Churches That Start New Churches
“Praise God, Brother Eyo! God is helping us to organize a strong church, and more people are becoming believers every week,” said David as he and John brought their monthly report. “So many are coming we can hardly meet in the same room. Brother Lanka is helping us prepare the believers for membership and water baptism.”
“It sounds like God is building His church in Gane,” replied Brother Eyo. “It is time now that you teach the church its responsibility of witnessing and starting other churches. The people are witnessing in their community, but not far from Gane some towns need churches also. The Lord wants each new church to start other new churches.”
When a group has been formed into a self-governing local church, its responsibility does not stop there. As part of the body of Christ, the church must learn that its mission is to plant other churches. This lesson will guide you in the steps that will teach new believers how they can have a part in starting new churches.
Do you remember from Lesson 1 the two basic functions of the local church? They are evangelism and teaching. Also, the Lord gave ministry gifts to the church to help it carry out His command. Ephesians 4:12 shows that ministry gifts are given “to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.”
It is not enough that a church can govern itself and make decisions regarding its ministries. To fulfill its scriptural purpose, the church must also be self-propagating. A self-propagating church helps to plant new churches. It brings the lost to Christ (evangelism) and prepares God’s people for works of service (teaching). It has the characteristics described in Matthew 28:19–20 and Ephesians 4:12. As believers are prepared for service, they will win others to Christ. The result is that the body of Christ is built up, new believers are added, and other new churches are started. Thus, the church propagates other local churches. This is the method by which the church has been extended throughout the world.
Just as a plant has to be living and growing to re-propagate itself, so must a local church have life. What is the evidence that a church is spiritually alive and therefore self-propagating? In a church that has spiritual vitality, the members have an active love and concern for those around them. They pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit and look for ways to win the lost. Classes are held to prepare members for personal evangelism and to teach new believers. Plans for evangelism are carried out. Bible study classes are held regularly. Preaching of the Word, prayer, and praise are prominent in the church. New believers are continually added (Acts 2:47, 5:14), and the church looks for areas where new local churches may be planted. As we continue this lesson we will discuss some methods that may help in the task of planting new churches.
Methods for Planting Churches
As the believers in the New Testament church were scattered out from Jerusalem, they preached the gospel wherever they went (Acts 8:4). As they went from place to place they used different methods of evangelism. Today, just as then, no single method will work equally well everywhere.
We will talk about four of the methods used by church planters with success in various parts of the world. As you study these various methods, think about how each could be used in your area.
Small-Group Evangelism and House Churches
The meeting of small groups is often used as the major method of making new disciples and gathering them into local churches. The believers in the New Testament, of course, did not have church buildings but met for fellowship and evangelism in people’s homes (Acts 5:42). In some parts of the world, especially in politically or socially restricted countries where believers cannot meet publicly, the church has begun in private homes and multiplied greatly. Even in areas where there is no political restriction, there may be some people who are not willing to go to a church; generally, they will attend a gathering in a home. Believers and unbelievers alike are invited to share in prayer and reading and discussing God’s Word. This is also an effective method in areas where believers can meet together in church buildings. In some very large churches in big cities, it is very difficult for people to travel to a central meeting place on weekdays, so they meet in “cell groups” in various homes throughout the city. The spiritual fellowship helps believers and attracts unbelievers to Christ. Many people have been won to Christ by this method.
Personal work describes the work of an individual who talks to another person, usually on a one-to-one basis, about salvation through Christ. It may also be called personal witnessing, that is, telling about your own experience of salvation. Jesus said, “‘You will be my witness” (Acts 1:8). To witness is to give proof, and the personal proof is a powerful testimony. If people see that Christ has done something good for you, they are likely to be interested in what you have to say.
Churches can be started because at least one person becomes burdened to make disciples by personal contact in a certain place. A Christian who studies and applies God’s Word, whether a new convert or a mature Christian, may be led by the Spirit to do personal witnessing for Christ. The witnessing may be to co-workers at a job or students at a university. A believer may feel called to go to another village or nearby town to stay there and win souls by personal contact. It is important to encourage new believers to do personal witnessing because they will have many friends who are still unbelievers. It will help them grow in faith rapidly and the joy of their newly-found salvation will be effective in helping others accept Christ also. Those who respond and accept Christ’s salvation are gathered together to become the beginning group of a new local church. Since the person works alone, at first, this type of church planting can be very difficult. The person who is led by the Spirit to do personal work, like Philip (Acts 8:26–34), may never know the result of his witnessing. The important fact is that he obeyed God.
