"The most effective form of evangelism is church planting." If you are a pastor or church planter, you are bound to run into this quote. The list of sources is endless, just do a search on 'church planting most effective evangelism'). In fact, many will even point to the apostle Paul going into cities to plant churches as the prototype way to reach cities and their suburbs. This makes sense, since in Paul's day there weren't churches in these regions so he had to plant churches for the Christian faith to survive. But today, there are many existing churches in cities, so pastors of established churches end up asking: Help – Why are church plants the most successful at reaching people and does my established church stand any chance of being renewed? (JollyBlogger)
Can established churches recapture the dna to reach people? I believe church planting is the most effective form of evangelism only because in it's very nature it holds the ingredients that lead to being missional. This means that established churches can re-capture these ingredients but by the nature of their history, organizational structure and emphasis they tend to NOT be as effective. Here are some of these key ingredients I believe lead to greater conversion by church plants: (see my video that lays out some of the statistics of conversion in church plants vs. established churches )
1. Jericho Walls – Church planting requires a tremendous amount of faith and a slight bit of gospel insanity. First, to believe you are called by God to plant a church is a pretty serious thing to say. According to a Psychology Today stat I read a few years back, most pastors surveyed said they were primarily a pastor as a line of vocation. They didn't know what else to do. They had become professional clergy without a sense of calling (which was one of the other options). Church planters need to have a sense of calling because church planters have to look at the Jericho-sized walls of starting a church and addressing the world's unbelief and pray to God as desperate men who have to have God show up in order to plant a church. And this is where God tends to arrive most, when there is a humble people lifting their hands desperate for Him to show up.
Established Church Suggestions: Change the vision of your church. Has your church already arrived and accomplished what you set out to do? (eg. The unspoken contentment of wanting a nice big community that is 'house-broken'.) What would happen if your churches vision expanded beyond the four walls of your building and including transforming the entire city you lived in? In order for something of this nature to occur, God has got to show up. This would require a change of heart of the people and the faith/desperation of seeking Him out.
2. Fat Cats Don't Hunt – When church plants begin, there is a smaller number of people and they often have a much greater external focus. Larger churches often see a great necessity for taking care of the people that are already showing up. Therefore, a larger church tends to spend more time on internal programs. Certainly larger churches may end of having more people visit each week, but these numbers are quite low proportionately to the effectiveness of church plants. If you are a pastor of an established church, what % of your time as pastor/leader are you actively equipping others on external ministry? Can you tell people to follow me and make disciples as you are? If what is most important in the leadership of your church is becoming more wicked smart on the Bible or running church programs rather than being missional, why would you expect your church be missional?
Established Church Suggestions: One of the areas I want to begin exploring more is the idea of equipping the saints for the work of the ministry. Actively coming alongside people in the church who are already on mission and doing more Just-In-Time Theological Training. Train them on mission rather than in a cul de sac Bible Study. This would be in juxtaposition to creating 'church program' to equip people, a post I discussed in You Can't Program the Gospel. A few of the suggestions I've unpacked in prior posts: Leading a Transformational Community, the Call to renew your Church’s Ecclesiology and Leading a Movement Not an Institution.
3. Risk & Reward – New churches have greater freedom to be flexible, change on the dime and try new things. This means they can experiment with new methods, sounds, styles and often this can reach untapped people groups. The same principles are seen when start-up companies are more innovative and surpass the larger bureaucracy-laden companies in tapping new markets.
Established Church Suggestions: Prevent your church from becoming a bureaucracy. Church plant, go multi-site do whatever it takes. Create a missional mindset in your people.
Other Resources: Thom Rainer wrote Breakout Churches: Discover How To Make The Leap, pick up Ed Stetzer's Comeback Churches: How 300 Churches Turned Around and Yours Can, Too or The Missional Leader: Equipping Your Church to Reach a Changing World by Alan Roxburgh & Fred Romanuk.
NOTE TO CHURCH PLANTERS: All of these three points are important for church planters to think through, because we are
already seeing several church plants become more established.