By H. Joseph Miller
The mission of the church is missions, which is planting reproducing churches. Our changing world significantly impacts worldwide church planting with globalization, urbanization, inflation, and countless other changes. I want to focus our attention on church planting in the Unites States.
Changes in Demographics. Home missionaries are now called church planters. Many of the older missionaries have come from rural backgrounds. Their ministries and many policies of “home missionaries” reflect the rural methods of previous years.
While a high percentage of Americans still attended church, it was rather easy to enter a small town, find a meeting place, distribute fliers door-to-door, watch a sizable number gather, and start preaching. Revival meetings, tent meetings, quartets, dinner on the grounds, and other appeals would bring them in. That day is gone in most communities.
Now much of our growing population in the Unites States is moving into a no-roots, densely populated urban America. We live behind gates, walls, and closed doors, eating carry-in food, and being entertained with modern electronics, which provide endless choices of programming. Two-thirds of American mothers work outside the home.
Changes in Culture. The cultural gap between the Biblical lifestyle and the world’s lifestyle has grown much wider for believers who have maintained a Biblical lifestyle rather than just lagged behind the world’s lifestyle. Few people reached in evangelism today will have a Sunday School background. We cannot appeal to prior knowledge of the Bible; we must begin at the very beginning. It takes more than a preaching service to bridge this gap.
Pastor Bryce Augsburger II has stated that 51 percent of Americans do not have a philosophy of life. Another 25 percent have a philosophy with no place for God or the Bible. Therefore, they have no value system concerning deity, destiny, or duty. The result is no commitment. In fact, most of those who come into the church today have an extremely low level of commitment. We are challenged to move them from a feeling orientation to a thinking orientation to consider, “What does the Bible say?”
Changes in Cost. Along with this challenge to reach Americans who are further and further away from considering God in daily life has come tremendous increase in the cost of church planting. It takes much more for the church planter and his family to live in the big city where the great concentrations of people need to be reached. The equipment needed to minister in our modern world costs much more.
In yesteryears the home missionary’s primary strength was often carpentry. He could bring a house-style plan for a church building with him, pay a minimal down payment on some land, and construct a building with the help of volunteers. The people could amortize the exceptionally low cost of the property development in a short time. They had no zoning ordinances, parking codes, public occupancy codes, life safety codes, or other regulations to contend with. That day is history in most communities.
Now that we are targeting densely populated metropolitan and urban communities, regulations have multiplied. Sometimes we can’t have services in a home; a church must meet in a public occupancy facility with public parking. For about twenty years church buildings have been regulated by public occupancy codes that require rigid life safety standards and access for the handicapped on all new construction.
Today it is often more difficult to obtain a site plan permit than to obtain a building permit in rapidly developing communities. Site development may represent a fourth or more of the project cost. In the past fourteen years of consulting ministry, I have watched the cost of church facility development increase 300 percent.
As the independent church movement began, it basically handed the responsibilities of church planting in America to the home missionaries and mission agencies formed by the missionaries. The complexities of developing the site and building in our day belong to the professionals. Church planting is too great a task for the rural approach.
In the past, churches have believed that they were to help missionaries plant churches. They have viewed church planting as the responsibility of the mission agencies. While I am not critical of what the agencies have accomplished, how much more could they accomplish if the viewpoint were reversed: Missionaries are to help churches plant churches. The church planter needs a body of believers to train for ministry.
The Missionary Alone. Too few churches are involved in planting churches. Most churches help support church planters in America, but that support is waning because some supporting churches think they’re getting too few returns on their investment. Additionally, a church that must decrease its missionaries’ support budget often drops the support of home missionaries first.
Short-term Support. Most U.S.A. church planters need support. Many are “tentmaking” to meet personal needs; others are dropping out. Most of them have been sent out alone by the churches, which expect them to build a large church quickly. Often the church with the high expectancy has as its role model a church of totally different philosophy of ministry that has drawn a crowd through entertainment and compromising music.
