By Clare Jewell
North America is ripe with gospel opportunities. Nearly 500 ethnic groups now live in the United States and Canada, and more than 200 million North Americans do not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. The U.S. is now the third-largest mission field in the world. Amid this unprecedented occasion for ministry, nearly 4,000 churches close every year. Many more have plateaued or are in a state of decline.
According to research, the most effective way to reverse this trend and reach the millions of lost people living around us is to plant new churches. It is also the best way to connect with the various ethnic groups who have immigrated here.
Within this context of opportunity and need, what’s preventing a church planting movement from taking root among our Regular Baptist churches? How can we change course and release the resources God has given us to effectively share the gospel with the people in our culture?
There are two primary reasons to believe we can turn this around.
First, God is committed to redeeming broken lives enslaved to sin. He wants our neighbors to experience His forgiveness and love. In the beginning of the movement we know as the church, God gave His Spirit to empower believers to bring the message of salvation in Christ to every nation on earth.
Second, Christians may be the biggest roadblock. This may not sound like good news, but it does mean we are in a position to make a difference—to adjust our focus and align ourselves with God’s mission in the world. We do not have to wait for circumstances to change. We are not dependent on what others may do. The primary agent for igniting a church planting movement steps into your pulpit every Sunday. With God’s help, pastors can alter the direction of their churches.
It all starts with a change of mind.
It is difficult for pastors who are engaged in day-to-day ministry to focus on the bigger picture. They get so involved in doing good things that they fail to step back and determine if they are doing the best things. Sunday’s attendance will be reported in the bulletin. Ministry roles need to be filled. Budgets to be met. Sunday’s coming, and there’s another sermon to be preached. Most leaders are swamped with activities that don’t seem to move them any closer to accomplishing the mission of God.
This must change.
It can change.
The best way for this to happen is to ask some tough questions. What am I measuring? What does that reveal about my values? Am I more concerned about my church than about God’s church? Do I care more about the number of people in my auditorium on Sunday than the number of lost people who live within 10 miles of my facility? Am I growing an audience or disciples? How many adults get saved in my church each year? Do I count the money we take in or the money we give out? How many leaders has our ministry developed over the past five to 10 years? How many of those leaders have been released to serve outside of our church? How many people in my church are discipling others? Do we have a process for helping those mentors? How many groups have we reproduced in the past five years?
Answer these questions, and you might just spark a movement in your ministry. Engage your team in wrestling through these issues, and God will birth a vision.
And then it’s time to ask some deeper questions:
- What programs need to be set aside so we can focus on making disciples?
- How can we meet the needs of our community in a way that opens the door for gospel conversations?
- Are we so afraid of failure that we are unwilling to take a step of faith?
- Do we trust God to replenish what we give away?
As you answer these questions, take some time to reflect on Matthew 25:14–30, the parable of the talents. Two men took a risk. They invested wisely. They utilized what the master gave them in order to produce something more for him. They were rewarded with even greater opportunity. But the third man sat on his hands. He was so focused on maintaining what he had that he buried his only hope of doing something significant with his life. Don’t let that happen in your church.
This is where repentance comes in. It is literally a change of mind. It is a decision to think differently, to act differently. Churches will not move forward until their leaders move forward. People won’t engage in reproducing disciples until their leaders demonstrate that it matters to them.
So here it is—the mind-set change that must precede a church planting movement. It is a commitment to make disciples, develop leaders, and multiply groups. It is a determination to measure our sending capacity rather than our seating capacity. It is the recognition that “church” is about far more than attendance at services and programs. It is a decision to deploy our resources rather than conserve them, to develop people rather than utilize them. Ultimately, it is settling for nothing less than an all-out effort to reap the harvest God has planted in our own backyards.
This change of mind will spark both an interest in and a need for planting churches. This need will be driven by evangelism as we serve and love the communities God has entrusted to us. It will grow as we provide places for multiple ethnic groups to join in fellowship with God and one another. And it will be led by those we have developed through our focus on discipleship.
All of this starts with a new mind-set, a change in thinking rooted in the belief that we are aligning ourselves with the very heart of God.