Denominations and Church Planting Networks

I'm a part of the Southern Baptist Convention, a denomination.  We plant churches because it's the job we all have to spread the gospel.  Our church gives money, some of that money goes to church planters who have gone through the proper assessments of our North American Mission Board and who have a sponsoring church and an acceptable plan, and then they go plant.  Simplistic, I know.  But something like that, anyway.

Often sponsoring churches are just typical churches who happen to know a young guy wanting to plant.  They at times can offer great support, but too often are struggling themselves.

Other denominations that plant churches in much the same way but with slightly different systems.  But what we all have in common is that church planting is one of our jobs, it's what we must do to be obedient to Christ, so we get at it and it's a good thing.

Denominations aren't the only people planting churches.  There are churches like Mars Hill (Mark Driscoll) in Seattle and Covenant Life (Josh Harris, formerly C.J. Mahaney) in Gaithersburg, MD who have started church planting networks.  These are Acts29 and Sovereign Grace Ministries (which C.J. runs full-time now) respectively.

I have never really understood how to explain these church planting networks.  I mostly just say that churches who aren't associated with a denomination have to find ways to plant some churches, so they are effectively their own denomination.  But now I see them as different and better.

David Garrison has written a much-circulated booklet on Church Planting Movements.  It's an important work on what it means to get a movement of churches planting churches who plant more churches that plant churches.  And the SBC's International Mission Board has taken on this idea that our missionaries are not out to get into a country or to a people group and stay there forever.  They want to pray and work to get a church planting movement going so it will sustain itself and the missionaries can move on and start again in another area.

That's exactly what I think the church planting networks I mentioned are, they are church planting movements.  They are local church founded and vision driven networks organized around doctrinal agreement and shared passion.  Denominations are often too much about internal maintenance while church planting movements are more pointedly about expansion of mission and multiplying churches.  Denominations want that too, but they do it more through systems and less through momentum.  Church planting movements are run by visionary leaders who have momentum.

Isn't that exactly what we see in countries like China?  A few years ago I had the privilege of meeting the founder of one of the several church planting movements in China.  In the movement he began there are several million people meeting in illegal house churches.  He had escaped to the U.S. because he was probably going to be killed by Chinese authorities.  But he didn't come to escape, he came to encourage us to learn from the Chinese Church and organize to help the Chinese Church from afar.  So I was able to sit with him in a secret meeting in Kentucky (his presence in the U.S. wasn't public info yet) and learn from him and think about what it would mean to have a movement in the U.S.

I think Acts29 and Sovereign Grace Ministries are the kinds of movements we need.  I'm happy for denominations too.  But our cold and calculating church planting systems are part of the reason that some 80% of all church plants fail.  Movements are doing better, I think, at planting churches that last because those churches are founded on momentum. 

I think instead of us denominational guys focusing on our denominational planting systems alone, we need to also latch on to movements.  The SBC is doing that in some places by connecting with Acts29.  There is some serious camaraderie between guys like Al Mohler and Mark Dever (SBC guys) and C.J. Mahaney (Sovereign Grace).  We need those connections, not just because we have the same doctrines, but because system guys need movement guys who are changing the world.

But I also think that we need in our local churches to envision starting more church planting movements.  We need visionary local church pastors dreaming about starting a network of churches.  Don't be content with your denominational system.  Start a church planting movement where you are discipling new planters and networking with them and planting more churches.