Why Church Planting?
The mandate to plant
The mandate to plant churches is very simply derived from the New Testament – it begins with a basic understanding of the nature of the church. The Greek word for church (ekklesia) in its most basic form means “assembly.” The word was common in secular Greek to speak of assemblies of people gathered together both lawfully and unlawfully (Acts 19:32, 39).
In Paul’s earliest letters he refers to the ekklesia or church with modifying words designating the particular nature and place of the assembly
Paul and Silvanus and Timothy to the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace. 1 Thess. 1:1
For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea… 1 Thess. 2:14a
Gradually, over time, however ekklesia took on a technical meaning which referred exclusively to a specifically Christian assembly.
Sometimes I am asked where in the bible we are told that Christians have to join a church. My answer to that question is that there is no specific text that commands joining a church because the underlying presupposition of the New Testament is that all Christians are part of a local church.
In fact the vast majority of NT uses of the word ekklesia is in reference to a local assembly comprised of all those who live in a particular location and profess faith and allegiance to Christ (1 Thess. 1:1; 1 Cor. 4:17).
While the NT does designate Christians themselves as the church in a universal sense (Acts 9:31), even this universal church has a visible reality in this life – e.g. Christians are living people who can be seen. Furthermore, membership in the universal church – the Body of Christ – is never contemplated in the NT as existing independent of membership in a local assembly.
What this all means is that, to be a Christian without having fellowship in a local assembly is never even contemplated by the New Testament.
Therefore the command to make disciples in Matt. 28:19-20 is nothing more or less than a command to plant churches. In fact I would be so bold as to say that any type of evangelistic effort that fails to enfold new converts to Christ into a local assembly is not evangelism in a NT sense.
When Jesus told the 11 disciples that they were to be His witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the furthest part of the earth (Acts 1:8) He was giving them a mandate to plant churches. Listen to the testimony of the Book of Acts 2:41-47; 5:10-14; 11:19-26; 13:2; 14:21-28; - For Paul, successful evangelism was measured by the planting of churches. Acts 15:41; These churches were planted among various people groups who were anything but homogeneous in terms of language and culture. In fact that is the beauty of the NT church – it is flexible enough to bridge any language, culture, age or socio-economic class.
The worship of God in the OT was a “come and see” religion in which a believer was to meet God at the Temple in Jerusalem according to rigidly enforced rituals and ceremonies.
NT Christianity is a “go and tell” religion in which true worship is offered not through established rituals but from the inner person in accordance to the truth as revealed in Jesus Christ (God is spirit and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth - Jn. 4:24).
In addition to the unequivocal theological mandate to plant churches there are some very sound practical reasons why we must plant more churches.
- The rate of baptism decreases as the church matures
- Church plants emphasize evangelism and new believers and are dollar for dollar the most economical means of evangelism.
- Church plants have less bureaucracy than old established churches
- Church plants provide new opportunities for service and leadership (when a church’s programs are fully staffed it limits opportunities for new people to serve)
- Smaller churches have a greater level of spiritual accountability and mutual edification – you can’t hide in a small group!
- Church planting stimulates established churches to grow in order to replace leadership, which generates excitement as new leaders bring in new ideas to the sending church
- Church planting gives the mature church a purpose for existence greater than institutional survival.