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When I was part of a church planting team back in 1997, there were very few resources to help us navigate the many challenges and the hard work of planting a church. In those days of planting a church, there was a lot more risk and uncertainty for doing what we were doing, so we had to learn by trial and error, and metaphorically speaking, building the plane as we began to fly.
Now there are all kinds of resources: a bunch of books published on the subject, a bunch of websites with free resources and online training, a bunch of conferences on church planting (like Exponential), and a bunch of church planting networks too. I’ll make a short list of these resources at multiasian.church/planting to connect you to them.
There are many reasons to plant more new churches, too many to name. What I will do is borrow some notes from my friend Pastor Ray Chang’s presentation slides as an overview of reasons in 3 categories:
First and foremost, all that we do as a church and followers of Christ must be based on the teachings found in the Bible. These are some of the classic Bible passages about the importance of the church, that I’ll present as is, without commentary:
Matthew 16:18-19 (ESV)
And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
Matthew 28:18-20 (ESV)
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Acts 1:8 (ESV)
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
Acts 2:42-47 (ESV)
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
Ephesians 4:11-16 (ESV)
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
Now that you’ve read these passages,you may be wondering if you missed something, because you didn’t see the words: “Go ye therefore and plant new churches.” And you’d be correct, those exact words are not there in black and white.
But, when these Bible passages are read and synthesized together with other teachings in the New Testament about the church, the Bible does teach about the importance of gathering together as Christ-followers. The original Greek word for church is εκκλησία, has a literal meaning of the “called out ones.” Where it is wise, helpful, and strategic, churches have added some kind structure to facilitate health and growth, in a way similar to how wooden stakes help a tomato plant to stand tall, or like the bones of my skeleton hold together my whole body. And, over the course of church history during the past 2000-some years, the local church has taken on many different organizational structures, theological frameworks, and church governance models.
To plant a new church is not merely a human endeavor, it is a spiritual battle and it must be grounded in a solid foundation of faith, self-awareness, discernment, and wisdom. And it’s hard work, very hard work. Some liken it to running a startup business, but church is more than a business, it’s a spiritual work too. In that sense, it’s even harder, because you’ve got both real world challenges plus an additional dimension of spiritual challenges on top of that.
First, let me speak to the church planter. A church planter must have a God-given conviction to clearly answer this question that will be frequently asked: “Why do you want to plant a new church in this community at this time?”
Notice the four parts of the question, as denoted by the underlines: Why you and not someone else? Why a church plant rather than another ministry of an existing church? Why this city or neighborhood or people group instead of another? Why now and not later?
A church planter needs to be crystal clear on this “why” question before he can effectively recruit leaders, workers, prayer supporters, and potential donors.
For a church planter to say something like, “God told me so,” can come across evasive and might be a naive leap of faith without much discernment. Proverbs 15:22 says, “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.“ Planting a church without thinking through it more thoroughly is unwise. Consequences would be disillusionment of other lives, and even the church planter’s own life and marriage. It’s not good stewardship and could bordering on irresponsibility.
There are lots of external reasons for why church planting is needed. But the church planter also has to look within and get to the heart of the matter. You’d want to be honest with yourself to check your motives.
Who can you be honest with about why you want to get into church planting? Who do you let into your life, to speak to you honestly and lovingly about your strengths and weaknesses?
And what is motivating you? There are all kinds of motives and motivations: compassion for the lost, desire to preach, desire to expand God’s kingdom, want to prove something, need for more churches, no open doors, burden to reach specific people, can’t get along with other Christians, God’s calling, I want to do my own thing, personal theological agenda, and you can probably think of some others.
It’s a good spiritual exercise to open yourself up to God and a couple of trusted friends, and go before God in prayer and echo the words in Psalm 139:23-24 (ESV): “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!”
Better and wiser to approach church planting with a sense of calling from God and a clear conscience before God and others. And one more thing, be sure to include your spouse in this exploration and soul-searching, because church planting isn’t just a day job, it will significantly affect your marriage and your family.
For churches that are considering how to get more involved in planting churches, my first suggestion is to learn about the resources, networks, and training that are readily available. And choose one to work with that fits with your church’s philosophy of ministry. Then prayerfully identify and support the chosen few from your own congregation that have a heart for church planting and connect them to the resources that will journey along for the next steps.