In many parts of the world, evangelistic campaigns are used effectively to start new churches. The campaigns may be door-to-door witnessing, preaching meetings in a church, a rented auditorium, a tent, a stadium, or simply an open field. Meetings in public areas hold many advantages. For instance, people who are prejudiced against entering a place of worship will listen in the open air or public building. A method used effectively in some places is to bring a group of Christians from other areas who give their testimony to Christ’s power to change lives. Usually, a group of people will gather to listen to someone tell about personal experiences. On occasions such as this, there can be opportunities for preaching simple gospel messages to present the way of salvation. Romans 10:14 asks, ‘‘How can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” Pray and trust the Holy Spirit to lead you to use the right methods at the right time to reach the lost.
Whatever method we use to present the gospel, must first be under the anointing and direction of the Holy Spirit. This means making a habit of seeking the Lord in prayer and then making plans and preparations for whatever way we can most effectively follow His guidance. The Holy Spirit will anoint those who desire to work for the Lord and He will give faith to the hearers to believe. But it is our responsibility to study God’s Word, devote ourselves to prayer, and be prepared as best we can to do God’s work.
If you would like to study methods of evangelism in greater detail, you may take the course Sharing the Good News, which is also part of the Christian Services series you are now studying.
Mother-Daughter Church Planting
The mother-daughter church planting method can be likened to the system by which strawberry plants grow. Strawberries are plants that grow close to the ground. They spread by sending out runners (or shoots) in different directions. As these stems grow outward from the central mother plant, they send down roots at a point away from the mother plant. A new set of leaves sprouts from the new roots. Eventually, the stem dries up and the new plant gets its strength only from the new roots. The new plant then sends out runners, becoming a mother plant itself. This continual process of mother-daughter plants causes strawberry plants to spread quickly over a large area.
A church that is established and growing usually has some people who live farther from the church than others. The members may be living in an area that is growing in population but has no church. The established church then decides to become a “mother” and start a “daughter” church in the new area. The mother church will organize a team of church planters to witness and preach. Those who live in the area will be leaders and helpers in the effort. Their homes may be used for meetings. If the local law permits, preaching and singing in open-air meetings may be used to win new believers. As new believers are gathered, the people from the mother church who live in the area join them to organize the new church. During this process, other groups from the mother church come to sing, witness, and help in the effort. The mother church may also help pay for the preaching campaign in the area. As soon as the new group is strong enough, it can be organized into a self-governing church. Then it is the responsibility of the new church to teach believers to develop their ability to “mother” new churches in other areas.
Steps to Church Planting
Along with selecting the most appropriate method of evangelism for your area, much planning is needed to accomplish the goal of planting new churches. Recall the two-fold purpose of the local church: 1) to have ministries that teach believers and build up their faith, and 2) to make disciples and teach them to witness and bring others to Christ. This is the self-propagating principle that keeps churches multiplying.
All believers may have a part in witnessing and winning people to Christ. They do not have to be experienced and mature believers. According to his or her ability and talent, each believer can have a part in taking the gospel to the lost. We should not think that only those who can preach or witness in public are the ones who can evangelize. Many other tasks need to be done to take the gospel to those who have not heard. There may be some who have the talent to teach other believers how to use the Scripture to lead a person to Christ. When a public meeting is planned, someone is needed to prepare posters or take care of advertising. There may be others who have the skills to build a platform or benches, if needed, for an outdoor meeting. And some can devote themselves to further intercessory prayer. All believers can have a part in the planning steps of starting the new church, and each one needs to feel that his part is important. The following steps will help you in the ministry of starting new churches. These steps can apply also to the individual church planter who may have to work alone to take the gospel to a new area.
