff. Some of the observations in this section on the Methodists, including the mention of Richmond Nolley as an example of Methodist itinerant preaching, are adapted from chapter 3, "The Upstart Sects Win America."

[20] C. C. Goss, The Statistical History of the First Century of Methodism (New York, New York: Carleton & Porter, 1866), p. 180.

[21] Rev. S. R. Beggs, Pages from the Early History of the West and North-West Embracing Reminiscences and Incidents of Settlement and Growth, and Sketches of the Material and Religious Progress of the States of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri, with Special Reference to the History of Methodism (Cincinnati, Ohio: The Methodist Book Concern, R. P. Thompson, Printer, 1868).

[22] Beggs, p. 298.

[23] Beggs, p. 298. For more on Richmond Nolley's life and ministry, see Thomas Summer, ed. Biographical Sketches of Eminent Itinerant Ministers: Distinguished, for the Most Part, as Pioneers of Methodism within the Bounds of the Methodist Episcopal Church (E. Stevenson, 1858).

[24] Finke and Stark, p. 100.

[25] Finke and Stark, p. 86.

[26] Finke and Stark, p.104.

[27] Finke and Stark, p. 73.

[28] Finke and Stark, p. 76.

[29] See especially Goss, chapter 5, "The Success of Methodism in the United States, and the Causes which have Contributed Thereto," pp. 144-186. The full text of the book is available through Google Books.

[30] Here are a few reasons Goss gives for the Methodist's success:

. Mode of preaching - Simple teachings, from the heart in language locals can understand.

. Self-sacrificing spirit of its ministry - Itinerant teachers are paid little and have no dwelling place; many pastors aren't paid at all

. System of free churches - Churches are locally controlled, but no one is allowed to buy a pew. Free seats for a free gospel!

. Frequent revivals - "Methodist churches can only exist with their continued use."

. Lay ministry - Everyone is a minister. Classes (small cells for accountability and prayer) are workshops that prepare servants.

. Missionary spirit - Circuit riders starting pioneer churches.

. Doctrine of sanctification - Holiness of heart without which no one will see the Lord.

[31] This section is adapted from David Denna, "History of the Calvary Chapel Movement," (The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2001), (accessed October 23, 2009).

[32] Chuck Smith, Calvary Chapel Distinctives: The Foundational Principles of the Calvary Chapel Movement, p. 4. Full text available at:

[33] As of fall of 2009, there were 53 Calvary Chapel megachurches in the U.S., each with a weekly attendance of 1800 or more. "Hartford Institute for Religion Reseach Database of Megachurches in the U.S.," (Hartford Institute for Religion Research, 2009) (accessed October 15, 2009).

[34] Once a planter has established a growing, self-supporting church, the sending church may help the daughter church purchase land by making a one-time financial gift or by co-signing on a loan.

[35] The Redeemer Church Planting Network, for example, commits to paying 3 years salary up front, then the planter is on his own.

[36] An outline of Calvary Chapel's Church Planting class may still be available here:

[37] For a more detailed movement life cycle, see Robinson and Smith, chapter 11.

[38] Mk. 2:28: "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath; Jn. 9:13-16: Objecting to a man healed on the Sabbath.

Mt. 15:2: "Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread." Mt. 15:6b: "You invalidated the word of God for the sake of your tradition."

Mk. 7:5: "The Pharisees and the scribes asked him, 'Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat their bread with impure hands?"

[39] Mt. 3:9: "Don't suppose that you can say to yourselves, 'we have Abraham for our father.'"

[40] Mt. 9:34: "But the Pharisees were saying, 'He casts out demons by the ruler of the demons.'"

[41] Lk. 11:39: "Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the platter; but inside of you, you are full of robbery and wickedness."

[42] Lk. 15:1,2: "Now all the tax collectors and the sinners were coming near Him to listen to Him. Both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, 'This man receives sinners and eats with them.'"

[43] Jn. 7:48,49: "No one of the rulers or Pharisees has believed in Him, has he? But this crowd which does not know the Law is accursed."

[44] Jn. 11: 48: "If we let Him go on like this, all men will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation."

[45] Finke and Stark, p. 50.

[46] Finke and Stark, p. 1.

[47] Finke and Stark, p. 5.

[48] Jn. 13:34,35; Mt. 18:15-18.

[49] Eph. 4:16b.

