How many methods are there for church planting? Ken Davis suggests four options for launching and growing new churches—and gives many variations. To illustrate these methods, future issues of the Baptist Bulletin will include profiles of church-planting ministries.

New churches are planted in many different ways. Each has its own unique birth. Consequently, there is no single “right” way to establish a new church. God is limitless in His creativity, and His servants can be creative in their ministries. This is why in His sovereignty, the Lord of the Harvest is blessing a variety of church-planting approaches in our day. This should not surprise us. In an increasingly complex Western culture, many kinds of churches will be required to reach all kinds of people; thus no one church-planting model will be appropriate in all settings. The wise church planter will seek to understand and evaluate these before he launches out by faith. For the purposes of our discussion, we will group various models under four general headings: sister church plants, mother church plants, lone church planters, and revitalized church plants. Each model has its own strengths and weaknesses.

1. Sister church plants

Missionary church planting is probably the best-known method of church planting among North American evangelical and fundamentalist church groups. A “missionary pastor” goes into a needy community and starts the church but does not remain as the permanent pastor. Other churches, giving through an established mission agency, support him. He serves as a catalyst in the neighborhood, gathering a nucleus from which to found the church. Often called a “catalytic church planter,” he combines the roles of pastor and evangelist.

A genuine missionary church planter stays with the new congregation no longer than necessary. His goal is to work himself out of a job. As soon as the church is grounded in sound doctrine, has trained leadership, and is able to support a pastor fully, he resigns and begins the planting cycle all over in a new locale. The time it takes for the church to become self-supporting varies from a number of months to several years.

Hundreds of churches have been established across North America by dedicated independent Baptist missionaries under Baptist Mid-Missions, Baptist Church Planters, Continental Baptist Missions, the Association of Baptists for World Evangelism, Evangelical Baptist Missions, and Baptist International Missions, Inc. The “home missions” boards of many evangelical denominations also utilize this approach. For example, the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board averages about 1,500 new church starts every year.

This traditional method has proven to be reliable through the years. It works well in pioneer situations where there is no nucleus or core group. A fully supported missionary can go anywhere to begin a work. He does not have to wait for a nearby church to catch the vision of “mothering” or assisting the new group.

Missionary teams are led by visionary lead planters who seek out qualified associates with complementary spiritual gifts, building stronger churches more quickly. Most mission agencies today discourage a missionary church planter from working alone. They have learned that a team of agency workers laboring together can plant new churches much more effectively. A cooperative team is particularly beneficial in urban church planting, where the challenges are many.

The team approach to church planting has clear Biblical precedent. Jesus modeled team ministry as He selected and trained the Twelve. The Antioch church commissioned a heterogeneous and highly effective missionary team (Acts 13:1–3). The apostle Paul rarely worked alone, using numerous fellow workers—men like Barnabas, John Mark, Silas, Timothy, Luke, Tychicus, Artemas, Priscilla and Aquila, and Epaphroditus.

If the team members work together harmoniously and model well the grace and power of God, their impact can be significant. The team approach should significantly increase the efficiency and fruitfulness of each individual on the team. Each can do what they do best and enjoy most.

Partnership church planting involves a cooperative effort of one or more churches aided by a mission agency. A full-time experienced missionary under the agency joins forces with a single local church or group of nearby churches that desire to initiate a new work in a needy area. Each sponsoring church provides financial, moral, and material support as well as “seed” families. The missionary’s role is to provide guidance and encouragement as a trainer/mentor, not a pastor/planter.

Currently I direct Project Jerusalem, a church-planting and training ministry out of Baptist Bible Seminary, Clarks Summit, Pa. This innovative program networks with area churches to give on-the-job training to seminarians while they launch new churches in needy urban, ethnic, and rural communities in the Northeast. So far seven partnership plants have been initiated (with two more being planned and about ready to launch), and dozens of men have learned planting skills and become enthusiastic about church planting.

Associational church planting is driven by the visionary initiative and substantial support of an association of churches. As churches pool their resources and share their know-how, they can accomplish more than working alone. Associations often do careful demographics, select strategic areas, and set regional goals for church planting. With planting sites and strategies in mind, they go out to carefully recruit suitable planters to fulfill the associational vision.

Independent Baptists (and other historically separatist groups) need to recognize and reaffirm that associations can be a catalyst for renewed church planting—without sacrificing local church autonomy or key doctrinal distinctives. Those of us who value the independence of the local congregation need to also be reminded of the benefit of congregational interdependence. The New Testament clearly teaches both concepts. Mindful of this, several state associations of GARBC churches have begun church-planting initiatives.

Regional church planting is similar to associational church planting but on a smaller scale. In fact, all of the local churches cosponsoring the new plant may not be part of the same association of churches. Here churches of like faith, all located in the same region, commit themselves to working together for a single church-planting project. Normally the number of cooperating congregations is limited to two to five in order to retain maximum local involvement and initiative. And the target area for the new church is a needy town or city nearby. Like other sistering models, the size, resources, proximity, and desires of each partnering church determine the extent of sponsor involvement.

The major attraction of the regional church-planting model is that it permits smaller churches, which may not have the resources to single-handedly mother a daughter church, to be directly involved in a planting venture.

2. Mother church plants

Around the world, the mother-daughter model is probably the most widely used method to birth a new church. Here an established church, normally of substantial size, decides to “hive off” or “swarm” instead of continuing to grow larger. The existing congregation recruits key leaders and families from its own membership to send out into a needy nearby area. In the target community they form the nucleus for the fledgling church. The new church is usually located within driving distance of the sponsoring church so nucleus members do not have to relocate.

