A Church Planting Check-Up…. by Robert Beike
A survey by the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention revealed a few years ago that 98.6% of responders agreed that sponsoring new churches is Biblical, and that the great commission cannot be fulfilled without starting new churches. Those results indicate a theological temperature that appears to be a normal and healthy 98.6. In the same survey, 96.2% agreed that churches starting churches is the preferred method of church planting–another healthy indicator. Yet, upon closer examination, there seems to be a serious spiritual abnormality affecting the reproductive process of the body of Christ. Somewhere between only 4% and 20% (depending on who’s reporting) of SBC churches are, in any way, involved in starting new churches. That seems a long way from normal and healthy. Our brains are obviously sending theological messages that the body refuses to acknowledge.
Why is there such a disconnect? And what will it take for church planting to become the habit of all churches and not just the hobby of a few? The problem is no doubt systemic and complicated by multiple issues. However, there are three chronic ailments that if left untreated will continue to retard kingdom growth.
Church Planting is not normal for most churches, first of all, because of impaired vision. A lack of kingdom focus blurs the purpose of the church. As Jesus stood with His disciples beside the well outside the city of Sychar and watched people streaming from the town toward them, He said, “Open your eyes and look…(John 4:35). Jesus intends that we really see people, to view them in a way that transcends the physical. But, like our physical eyes, our spiritual eyes are subject to maladies that prevent us from seeing clearly.
People blindness comes in a variety of forms. A church’s vision is often clouded by prejudice. Other churches suffer from tunel vision, allowing those on society’s fringe to go unnoticed. Near-sightedness is another common affliction in churches. Spiritually myopic churches can’t see beyond their own local context, and their mission awareness is restricted to those who are “just like us.” Still others, ironically, have a far-sightedness that enables them to see needs afar off, even on the other side of the world, yet prevents them from seeing needs on the other side of their own town, or street.
Clearly, our vision needs correcting. Acquiring a kingdom focus begins on our knees in the word of God. Getting beyond our blind spots and into our mission field requires us to become like the blind man, who was asked by Jesus, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man responded, “Lord, I want to see!” (Luke 18:41).
Heart Trouble is another malady hampering our church planting effectiveness. If subjected to the careful scrutiny of the Great Physician, we may discover our hearts have shrunk to the size of our church rolls, and our heartbeat out of sync with God’s mission. God’s heartbeat resonates clearly, in that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Furthermore, Jesus prioritized all the law and prophets by insisting that we love God with all our being, and our neighbor as ourselves. He personally resisted the pull of His disciples agendas, and the press of a needy crowd to take the gospel to neighboring towns, adament that, “This is why I have come” (Mark 1:38). Oh, that God would sync our heartbeats with His, and enlarge our hearts to include all our neighbors near and far.
The third chronic ailment negatively impacting church planting is spiritual anemia. That may actually be too mild a term, but multitudes of churches are listless, and lack a robust spirituality. Unless they experience genuine spiritual renewal they will continue to exist in a kind of ecclesiatical fetal position. Years of inward focus and lack of regular spiritual exercise has left us weak. Recognizing our condition, repenting of our sin and selfishness, and aligning with God’s will are necessary first steps to spiritual health. Getting outside the walls of the church and into the fresh air of different neighborhoods and communities has a way of raising the fitness level of a church. Personal contact with others, building relationships, and gathering them to make disciples who will make disciples, can have a viral effect that results in a church planting epidemic–in other words, normalcy.
When Jesus scanned the five porches surrounding the pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem, He saw “a multitude of the sick–blind, lame, and paralyzed…” They were all waiting for a miraculous movement of God that would restore them to normal–a 98.6 life. He singled out an individual who had been sick for 38 years and asked him one critical question: Do you want to get well?” (John 5:3-5). How about you? What’s your church planting temperature? Do you want to get well…really?