WHY PLANT CHURCHES
Tim Keller Redeemer Presbyterian Church Feb. 2002
The vigorous, continual planting of new congregations is the single most crucial strategy for
1) the numerical growth of the Body of Christ in any city, and
2) the continual corporate renewal and revival of the existing churches in a city.
Nothing else--not crusades, outreach programs, para-church ministries, growing mega-churches, congregational consulting, nor church renewal processes--will have the consistent impact of dynamic, extensive church planting. This is an eyebrow raising statement. But to those who have done any study at all, it is not even controversial.
The normal response to discussions about church planting is something like this:
A. 'We already have plenty of churches that have lots and lots of room for all the new people who have come to the area. Let's get them filled before we go off building any new ones."
B. 'Every church in this community used to be more full than it is now. The churchgoing public is a 'shrinking pie'. A new church here will just take people from churches already hurting and weaken everyone.'
C. 'Help the churches that are struggling first. A new church doesn't help the ones we have that are just keeping their nose above water. We need better churches, not more churches.'
These statements appear to be 'common sense' to many people, but they rest on several wrong assumptions. The error of this thinking will become clear if we ask 'Why is church planting so crucially important?' Because--
A. We want to be true to THE BIBLICAL MANDATE
1. Jesus' essential call was to plant churches. Virtually all the great evangelistic challenges of the New Testament are basically calls to plant churches, not simply to share the faith. The 'Great Commission' (Matt.28: 18-20) is not just a call to 'make disciples' but to 'baptize'. In Acts and elsewhere, it is clear that baptism means incorporation into a worshipping community with accountability and boundaries (cf. Acts 2:41-47). The only way to be truly sure you are increasing the number of Christians in a town is to increase the number of churches. Why? Much traditional evangelism aims to get a ‘decision’ for Christ. Experience, however, shows us that many of these 'decisions' disappear and never result in changed lives. Why? Many, many decisions are not really conversions, but often only the beginning of a journey of seeking God. (Other decisions are very definitely the moment of a 'new birth', but this differs from person to person.) Only a person who is being 'evangelized' in the context of an on-going worshipping and shepherding community can be sure of finally coming home into vital, saving faith. This is why a leading missiologist like C.Peter Wagner can say, "Planting new churches is the most effective evangelistic methodology known under heaven."1