The church planter can become discouraged easily. He lacks equipment, workers, a meeting place, disciplers, and funds. His supporting churches expect him to develop a body of believers with the financial capability to provide full support for the pastor, buy property, and construct a church facility within two or three years. The people in his new church will begin to drop out after a couple years if their ministry and facility expectations are not met. And they usually are not met as soon as desired. It takes a long time to disciple a new believer to be a sacrificial financial steward.
Inadequate Support. Most U.S.A. church planters have to operate under ancient support standards. “Why does he need that much support? Why does he still need support when his new church has $100,000 income per year?”
But that new church is in an area where it costs $1,000 per month to live in a modest house. Church property costs $265,000. Site and building development would be more than $1 million for the first phase after the land is paid for. Rigid codes dictate how much it must be developed. But prevalent indigenous policy says these costs are entirely the new church’s responsibility.
Even in instances where churches are planting churches, the church planter is supported for a limited time. But he and the new church receive little or no assistance to develop property. The new church must achieve this task alone within two or three years, or the people will begin to leave. Our society usually doesn’t remain content for long meeting in a storefront for church.
Many of our church planters have not been trained in skills for reaching a no-roots society locked in living rooms. Much of their training is in theology and preaching—a good beginning. Church planting requires business administration, economics, evangelism, teaching, and discipleship. The people have to be equipped to do the work.
Churches Planting Churches. It is my prayer and plea that more will catch the vision for churches planting churches. Let trained church planters help churches plant churches in their growing vicinities or next towns. As church planters move through the mission agencies beyond the reach of local churches to plant in areas where there is no witness, let churches help them with more than a minimal personal support for the church planter. Help them buy and develop property.
People Reaching People. It takes people to reach and teach people. At best, the telecomputer, direct mail, and other such tactics are only means of generating contacts for people to reach people. Ninety percent of church growth comes through relationships. I would like to see more and more churches catch the vision to send a church planter and team of servants from the mothering church to remain with the church planter in the new work to be leaders, role models, disciplers, and financial supporters in planting new churches.
Training the Church Planters. I would like to see more churches that are willing to plant churches also be willing to participate in training the church planters. A person cannot be adequately prepared for this task in the classroom alone, no matter how appropriate the curriculum is. It takes first-hand experience. Bring a church planter to your church; give him full support as a staff member for one or two years; involve the entire church in the vision; bathe the vision and effort in prayer; help the missionary develop a nucleus of believers in a neighboring community; thrust them out as a team to establish a church.
Targeting an Area. Ideally your church should target an area projected for growth in five or ten years. Demographics will guide you. Buy a church site in advance of the high impact population growth. Today’s cost will be a fraction of what it will cost when the team goes in to begin a church. Give them the land to develop. This is how major denominations frequently operate. They also provide funds and loans for developing the property.
Let professionals plan the development and buildings. Don’t destroy the potential of a new site and ministry by constructing the first building in a manner that can never be upgraded with later phases of development. These generic buildings will greatly restrict your ability to reach people of your community in the middle- and upper-class strata.
Budgeting. I recommend a budget guideline with 50/30/15 distribution: 50 percent for general fund expenses; 35 percent for property and facility development; 15 percent for missions. Under these guidelines, the church maintains the adequate fund to develop ministry and adequate funding to house that growing ministry, thereby producing a growing church budget for continued growth in the 15 percent missionary giving.
When your church has completed development of your present site to the capacity of that site, continue the same budge distribution. Allocate the 35 percent property development budget to new church planting. If you do not need to plant another church in your area, direct the funds to another area and church planter who has gone where no sponsoring church is available. God will bless your church with this kind of ministry.
My list of hurting church planters who contact me pleading for assistance continues to grow. I am trying to help them. Will you?
H. Joseph Miller was a pastor, church planter, church building consultant, and Regular Baptist Press author who is now with the Lord. This article first appeared in his newsletter The Church Planter, and was printed in the January 1992 Baptist Bulletin.