At the tender age of eleven, I planted a church. Okay, it wasn’t me who planted the church, but I felt like I planted it! My family was a part of a church planting team, and God used that process to shape my perspective on evangelism and church growth. In 1997, we started Harpeth Community Church in an elementary school gymnasium in Franklin, Tennessee (near Seedbed South!), and now the church has a building with over six hundred members. My dad, Bob Harrington, was the lead planter, and we wrote a book together (with Marcus Bigelow) in 2010 on church planting networks, Together: Networks & Church Planting.
For research for the book, I interviewed ten influential church planting networks around North America, finding that church planting is neither a lost nor dying art. The Church needs church planting if we, the people of God, are going to raise up Christians into the full stature of Christ (Eph. 4:13). As Christianity like we know it continues to change, church planting will remain a constant need. As Timothy Keller argues, “The vigorous, continual planting of new congregations is the single most crucial strategy for the numerical growth of the body of Christ in a city and the continual corporate renewal and revival of the existing churches in a city” (“Why_Plant_Churches”). It’s not just about numbers, though; it’s about church revitalization, as well. Planting new churches inherently cultivates both. As a church-lover, researcher, and practitioner, I offer four church planting organizations and two church plants you simply need to know:
Four Church Planting Organizations: these groups are getting it done with creative and consistent means. They each offer distinct contributions to the field of church planting.
1. 3DM (weare3dm.com)
3DM trains churches and Christian leaders to do discipleship and mission in an increasingly post-Christian world.
Why I like them: they do missional communities well.
The story: When I read their primary “field guide” in 2011 – a theologically astute manual for starting and spreading missional communities – it rocked my world. Also, Mike Breen is a gnarly dude with a cool British accent.
2. Stadia (stadia.cc)
Stadia brings people and churches together to transform lives and communities through church planting.
Why I like them: they’re my people.
The story: I grew up in this tradition – Christian church – and my dad jump-started many of their church planting networks in the early days.
3. Acts29 (acts29network.org)
The mission of Acts29 is to band together churches, which, for the sake of Jesus and the gospel, plant new churches and replant dead and dying churches around the world.
Why I like them: they bloom where they’re planted.
The story: I stayed in Scott Thomas’s house for a church planting survey trip in 2008, my junior year of college. Although he no longer serves as the president, my impression of them from that time until now is the same: their strength is a strong focus on calling.
4. Launch (launchstrong.com)
LAUNCH helps local churches form area networks to identify, train, and send out new leaders.
Why I like them: they care about leaders and leadership.
The story: I interviewed Mac Lake, “Chief Launch Officer” of LAUNCH, in 2011, and the humility with which he launched Launch was compelling—he spent 9 months just listening to church planters’ needs before taking any action. Quality organization based in Georgia.
Two Church Planting Churches
These display the micro-dynamic of church planting, the local expression of church planting organizations, the life-blood of church planting.
1) Lexington Christian Fellowship (lcfky.com)
Why I like them: they plant a church every time they grow past 150 people—which keeps happening.
The story: The whole church welcomed me four years ago, when I first visited and again this year, when I moved back to Kentucky. Their relational DNA is saturated with love and spreads. They’ve planted twice, and one’s on the way.
2) First United Methodist Church of Lexington (1stumc.org)
Why I like them: my friend, Jason Jackson, pastors there – and he gets it.
The story: Jason told me over lunch the other day that the First UMC of Lexington is a geographically-focused church planting movement that cares about their communities. This church ain’t leaving—their downtown community is an incubator for sending out new churches throughout the city, and those churches are here to stay.
We all want to be part of something big – because God’s kingdom is worldwide like that – and this is good and godly. The real fun, though, is on the ground level in a local church plant, where you find yourself planted by God. So if you are interested in church planting, learn from the organizations and join a church planting church (or become one). May God be glorified as we each discern how God is giving us to a local body as he expands his kingdom through the long, joy-filled work of church planting.