SBC Life Articles

Forget Number 1!

"And the first place winner is …"

How many times have we heard that phrase? Though I am not a major sports fan, I have always lived in towns and cities where the first place award was given regularly. Our high school football team dominated the area of the county in which I grew up. I also witnessed many great accomplishments by the University of Kentucky basketball team when I lived in Lexington. After spending time in Indianapolis, every year I observed the "best" in the Indy 500. Now living in Louisville, each spring another horse and jockey win the Kentucky Derby. Let's face it; we live in a society that prizes the best, the greatest, the fastest. We like to be number one — but number 2,151? You've got to be kidding?!

In a recent study I conducted of one hundred and ninety North American church planters, I confirmed a fact that many have assumed for years: few churches are currently involved in church planting. In fact, in our denomination no more than 5 percent of the forty-three thousand churches are involved in church planting. That's only about 2,150 churches! One reason for such a low number is that many churches do not recognize the various ways to be involved in church planting. March 26 is "On Mission: Planting New Congregations Sunday." The following are at least ten ways your church could participate in the church planting process.

Calling Out the Missionaries

1 It was within the context of the local church, that Paul and Barnabas were set aside for missionary work. Luke wrote: As they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work that I have called them to" (Acts 13:2).

Established churches need to recognize the significance of this passage. There is a direct connection between the responsibility of the local church and the sending out of the missionaries.

Prayer Support

2 One of the most important things a church can do for her church planters is to pray for them on a regular basis. The Apostle Paul recognized the importance of having other churches to pray for him. He wrote: Pray also for me, that the message may be given to me when I open my mouth to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel. For this I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I might be bold enough in Him to speak as I should (Ephesians 6:19-20).

Encouragement and a Body of Identity

3 Church planting can be a lonely endeavor, especially when the church planting team is working in a pioneer area where few strong relationships with other believers exist. Many times the church planting team consists of one family that was very active in their local church, had numerous relationships with other believers, and was sent by the Lord to an area where they are miles from home.

Established churches need to offer consistent encouragement to church planters and their families. Church planting can be some of the most discouraging and frustrating work in the ministry. Churches need to remind their church planters that they are available for them and will minister to them and support them in both good times and bad.

On different occasions, the Apostle Paul returned from his missionary journeys to the church in Antioch, from where he was originally commissioned (e.g., Acts 14:26; 18:22). Church planters need a place to call home; they need an established body with which to identify. When asked by people in the community, "Are you with a church?" the team should be able to respond in the affirmative with the name of a specific congregation. In many contexts, this affirmation will lend credibility to the ministry.

Pastoral Mentoring and Accountability

4 Closely related to providing encouragement and a church body with which to identify is the need for church planters to be mentored and held accountable for their lives and ministries. Just as the church planting team needs to have close connections with a local congregation, they also need pastoring.

Who pastors the church planters? Usually we fail to ask ourselves this question, assuming that missionaries are not in need of pastoral ministry. This assumption is inaccurate and unfounded; it fosters the myth that church planters are in some sense superspiritual.

Church planters need someone who will walk with them during both the good and bad days of their ministries. They need a mentor who can serve as a compassionate encourager, while remaining a firm challenger. They need an individual with whom they can share ideas, evangelistic strategies, family concerns, and frustrations.

Church planting teams need to be held accountable for their stewardship with the opportunities the Lord has provided. Whenever a team is in a new location, miles from close friends, temptations abound. For example, unless the church planters are making wise use of their time each day, it is easy to be busy doing good "stuff," but actually accomplishing very little. They need to be held accountable for maintaining proper time with their families, for having a daily devotion time, for implementing their church planting strategy, and for accomplishing the milestones they have established.

Provide Training

5 Like most ministers, church planters desire ongoing training. Though you may not be able to directly provide the desired training for church planters, within most state conventions there are individuals who are skilled in various areas of ministry in general, and church planting in particular. Contact individuals in your area, or the North American Mission Board, to see what is available for the church planters with whom you are working. Church planters need times of refreshing. Being on the frontlines is draining, and opportunities for practical training can sometimes serve as a breath of fresh air.

Provide Resources and Financial Support

6 Many churches do not believe that they can become involved in church planting because they do not "have" any resources or money to support the work. This belief supports a poor excuse and in reality, a very rare fact.

I was recently conducting a seminar on becoming a church-planting church when I asked the participants how much money was needed to plant a church. After taking a moment to think one gentleman responded, "About $110,000 if you want to do it right." Following his response, many of the participants remained silent and others raised their eyebrows in shock. I responded with the following rhetorical question: "What is your definition of 'right'?" He did not have a clear response.

