[This is the conclusion of Starting New Churches: Is Our Focus Misplaced?]
“Planting new churches is the most effective evangelistic methodology known under heaven.” You can’t read any church planting material without bumping into that quote. Repeatedly. Hey, C. Peter Wagner said it, so that settles it.
Or does it?
The quote is completely woven into the mindset of North American church planting. Suggesting that it’s wrong may be tantamount to evangelical heresy. But wIth all due respect to Wagner (it was through reading his books on healing that I first learned of John Wimber and the Vineyard movement)… I’m sorry. It’s wrong. It’s backwards.
Correlation vs. causation: Get it straight
For everyone who’s ever repeated the quote, I want you to come back with me and remember some basic science. Repeat after me: “Correlation doesn’t imply causation. Correlation doesn’t imply causation.”
Wagner was taught by Donald McGavran, the grand-daddy of “church growth” who used statistical analysis to figure out what “worked” and “didn’t work.” And I have no doubt that statistics show that wherever new churches are planted, evangelism increases. But think about it. When a new church is starting up, what does the core team do?
Well, first of all, they don’t start weekly services right away. They might not have weekly services for months. Instead, the core team is trying to “get out there.” That includes things like:
- Meeting a lot of people, getting to know their spiritual background
- Servant evangelism (like free car washes) to demonstrate the heart of God
- Having a booth at the local farmer’s market, or at the local New Age festival
- Throwing parties in a neighborhoods
- Lots and lots of prayer for meaningful encounters
These are the kinds of things the core teams of new churches focus on at first, while they’re “just getting established.” Gee, that all sounds like… evangelism.
New churches shift away from evangelism
Most of the energy gets directed to serving the service.
Unfortunately, once enough people have been gathered, things change. The focus of the core team shifts to putting on a worship service. The more exciting and creative this service needs to be, the more effort it requires from the most creative and dedicated members of the church. The service becomes the nexus. Most of the energy, and even most of the people’s spiritual gifts, gets directed to serving the service. That initial push of evangelism fades.
Eventually, the pastor starts saying, “It’s time to plant another new church.” Why? “Because planting new churches is the most effective evangelism.”
What if it’s not church planting at all that reaches new people? What if it’s reaching new people that reaches new people? This may sound dumb, but… what if effective evangelism comes from your faith community actually focusing their prayers and efforts on evangelism?