[50] Stetzer, Planting Missional Churches, p. 38.

[51] "Their holy city was ancient Shechem, at the foot of Mt. Gerazim. This may have been the Samaritan city in which Philip preached." John B. Polhill, vol. 26, Acts, electronic ed., Logos Library System; The New American Commentary, 214 (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001, c1992).

[52] Literally, "gospelized."

[53] Tit. 1:5.

[54] Salamis, Acts 13:5; Psidian Antioch, Acts 13:14-16, 43, 44; Iconium, Acts 14:4; Thessalonica, Acts 17:1-4; Berea, Acts 17:10-12; Corinth, Acts 18:4-8; Ephesus, Acts 18:19 & 19:8-9.

[55] Acts 17:1-10. Note "three Sabbaths" in v. 2 and "immediately" in v. 10.

[56] See 1 Thes. 1:6; 2:9; 3:2 and especially 4:9 and 5:1,2.

[57] Acts 20:27.

[58] For a short study of how Paul and his team oversaw churches, see Acts 14:21-23, 20:2; Rom. 1:11,12, 1 Cor. 4:16-21;2 Cor. 13:10; 1 Thes. 3:2.

[59] F.F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1977), p. 457.

[60] These are key emphases in the Pastoral Epistles.

[61] Dennis Duane Powell, "Church Planting Programs of Similar-Sized Denominations in the United States," (PhD dissertation, Asbury Theological Seminary, 2000), p. 58. (accessed September 28, 2009).

[62] F. F. Bruce, The Pauline Circle (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1985), p. 8.

[63] Luke doesn't tell us how Christian groups outside of Jerusalem were led in the first thirteen chapters of Acts. But we can see some signs of leadership. The disciples at Joppa decided to send two men to find Peter in Lydda (Acts 9:38). Decision making like this requires unity of purpose and implies the presence of opinion leaders. The Christian group in Caesarea started in the home of Cornelius. He played a leading role as head of household in gathering his friends and family members to hear Peter speak. Other groups of Christians are mentioned, but it is not clear if they had leaders or who their leaders were (Acts 9:32,35).

[64] Compare Col. 1:7 "you learned it from Epaphras" to Col. 4:12 "Epaphras, who is one of your number."

[65] Stetzer, Planting Missional Churches, p. 52.

[66] See Jonathan Aitken, From Disgrace to Amazing Grace (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 2007).

[67] Keller and Thompson, p. 61.

[68] Watchman Nee, the Normal Christian Life (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale, 1977), p. 144.

[69] Ibid., pp. 148-149.

[70] Chuck Smith, Pastoral Ministry (Murrieta, California: Calvary Chapel Bible College, 1989), pp. 10,11.

[71] Matt. 10:39; 16:25; Mk. 8:35; Lk. 9:24.

[72] Malphurs, p. 94.

[73] See Eph. 4:11 and 1 Cor. 12:28.

[74] Lk. 6:13-16: Simon Peter and Andrew, James and John, Philip and Bartholomew, Matthew and Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, Simon the "Zealot", Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot. Matthias replaced Judas Iscariot after he committed suicide.

[75] Jn. 14:26.

[76] Jn. 16:13-15.

[77] 2 Pet. 3:2; Rev. 21:14.

[78] Acts 1:8.

[79] Eph. 2:20; Rev. 21:14

[80] See 1 Cor. 14:36; 1 Thes. 4:2; 2 Pet. 3:15,16; the book of James.

[81] e.g. Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, book 3, chapter 1.

[82] Acts 14:4.

[83] I take 2 Cor. 8:23b "as for our brethren, they are apostles of the churches" as a summary statement describing the men mentioned in vs. 16-23a.

[84] See Titus 1:5 and note how Paul calls him a "partner" and "fellow worker" (2 Cor. 8:23).

[85] 1 Cor. 14:36-38; Gal. 1:6-9.