Our understanding of the church will affect our thoughts concerning the use of resources and finances in church planting. Most churches do not believe they can help in the area of resources and finances because the church herself owns a very costly piece of property and building, and after ten years is still paying off the debt. The reasoning follows: "Since we have all this 'stuff' (e.g., property, staff, structures), and we are a church, therefore, to be involved in church planting means that other churches must have the same 'stuff' (e.g., property, staff, structures), and we can barely afford our own possessions, let alone provide for others." Churches should not assume that what they own is necessary for church planting.

Constant Recognition of the Missionaries

7 We are quick to forget. The church planting team needs to be constantly brought to the minds of the church members. I have been in several situations in which the leadership was in agreement with a particular ministry, but because they failed to communicate regularly the significance of the ministry, the rest of the church soon forgot it. Even if the church leaders are supportive of the church planting work, the rest of the church body needs to be supportive of it as well. One of the ways to keep up their support is simply to remind the church continually of the church planting ministry in which they are participating.

Allow for Much Flexibility — Understand that Missionaries May Do Things Differently

8 Church planting by definition is cross-cultural work. Even if the church planters are working among folks of a similar ethnicity, remember, they are crossing cultures (i.e., world views). Along with cross-cultural ministry comes the necessity to contextualize the Gospel message into the new culture.

Contextualization is a process that is easier said than done. In conjunction with the work of the Holy Spirit, the church planters are required to use many creative methods to communicate the truth of Christ. Due to the diversity of cultures in North America, it is possible that the methods used by your church to reach the people now present in your congregation, are not the methods that will work among the unbelievers with whom the church planters are working.

Sometimes church planters will do things that established churches may view as strange. We must hold church planters accountable to the Scriptures, but we should also allow them great flexibility to do what they understand is required to reach their people.

Remember, the church planters are the ones in the trenches and have a firsthand grasp of reality. Many times it is easy for folks, not in the contexts, to demand the church planters to follow particular methodologies. This distant guidance easily results in frustration on behalf of the church planting team as well, and little or no church growth.

Several years ago, Jack Redford of the Home Mission Board (now NAMB) commented: "Many times the sponsoring church wants to force the issues for the mission, making decisions and demanding action before the mission is ready. Rather than force these issues, the sponsor should provide opportunities for the new chapel to develop the issues on its own. This, however, takes time, effort, and patience. Again, like the parent and child, the sponsor should allow the 'child' to express its feelings and then deal realistically and honestly with them rather than squelching creativity and maturation."1

When the leadership of the church supports the church-planting team's non-traditional strategies, it is more likely the "strangeness" factor will be reduced among the members. The chances are good that if the leadership is excited about what the church planters are doing, then the church will also catch that excitement.

Work with the Missionaries to Establish Clear Expectations

9 Partnership churches and church planting teams need to have clear expectations for the relationship. Leaders from both parties should meet to discuss the details of the partnership. This meeting should not be conducted with suspicion toward one another, but rather each one should hold the other in high esteem.

Though there are many areas of the partnership that need to be addressed, the following are essential topics for discussion: 1) the roles of the partner church and the team; 2) the possible use of partnering church's facilities and office supplies; 3) finances; and 4) the involvement of members of the partnering church. Each of these areas can quickly become points of tension and frustration if they are not discussed early in the church planting ministry.

Recognize the Legitimate Nature of the Team and the Newly-Planted Church

10 We must remember that the church planters and the newly planted churches are extremely significant to the Kingdom. We cannot make them out to be less of what they are. They are legitimate and not some sub-par group of believers who just do not have everything together as of yet.

Throughout the Scriptures, those planting the churches were seen as a vital component to the fulfillment of the Great Commission. The teams, who were willing to give up the comfort of familiarity and venture into unknown territory to plant churches, were held in high esteem among the brothers and sisters. We need to hold church planters in high regard before our congregations.

We should refrain from referring to a newly planted church as a "mission," as if it is not yet a church. Regardless of what the government, denominational, or cultural policies are that define when a church is considered "official," we must be willing to return to the Scriptures to find out when the church becomes the church.


Again, March 26 is the day our SBC churches will focus on church planting. Will you and your church become involved in the process at some level? There are numerous opportunities because there are numerous needs. Will you consider participating in this great opportunity to carry out the Great Commission in your area? Will you lead the church to be number 2,151?

For additional assistance, contact the Church Planting Group of the North American Mission Board at www.namb.net.