Step 1: Prayer
The first thing believers should do as they make plans for starting a new church is to plan prayer into all the work schedules. Church planters need the power of God to combat “the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil” (Ephesians 6:12). This is not possible in human strength alone. Pray in faith, not in fear. We preach the gospel by the command of Christ and in His power (Matthew 28:19–20; 2 Timothy 4:1–2). He wants His laborers to gather, the fruit of the harvest He has promised (Luke 10:2) and to do so in triumph (Colossians 2:15; 1 John 4:4).
As well as having private times of prayer, one may find it beneficial to meet together as a body at regularly announced times to pray. As the church prays together, the Holy Spirit will give guidance in the plans.
Step 2: Study the Local Population
Once you have determined the group of people you feel God wants you to reach, you may find it helpful to study that group carefully. You may already know the people well. You may have been just like them before you accepted Christ.
First, define how the people are different from the people of your group. Even if they are of the same group, becoming a believer has made you different in your attitudes and behaviors than you were as an unbeliever. You see the world and people differently than before. Second, you need to define how the people are the same as your group. What things may be important to them which are still important to you even after you have accepted the Lord? Finally, it is important to become acquainted with social customs or legal requirements that may affect your presentation of the gospel.
After you have filled in the chart, study it to learn what special problems you may face in trying to start a church among the target people. Write these problems in a list on one side of a piece of paper. Then as you pray or meet with the other workers to pray, take these problems to God in prayer. Seek to find a spiritual solution to spiritual problems and practical solutions to practical problems. As you agree together on the solutions to overcome problems, write your plans on the other side of the paper. Trust in God for the solutions and prepare to be successful as you implement your plans.
Step 3: Determine the Spiritual Needs
Every person has spiritual needs. Many people may not recognize that the needs they feel are an indication of spiritual needs. They may feel lonely, unhappy, or futile. Some may have fears, but they may not be able to explain the cause of these fears. They may fear death, wars, or financial failure. In some places, people feel they are bound by obligations to follow customs that have been practiced by their families for generations, and these customs may be oppressive to them. Some people have no concept of God, and others may have concepts that are different from Christian teaching.
When you plan to take the gospel to a new area, learn everything you can about the spiritual attitudes of the people. Even if the people know a lot about the gospel, try to record all you can about their spiritual concepts. This will help you plan better how to present Christ to them as the Savior, the one who can help them meet their needs.
Now notice how many questions you could not answer for sure. It would be better to find the answer to these questions before you try to witness among these people.
If you were able to answer all the questions, you probably know the people quite well. Perhaps they believe what you did before you became a follower of Jesus. The Holy Spirit will help you use this knowledge to determine the most successful way to preach the gospel to them. In Hebrews 4–10 this is illustrated. The writer used the knowledge the Jews had of the Law of Moses to show them that Christ was the “once for all” sacrifice for sin and that He is the great high priest of the new covenant. Also, Paul appealed to the Athenians’ desire for knowledge about new ideas as a means to teach them about the true God (Acts 17:21–23).
Step 4: Revise Plans As Needed
Occasionally things do not work out exactly as planned; therefore, a good plan needs to be flexible. It may be that part of the plan works well up to a certain time, but then it must be changed to meet special needs. The leaders must be aware that this often happens, and they must be willing to change any part of the plan as the work continues.
Goals of the Church
Depending on the times, the culture, and the location, there may be different methods used to win the lost and gather them into a church body. But wherever and whenever a church is planted, there are certain goals to work toward which will help to give a church a good beginning. Working to accomplish these goals from the start will help a church attain the purpose which God has intended. These goals are five basic functions of the church:
- Make disciples. When Jesus gave His disciples the command recorded in Matthew 28:19, He did not say that they should go preach. Rather, He said, “‘Go and make disciples.’” A disciple does much more than just listen to his master or teacher. A disciple accepts and believes the teaching of a master, and then assists in spreading the teachings to others. A disciple becomes identified with, or is like, the master. The ultimate nature of Jesus’ teaching is love, so Jesus said to His disciples, “‘All men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).
