By Benjamin Spalink
Church planters tend to think church planting is the only way to go. Those in established churches tend to be more concerned about church revitalization. Is there a middle ground between the two?
Let’s think of the classis as an extended family. There are little kids (newer churches), parents (established churches) and grandparents (churches that have reproduced many times over). One of the joys of big family get-togethers is seeing the grand children grow. Our children used to get all the attention, but those children grow up and have children of their own. Now the focus is definitely on the grandkids. Families reproduce and grow. Because people are always aging, the survival of the family depends on reproduction.
Many in older established churches want to think about revitalization and church renewal but don’t see how a classis church planting movement could help their church. First of all, we’re not thinking about the health of any one church. We’re thinking about what a healthy classis looks like, a classis being a family of churches that are aligned together for the purpose of mission. You might have healthy established churches in a classis, but a classis without a robust church planting initiative in progress is like a large family with parents and no children. Secondly, church planting and renewal are inseparable. From the CRC Network blog, Rev. Medenblik writes, “The DNA of church planting is in alignment with the DNA of church renewal. In my journeys as President of Calvin Seminary, I have seen all kinds of churches in all kinds of contexts, but a central feature of a “healthy” church is the same – they know, love, and serve the community where God has placed them.”
Consider this for a moment - church planting and church renewal can go hand in hand because ultimately, the DNA, or the culture of the churches in classis is really what we’re talking about. Renewal and planting should never be set against each other or seen as an either/or. A classis DNA that is excited about reproducing churches is at its heart passionate about making more and better disciples, and that is true in both revitalization and church plant settings. Both renewal and planting require a culture of equipping and raising up leaders. Both require a massive emphasis on prayer and seeking the leading and empowerment of the Spirit. Both require a missional mindset, that is, being a church and classis that is outward facing and concerned for the lost. Finally, renewal and planting done well have one salient feature - exceptional leadership. Church planting and church renewal are, at least theoretically, both fruit of the same kinds of culture-changing activities needed to revive failing classes.
Additionally, planting churches, if well-conceived, properly motivated and well executed can massively benefit the parent churches. First of all, it will focus the church leadership to think about church ministry and discipleship from a missional perspective. Second, it will provide avenues for church members to get involved, learn from and support a missional endeavor. This can be exciting journey to be a part of. Third, God blesses those who give more than he blesses those who receive (Acts 20:35). Churches, by pouring out their best leaders and resources to bless something new, will be blessed by God. Spirit and Truth Fellowship in Philadelphia can testify to the amount of grace God has given them over the years each time they send out their best leaders and volunteers to start a new faith community.
Church planting and church revitalization should not be seen as an either/or. They’re both necessary and flow together out of intentional classical renewal efforts aimed at shaking up the classical DNA to be more missional, more discipleship-oriented, and more focused on bridging the Gospel to local communities in contextual ways. Churches will grow AND new churches will be planted.
Why Plant Churches by Tim Keller
Planting and Renewal Together by Jul Medinblek
Church Planting and Church Renewal by Stefan Pass, Journal of Missional Practice