You’ve seen them in your community. They’re popping up in old buildings, fields, and other empty spaces. They show up with catchy names and make lots of loud noise, often attracting quite a crowd in the process. But what are they? Where do they come from? And why are they here?
I’m talking, of course, about church plants—when a new local church begins where none had previously existed.
Church planting is the process of beginning new gatherings of Christ-followers and God-fearers, led by church planters, people who are fulfilling the Great Commission through commitment to a specific vision in a particular community and context.1 Church plants can be autonomous, draw support from a denomination, exist as a campus of another church, or come about in some other way.2 No matter the model, though, the church plant exists as a new iteration of the body of Christ on earth.
Planters and Pioneers
Church plants are not always the first church in a geographical area. But church planters nonetheless have a pioneer mentality. Unlike settlers, who help populate an area after it’s been explored and has some infrastructure, church planters aim to boldly go where no one has gone before—using means and methods that haven’t been used before and interacting with people who have never before been effectively reached with the gospel.
Church planters are “men and women who have in some way committed their lives to the exhausting but exciting venture of faith that includes the planned process of starting” a new local church.3 They’re committed to what is often a long and difficult process, willing to risk their time and energy for the sake of reaching more people with the good news of who Jesus is and what He has done.
Eventually, of course, many church planters become church growers, those who lead a church into the maturity of equipping more and more disciplines who are themselves equipping disciples.4 In contrast to established congregations, church planters are often able to break molds and try new things for the sake of advancing the Kingdom of God in their communities and contexts.
1 There are a number of formal definitions of church planting, many of which focus on churches that are outward focused in their communities. See Chester and Timmis, Total Church, 85 and Aubrey Malphurs, The Nuts and Bolts of Church Planting, 17-18.
2 See “What are Multisite Churches?” for some insight into the contours of many modern church planting movements.
3 Malphurs, 25
4 Although some planters, like Francis Chan in recent years, follow an apostolic model of starting churches and then rapidly moving on to another plant. See We Are Church for more information.