One of the best known contemporary examples of this model among independent Baptists is Bethesda Baptist Church in Brownsburg, Ind. Under the dynamic leadership of Dr. Don Tyler, this congregation intentionally birthed eight daughter congregations in 10 years. Each daughter was provided with a fully salaried church planter, up to 50 adult “loaners,” and substantial financial assistance. Today the combined attendance of the daughter congregations is well over 1,000. Amazingly, the mother church is still running around 600–700 in Sunday worship attendance! Certainly the accumulative impact upon urban Indianapolis is far greater than if Bethesda had decided to focus on being the area’s largest church.

Parenting requires a spiritually mature church with a strong pastor, a balanced ministry, and active lay leaders. Timing is essential if a premature birth is to be avoided. Spiritual maturity, not congregational size, is the key. What follows are several variations on the mother-daughter approach to church planting.

Colonization is identical to the more traditional parenting model with one major exception: dedicated Christians intentionally move into another city, part of the same city, or even to another state or country for the purpose of founding the new church. The seed families usually relocate at their own expense and find their own employment. Because the distance involved is often great, the mother church normally does not send out a large number of its members. Obviously this approach calls for a radical level of commitment to Christ and His Commission!

Accidental parenthood is the opposite of “planned parenthood.” In this unfortunate situation, a new church forms out of a church split because believers were unable to settle their differences. When congregations fragment over nonbiblical issues, nonessentials, or procedural issues, the result is often pain on both sides. Harm is brought to the larger cause of Christ. Yet a sovereign God is certainly able to bring good out of the sinful wrath and divisiveness of people. In a human family, parents naturally love both their planned and unplanned children. Likewise, the Father loves both the resulting congregations and is able to make them part of Christ’s forever family.

Multicongregational models work best in a multiethnic, diverse, urban setting. Here an established church, often English-speaking and with a large facility located in a changing neighborhood, intentionally plants several ethnic daughter churches. All the language/cultural groups share usage of the same building, staggering the times of services, yet fellowshipping together as often as possible. Each group normally has its own ethnic pastor and leadership. Each contributes equitably to the upkeep of the building. The different ethnic groups may each choose to be totally autonomous or to be sub-congregations of one larger, single church.

Multicampus church planting uses a large existing church to expand its ministry impact by starting public services in several scattered sites. Multicampus describes one congregation in more than one location. Normally this church has one membership, one staff, and one operating budget but meets weekly at two or more church properties. Usually a dynamic pastor with the drive and physical stamina to preach several times on Sunday pastors this kind of church. At other times a rotating staff may do the preaching and shepherding. This approach to church planting has seen mixed results. Only time will tell how effective the multicampus approach will be.

Satellite churches are like the multicampus church, but in the satellite model the newly planted congregations are only semiautonomous. This is quite similar to a large central bank having numerous branch banks or to a seminary having several extension sites. In each case the scattered satellites continue to hold a close organic relationship with the parenting entity while being permitted a degree of freedom. Some church-growth enthusiasts believe the satellite model will be the wave of the future. For Baptists, the word “semiautonomous” should raise an immediate red flag, but perhaps the idea can be modified.

3. Lone church planters

All of the previous models have one thing in common: cooperation with other churches or mission agencies. But some church planters prefer to establish churches with very little external assistance.

The independent pioneer model uses the initiative of an individual who usually has no organizational backing or even local church approval. The pioneer church planter is convinced of the need to begin a church. Humanly speaking, the success or failure of the planting project is determined largely by the dynamic personality, character qualities, vision, and leadership of this man. Despite some inherent dangers, God has used many independent pioneers to start dynamic, growing churches.

The founding pastor model uses a man with pastoral gifts to initiate a new church. Moved with compassion and vision, the founding pastor not only gathers and builds the initial core group but stays on as the long-term pastor. What he may lack in spiritual giftedness necessary to initiate the new work, he often makes up for by recruiting a launch team with complementary gifts. Some men are attracted to this model because their passion is to shepherd a flock, not to lay a foundation.

The bivocational planter model uses a leader who intentionally seeks secular employment as a tent maker like the apostle Paul. He will serve the new church for years with little or no financial remuneration from the new church. Bivocational planting pastors see their dual role status as either temporary or permanent. Most plan to work on the side only until the new church grows to the point it has sufficient budget to cover their salaries. But others prefer being permanently double duty and dual role. In areas of the world that are closed to traditional missionary efforts, such as in Muslim nations, it may be the only means of gaining an entrance.

4. Revitalized church plants

In the next issue of the Baptist Bulletin we’ll discuss a fourth category of church planting—restoring and revitalizing a church that has fallen on difficult times.

The Bottom Line

No one method will fit every church-planting situation. In fact, a church may select the right method and still fail when it doesn’t experience the power and blessing of God on the planting ministry. In the end it is the man, not the method, that a sovereign God uses to start churches. A Spirit-filled man, with the right motives, can accomplish much for God by His grace and for His glory! No matter the method, every church should be involved in the ministry of planting other churches.

Ken Davis is on the faculty of Baptist Bible Seminary, where he also serves as director of church planting. This article is condensed from a longer chapter in the author’s YBH (Yes, But How?) Handbook of Church Planting, coauthored with Roger McNamara. The longer version of this article lists benefits and drawbacks of each model, and offers more suggestions on selecting the model that best fits a particular ministry.

Four members of the GARBC Council of Eighteen are working on a church planting committee, encouraging each GARBC church to become involved in church planting initiatives.

Members include:

  • Jonathan Jenks, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, Wisconsin Rapids, Wisc.
  • David Little, president of Baptist Church Planters, Grafton, Ohio
  • Will Hatfield, pastor of Campus Baptist Church, Ames, Iowa
  • Sam Farlow, ABWE church planter and pastor of Columbia Heights Baptist Church, Boise, Idaho