[86] Should we also be looking for people who can perform signs and wonders? Signs and wonders are manifestations of God's power, often in the form of miraculous healings. Luke mentions them repeatedly in Acts (2:43; 5:12; 6:8; 14:3; 15:12,19). They were a regular part of Paul's ministry (Rom. 15:19), and the calling card of a "true" apostle (2 Cor. 12:12). If that's the case, why don't we look for signs and wonders to identify apostles today? While it's true that signs and wonders weren't limited to the original apostles (Acts 6:8), and it's also true that people today can still perform miracles (Gal. 3:5), it would be a mistake to expect people with the gift of apostleship to have a miracle-working ministry similar to that of Paul and the other foundational apostles. If the signs and wonders Paul performed were typical of any messenger, how could they have set him apart as a "true apostle" on par with the "eminent apostles" (see 2 Cor 11:5; 12:11,12)? When people were touching Paul with handkerchiefs and carrying them back to the sick to heal them (Acts 19:11,12), Luke called the whole situation "extraordinary," implying that day-to-day events were more "ordinary." Episodes like this in Acts are the highlights of 30 years of ministry. Throughout history, God has allowed key representatives to perform exceptional miracles to introduce a new phase in his plan of redemption (e.g. Moses during the Exodus). The book of Acts records God use of signs and wonders to confirm his message just after the arrival of the New Covenant. God may choose to empower a gifted apostle to perform a miracle today, but we shouldn't use "performs signs and wonders like Paul" as a test of apostleship.

[87] In Jn. 10, Jesus uses the Greek word translated "pastor" in Eph. 4:11 to describe himself as a good shepherd.

[88] The phrase "pastors and teachers" in Eph. 4:11 is governed by one definite article (tous poimenas kai didaskalous), showing the close connection between pastoring and teaching.

[89] 1 Thes. 2:1-12.

[90] Daniel Sinclair, A Vision of the Possible: Pioneer Church Planting in Teams (Waynesboro, Georgia: Authentic, 2006), p. 6.

[91] 1 Cor. 12:29.

[92] 1 Cor. 12:4-7.

[93] Acts 13:1-3: "Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, 'Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.' Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off."

[94] Scott Thomas, "Ten Qualifications of a Church Planter," (Acts 29 Network, 2009) (accessed October 1, 2009).

[95] Chuck Smith, Pastoral Ministry, p. 10.

[96] Chuck Smith, Pastoral Ministry, p. 11.

[97] Lk. 10:20.

[98] Keller and Thompson, p. 62.

[99] Chuck Smith, Pastoral Ministry, p. 13.

[100] Chuck Smith, Pastoral Ministry, p. 13.

[101] Francis Schaeffer, The Letters of Francis Schaeffer (Westchester, Illinois: Crossway Books, 1985) p. 163.

[102] Todd Hunter, "Autopsy Reports of Failed Churches and Characteristics of Successful Churches," (Association of Vineyard Churches, 1986), pp. 6-13. (accessed October 5, 2009).

[103] Google "13 Characteristics of an Effective Church Planter by Dr. Charles Ridley" and you'll find numerous copies of Ridley's paper.

[104] Ed Stetzer, "Equipping Church Planters for Success," Enrichment Journal (Fall, 2009), citing Ed Stetzer, "The Impact of the Church Planting Process and Other Selected Factors on the Attendance of Southern Baptist Church Plants," (PhD diss., The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2003), pp. 81,82.


[106] Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Church (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1995), p. 25.

[107] Ibid., p. 26.

[108] Ibid., p. 33.

[109] Ibid., p. 34.

[110] Keller and Thompson, p. 66.

[111] Jeff Bailey, "Hot Spots: Looking for a Place to Plant a Church?" (accessed September 18, 2009).

[112] Rom. 15:20 (NLT).

[113] Acts 20:27.

[114] Roland Allen, Missionary Methods: St. Paul's or Ours? (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1962), p. 3.

[115] Keller and Thompson, p. 46.

[116] Hunter, p. 6.

[117] Os Guinness & John Seel, eds., No God but God (Chicago, Illinois: Moody Press, 1992), p. 31 citing "The Idol Factor" by Richard Keyes.

[118] Cited in Guinness & Seel, p. 32.

[119] Ed Stetzer, Planting Missional Churches, p. 147.

[120] The topics of inquiry for demographic research listed below assume the church planter has a particular area in mind, not just a particular group of people.

[121] Keller and Thompson, p. 40.

[122] Keller and Thompson, pp. 42,43.

[123] Malphurs, p. 264.

[124] (accessed January, 2010).

[125] (accessed January, 2010)

[126] (accessed January, 2010)

[127] Warren, p. 43.