Bringing others to Christ is another way in which His disciples identified with the Lord. Jesus said, “‘This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples” (John 15:8). To bring others to be disciples of our Lord requires sincere commitment on the part of those who preach and witness the gospel. As Paul expressed in Romans 9:3, he was willing to lose all to bring his Jewish brothers to the Lord. Paul’s whole life was centered on doing God’s will, and he encouraged those to whom he wrote to follow his example (1 Corinthians 11:1; Philippians 3:14, 17). The biblical teaching for the church is not only to sow the seed of God’s Word but also to bring hearers to confess Christ, to identify with Him as their Lord. Romans 10:9 teaches, “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ . . . you will be saved.”
- Gather believers together. An experienced church planter once told about a group of Christians who wanted to give the Christian witness to all the earth. They felt they should carry out Jesus’ command to preach the gospel to all nations. They hurried from place to place but did not stay long enough in any place to form the converts into a church or give them any teaching necessary to carry on church life. As a result, after years of work very few permanent results remained. These people had failed to realize that though evangelism is important, the goal of evangelism is to establish the church of Jesus Christ. New believers need spiritual fellowship and training (Matthew 28:20; Hebrews 10:25). Plans should include the where, when, and how of bringing the believers together regularly.
- Interact with the community. New believers should be encouraged to maintain contact with the unbelievers of their community. Planning may include ways to show Christian testimony and, as much as possible, maintain the influence of the new believers in their community (Matthew 5:13–17; John 17:11, 15, 18). This will help the new believers to witness to others for Christ and also lessen any persecution that may result from their decision to follow Christ (Acts 2:47).
- Organize the believers. According to the principles we learned in Lesson 3, a group of believers organized as a self-governing church can more effectively accomplish the purpose and ministries of the church. The local church is the means God has chosen to build up believers (Ephesians 4:12; 2 Timothy 3:16), teach them doctrine, and teach them how to give and how to serve God in the fellowship of the body of Christ. Each group of believers can select the form of organization that suits its needs. The purpose of the organization is to help the local church have a plan for teaching, witnessing, training workers, and to do whatever is needed to enable the body to work together in ministry for Christ.
- Teach outreach. As the new believers see the purpose of the church planters in trying to make disciples in their community, they too can have a part in the work and joy of bringing others to Christ. These new believers should be trained and invited to join the different teams of church planters. This will provide practical training, which is important in continuing the outreach of the church (Luke 10:1; Acts 1:8; 2 Timothy 2:2). Also, it can help to develop leaders among the new believers and help the church to grow faster.
As you are making plans to start a new church, perhaps you may find that another method, besides the four we discussed at the beginning of the lesson, will be better for your area. As you pray and seek God’s guidance, trust the Holy Spirit to lead you in the plans that will be best for you.
Care of the Sending Church
When a local church is engaged in “mothering” a new local church, it is also important to balance the responsibilities for the work in both places. The members of the sending church have an interest in the new church, either through prayer, giving, or by some direct ministry to the new church; however, not everyone can give all his or her time to the new church. Some people must continue the ministries of the sending church. The leaders of the sending church may decide to meet together and determine a suitable plan for delegating responsibility for the new church. As workers are sent out to new churches, others in the sending church will have an opportunity to develop their ministries and provide new leadership. Thus, the sending church continues to grow and be strengthened.
Build the Church Worldwide
Each new believer becomes part of a great fellowship of believers all over the world. Each local church is a building block of a fellowship of churches that is sometimes called the universal church or the church worldwide. The apostle Paul calls this fellowship the “body of Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:12– 27).
Where it is possible to do so, local churches can be blessed and strengthened by working together in the ministry of the gospel. In the New Testament, the churches in Asia Minor and the churches of Judea worked together as area-wide groups of churches. They helped in missionary work and joined to make decisions (Acts 15:1–21). They recognized the need to join with other local churches to carry on the work of God together (1 Corinthians 16:1–4; 2 Corinthians 8:1–15).
The unity with other brothers and sisters in Christ, and with other local churches, is very important to the church because it is very important to our Lord (John 17:20–21). The unity is in fellowship and service to God. Each local church, as part of the body of Christ, shares the same “precious” faith (2 Peter 1:1) and is joined in a fellowship that blesses and strengthens it. The Holy Spirit gives power and guidance to the church, enabling it to fulfill the command of Christ to make new disciples and build them up in the faith. As this command is obeyed, the church plants the gospel seed that continually reproduces itself in multiplying churches all around the world.