1 Jack Redford, Planting New Churches (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1978), pp. 79-80.

Church Planting in Action*

Calling Out the Missionaries

1 First Baptist Church uses several ways to call out church planters. Their pastor challenges the congregation during the invitation time to consider serving as church planters. For example, in creating a church planting atmosphere, the church adds to their newsletter and worship bulletin a brief story profiling a church planting team. At times they invite the local director of missions or a church planter to come and speak to the congregation about the significance of sending out church planters.

Prayer Support

2 Faith Baptist Church devotes a portion of their worship service to a time of prayer for their church planting team. Different Sunday School classes have decided to pray for different needs of the team. Periodically, groups gather for a meal in someone's home and conclude with a time of prayer for specific concerns offered by the church planters. Every quarter, a Wednesday night prayer meeting focuses on a time of prayer for the ministry. At warmer times of the year, they take their prayer meeting to the streets, prayerwalking communities in which church planters are ministering. On colder evenings, groups from the church meet in the home of one of the church planters for a night of prayer. The pastors have also encouraged church planting teams to recruit intercessors from Faith Baptist.

Encouragement and a Body of Identity

3 The pastors of Rollingport Baptist Church encourage the members to have a meal or coffee with the church planting team/family every couple of weeks. The senior pastor allows the church planters to preach periodically for him. Also, the church planters are welcomed at various times of the year to lead the congregation in worship. Members are encouraged to "adopt" the church planting family, and, for those moving into the area, begin to help them adjust to a new life and new location.

Pastoral Mentoring and Accountability

4 The pastor of New Hope Church has made it a priority to be a pastor to the missionaries. He sees his ministry to them as an extension of his ministry with New Hope. He considers himself a Barnabas to the church planters. Every week, his secretary reminds him to send a weekly email to the church planters just asking how they are doing. Once a month, he takes the church planting team out for lunch or breakfast.

Provide Training

5 Emmanuel Baptist Church has budgeted a small amount of money to send church planters to training conferences. Also, the pastor regularly invites the church planters to come with him to various events. Though he understands that the material covered may not be directly applicable to their present missionary work, nevertheless, he understands that it may provide training that will be useful in the future of the church planting work.

The Associate Pastor of Second Baptist Church started a book club with the church planters. Each month the group meets to discuss a different book that is helpful to the ministry.

Provide Resources and Financial Support

6 Ninth Avenue and Slowfort Baptist Churches have done the following: They allow a church planting team to use their photocopiers, office space, computers, and office supplies. They share their building space with the church planters, allowing them to use the worship areas, classrooms, nursery, and even storage space.

Chester Street Church has sent members to serve as temporary workers to help out until the church is planted. Following their commitment, they will return to CSC. They also send youth on short-term mission trips to work with church planters.

Hollinsworth Baptist collects a quarterly offering to give to their church planting team. Muddy Creek Baptist gives a percentage of their overall missions/evangelism budget to the church planting work.

First Chinese enlists certain Sunday School classes to sponsor the church planting work. Different classes participate in hands-on work with the church planters, and they are encouraged to give special offerings to the work.

Constant Recognition of the Missionaries

7 Haitian Community has church planters regularly post information regarding the work on their Web site. They are considering creating a special link on the site entitled "A Day in the Trenches," allowing the planters to post a daily synopsis of what they do each day.

Buck Creek Baptist offers a monthly "Church Planting Update" section in their newsletter.

Rambling Fork allows the church planters to assist periodically in leading in the church's worship and Bible study time.

Three times a year, Smith Valley creates a "Week-in-the-Life of Our Church Planters" video shadowing church planters. The videos are shown on Sunday evenings.

Seabreeze Fellowship hosts a quarterly informal dinner for the church having the families of the church planters as the guests of honor.

Allow for Much Flexibility — Understand that Missionaries May Do Things Differently

8 The leaders of Korean Fellowship make sure that they understand the methods and strategies of the church planters with whom the church is working. These leaders also make sure that the people know that they understand the ministry and are supportive of it.

Work with the Missionaries to Establish Clear Expectations

9 The pastors of Smith's Woods Baptist have several meetings with church planters before they lead the church to partner in the particular work. During these meetings, they clearly address the relationship (fears, concerns, excitements, assistance, etc.) between the church and the church planting team.

Recognize the Legitimate Nature of the Team and the Newly-Planted Church

10 From the pulpit, the pastor of Lake Village Baptist continually reminds the congregation of the high calling that is upon the lives of their church planters. He makes sure to always refers to their newly-planted church as a "church" and not a "mission."

* The churches and situations are fictional and have been provided as helpful illustrations.

    About the Author

  • J. D. Payne