If you were to walk to your car right now and open up the hood, you would be confronted with a mass of metal, wiring, plastic, tubes, and valves (unless of course you own a classic VW Bug). For the average person, this jumbled mess represents the driving force of the car: the engine. But to the trained eye, this overwhelming conglomeration of stuff represents intricate relationships that form the whole of the engine. Each part plays a role, and if one part is missing, the engine no longer functions at full capacity or at all! In fact, many of these elements in engines are universal to all brands of engines and they are crucial to its function. In the same way, the whole of a church is formed by numerous pieces that function as one body. While each church may be unique in its own right, all churches share certain pillars that constitute a thriving body.
It takes all kinds of churches to reach all kinds of people: large churches, small churches, traditional churches, nontraditional churches, churches being planted in schools, prisons, storefronts, coffee houses,andhomes.
Although contexts may change, there are common biblical patterns or marks that successful new churches possess. With the early church movement in mind, these two posts will focus on replicable elements that are common to church-planting movements. I have primarily drawn these six essentials (three in each part) from 10 years of church planting experience and study, and from the book of Acts, which is a church-planting manual that records the explosive growth of the early church through several key phases. This church-planting movement began in Jerusalem (Acts1–7),grew to Judea and Samaria (Acts 8–12), and eventually expanded into the world (Acts13–28).
- Christ Centeredness is a Church Plant Driver
Christ is the foundation and the reason why we plant churches. The foundation of church planting and the entire Christian faith is Jesus Christ, and removing Him as this foundation is the most crippling error any church can commit. Sadly, I have seen people try to plant churches for many different reasons. Some have tried to plant out of pride; some for fame or recognition; and others have tried to plant churches out of strife or envy. These methods lead to disaster because Christ must be the reason for and the foundation of every new church plant. As we review Scripture, we see that Christ is the cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20) and the establisher (Matthew 16:18) of the church. Make sure that your church-planting endeavors are built upon the solid rock of Christ.
When we look at the pages of church history, we see many movements beginning with a life-changing encounter with the living Christ. Moses met with God in the burning bush. Paul encountered Christ on the road to Damascus. Wesley encountered Christ at Aldersgate. Augustine encountered God under a tree. Luther encountered Christ in the Bible. Saint Francis encountered God at the cross. Saint Patrick encountered God in a dream. Church history is full of stories of individuals who had a life-transforming experience with the risen Christ that left them forever changed. Are we any better or different than these pillars of history? I think not! We must have the same life-changing encounter with Christ that inspired the great heroes of the faith if we are going to plant churches.
Christ, however, isn’t just the organizational and personal foundation of the church and its members; He is also the message that is proclaimed. Upon departing for America, Thomas Coke asked John Wesley what message he should proclaim. Wesley responded by saying, “Offer them Christ.” As church planters, we have nothing to offer people but Jesus Christ. Our call is to offer them Christ. When starting a new church, make sure that Christ is the center of everything that you do and everything that you teach.
- Spirit Empowerment is a Church Plant Driver
The early church came alive and grew exponentially after the Holy Spirit came upon them on the day of Pentecost (Acts 1:8). Church planting is hard work and you cannot and should not attempt to do it in your own strength or understanding. If we are going to plant churches in the twenty-first century, we need a fresh touch of the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. Without the Holy Spirit, there can be no church because the church is the community of the Spirit. Therefore, without the Holy Spirit there cannot begin any genuine church planting endeavors. As a church planter, it is vital that you have a personal ongoing experience of the Holy Spirit. Don’t be ashamed to ask for the Holy Spirit to give you power to be a witness because it’s a biblical promise. In Acts, the church prayed, “Grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word” and then it says that when they finished praying “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:29, 31). Ask the Lord for boldness, to open your heart, and let the Holy Spirit give you power to do His work. This means that we are to surrender our lives daily and yield ourselves to the Spirit’s influence and guidance. Church planting is tough sometimes, and the indwelling of the Spirit is the only power through which God has called us to do work.
- Lay Leadership is a Church Plant Driver
The explosive growth of the early church can be explained in only one way: lay leadership. On the day of Pentecost three thousand were added to the church and they began to meet in home gatherings that were led by lay people. The role of lay people in the life and mission of a new church cannot be overestimated. Regardless of the context, there is nothing more powerful than when ordinary men and women do the effective work of ministry in a new church. One of the most common features of church planting movements around the world is lay leadership, not professional clergy. David Garrison, who is a pioneer in the understanding of church planting movements, said, “In church planting movements the laity are clearly in the drivers seat. Unpaid, non-professional common men and women are leading the churches…. Lay leadership is firmly grounded in the doctrine of the priesthood of the believer—the most egalitarian doctrine ever set forth.”
Take a moment to consider your church plant. If it has stalled, do any of these provide a new angle for consideration? Regardless of your church’s size or style, there are key drivers to see it become everything God intends.