And lastly, there are practical reasons that church planting is valuable for expanding the Kingdom of God and helping more people find their way back to God.
- Evangelize better – statistics show that the most effective evangelistic method is planting new churches. Pastor Ralph Moore has been part of planting 30 churches that have reproduced more than 2,200 churches worldwide, and he has noted, “New churches provide superior results. Some denominations have found as much as 80% of their conversion growth comes from new churches.”
- Immigration opportunity – Asian Americans now have the highest immigration rate out of all racial ethnic groups. When people move to a new location or a new country, they’re more receptive to the Gospel and it’s one of the best opportunities for churches to serve people practically.
- Population growth – the numbers clearly show that church growth is unable to keep up with population growth. Researcher David Olson noted in his book, The American Church in Crisis, that while the population of the United States grew by 52 million people from 1990-2006, the total worship attendance in American churches remain unchanged.
These are all compelling reasons for planting new churches. But that doesn’t mean your church should jump into this right away. Similarly, I shouldn’t be a church planter myself, as much as I believe in the importance of it. Based on the entrepreneurial skills required in church planting, only about 10-15% of pastors have the natural abilities common to most successful church planters. Yes, God can do much more than our human limitations, but most of the time, we can fulfill God’s plan in our lives by using the innate gifts, abilities, and desires that God has created precisely in each of us to be used faithfully.
What it does mean is that we need to take a sobering look at reality of the world today, the importance of reaching all peoples with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and discerning the next steps we can take to better participate in what God is doing in our time and in our generation.
Many churches start by reaching one demographic, one generation, one particular ethnicity, but it’s not healthy to stay there, becoming sterile and stagnant. Healthy things grow and healthy things reproduce. Every church is given the mission to bear witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and the whole Gospel for the whole world is the Great Commission to make disciples of all nationalities.
For a more thorough discussion and understanding about why we need new churches, and how to actually plant a church practically, please take a look at the resources listed at multiasian.church/planting.
And, I personally recommend the resources of two networks, Ambassador Network and ReGenerant Network. I am a team member of both of these networks that are dedicated to resourcing churches to be multiplying, multiethnic, and missional. Ambassador Network provides coaching, consulting, and training to existing churches and new churches, while ReGenerant Network has a tighter focus on planting Asian American churches, a simpler term for what I’ve described as next generation multi-Asian churches.
Church planting may be particularly challenging in an Asian American church context for a couple of reasons. Many of us who have been a Christian for some time have experienced a church split, where a new church is formed as a result of unresolved conflict. Whether the conflict was justified or not, it obviously was not resolved. The prominence of shame in Asian cultures can make reconciliation particularly difficult, even when the Bible clearly teaches how the heart of the Gospel is about the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18), both with God and with one another.
There’s another challenge that makes church planting difficult, because the idea for church planting is unknown and uncommon. And when something is unknown, it can result in suspicion and rejection.
Pastor David Hsu is the senior pastor of West Houston Chinese Church. Pastor David is particularly gifted to lead this bi-lingual Chinese church because of his fluency in both English and Mandarin Chinese. Ted Law had served faithfully and effectively for 8 years in the church’s English ministry, when he began to sense a new vision from God to plant a new church to reach a diverse multiethnic community in urban Houston.
Pastor David and the church’s leadership boards prayed together to confirm Ted’s new calling, planned for a healthy transition over the span of a year or so with the help of denomination support, and prepared to send out Ted to plant with the church’s support, blessings, and a core group of 40 people.
Even when the relationships between the pastors and church leadership were good and healthy, there were a few people that could not understand how this was a healthy church plant. They could only see it as a church split; they had no category for anything else. A small number of people were suspicious in part due to painful church experiences in the past, and understandably so.
With good teaching and time for healing, the overall process was overwhelmingly positive for the church as a whole. This is a good example of an ethnic Asian church that is striving to be faithful in furthering the reach of the Gospel and demonstrating healthy partnership and reproduction.
This overview about the importance of church planting sets the table for the follow-up question: why do we need next generation multi-Asian churches? Why can’t churches just be Gospel-centered and preach the Bible and leave the results up to God? This will be the topic of the next chapter.
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