[128] (accessed January, 2010)

[129] (accessed January, 2010)

[130] The terms "launch team" and "core group" are nearly synonymous in many church planting books and articles. The distinction made here between "core group" and "launch team" is adapted from Keller and Thompson, p. 129.

[131] Ibid., p. 129.

[132] Tom Allen, Launch Team Formation, MNA Training Conference, 2000. Used in Keller and Thompson, pp. 129-130.

[133] Tim Keller reflecting on his own experience planting Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan in Keller and Thompson, p. 9.

[134] In Lk. 19:10, Jesus summarized the purpose of his ministry when he said "I came to seek and save that which was lost." He illustrates this central concern in his parables of the lost coin, lost sheep, and lost son (Lk. 15).

[135] For the pros and cons of various locations (schools, recreation centers, movie theaters, etc.) see Malphurs, pp. 325-333.

[136] Learn more about play groups here:

[137] Trevor Bron, "5 Truths Churches Struggle to Accept," (Building for Ministry, 2009) (accessed October 2, 2009).

[138] Keller and Thompson, p. 87.

[139] E.M. Bounds, Power Through Prayer (Chicago, Illinois: Moody Press, 1979), p. 15.

[140] Keller and Thompson, p. 132.

[141] Keller and Thompson are borrowing this terminology from C. John Miller, Outgrowing the Ingrown Church (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1999), pp. 98-101.

[142] Miller, p. 98.

[143] Matt. 18:19-20; Jn. 15:16.

[144] Acts 4:23-31.

[145] John R. W. Stott, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: The Epistles of John (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1983) p. 185.

[146] Acts 1:14; 2:46; 4:24,32; 5:12; 15:25.

[147] Charles Henry Mackintosh, "Prayer and the Prayer Meeting," (New York, New York: Loizeaux Brothers, 1881) (accessed Oct 15, 2009).

[148] When Redeemer Presbyterian Church was in their pre-launch phase, Keller's launch team meetings were one hour of brainstorming and one hour of prayer. Keller and Thompson, p. 11.

[149] Warren, p. 136.

[150] Ibid., p. 139.

[151] Ibid., p. 139.

[152] Ibid., p. 138.

[153] These two strengths and the following weaknesses are adapted from Keller and Thompson, p. 102.

[154] Ibid., p. 102.

[155] Adapted from Keller and Thompson, p. 102.

[156] Ibid., p. 102.

[157] Ibid., p. 102.

[158] Acts 1:14,15,23-25; 2:46; 3:1, 5:12,15,16,21,25,42.

[159] Acts 2:46; 5:42; 8:3; 10:27.

[160] Keller and Thompson, p. 13.


[162] Jn. 13:17; Matt. 10:39; 16:25.

[163] 1 Thes. 2:8

[164] 1 Thes. 2:11

[165] Note "brethren" in Rom. 15:14 and 1 Thes. 5:14; Eph. 4:15.

[166] 1 Cor. 12:6.

[167] Phillip Connor and Ed Stetzer, "Church Plant Survivability and Health Study 2007," (Center for Missional Research, North American Mission Board, 2007), p. 14. (accessed Sept. 20, 2009).

[168] Prov. 24:6.



[171] Connor and Stetzer, p. 14.

[172] 2 Tim. 2:2.

[173] Connor and Stetzer, p. 14.

[174] Adapted from Gary DeLashmutt's teaching on 1 Tim. 4:7-16.

[175] 1 Tim. 4:11; 5:7,20; 6:17,18; etc.

[176] Stetzer, Planting Missional Churches, pp. 2,3.

[177] See 1 Tim. 4:7,10,15,16.

[178] Warren Bird, Glenn Smith, and Ed Stetzer, "Funding New Churches" (Leadership Network, 2007), p. 3.

planting%20report_funding.pdf (accessed Sept. 28, 2009).

[179] Over the last two decades, Vineyard Church of Columbus has planted over 20 churches nationally and internationally.

[180] 1 Cor. 9:19-23.

[181] Phil. 1:15-18.

[182] Keller and Thompson, p. 234.

[183] Mt. 9:37,38.

[184] Jeffrey C. Farmer, "The Effect of Sponsoring a Church Plant on the Sponsor Church," (New Churches, 2003) (accessed October 5, 2009).

[185] Bill Hybels, Courageous Leadership (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2002), p. 70.


Requires Adobe
Acrobat Reader™
Download Adobe Acrobat Reader