Two of my friends made an unexpected connection online. Their dialog stirred thoughts in me that had fallen dormant… What does it take to start new churches in the U.S.? What’s the connection between new churches and evangelism? Is anyone reaching post-Christian America? What should Kay & I do (if anything)?
Andrew Jones (a.k.a. tallskinnykiwi) wrote a Leadership Journal post, 9 Reasons NOT to Plant a Church in 2012.
My former pastor Dave Jacobs replied with My Patellar Reflex to Andrew Jones’ “9 reasons NOT to plant churches.”
This could be interesting, I thought…
New churches: He says / he says
Andrew starts by quoting C. Peter Wagner, the godfather of Church Growth. “Church planting is the most effective form of evangelism under heaven.” But Andrew is observing a shift away from starting new churches and toward “a wider range of transforming Kingdom activities.”
Dave points out that most of Andrew’s examples come from outside the U.S.A. He infers a connection to house churches, in particular “the missional-house-church movement.” I’m not sure this is what Andrew is talking about. But Dave says that comparing house church movements in other countries to the United States “is often a matter of apples and oranges.”
(By the way, you’ve never seen two people disagreeing with more humility, openness and respect. You guys rock.)
Global examples: It doesn’t work here. Or does it?
From the Korean cell church model to Chinese house churches, people have tried to import these patterns to start new churches in the United States. I’ve been there, done that, and now see two problems:
1. Americans love models! It doesn’t matter how organic and Spirit-filled it is overseas. We want to reduce it to reproducible systems, much like fast-food franchises. If you open a new McDonald’s or a new Baskin Robbins, you go to training classes to learn how to follow their pre-established systems. The “cell church model.” The “house church model.”
I’ve certainly been guilty of this wish. But now I feel drawn back to my first love: Jesus. When we look at thriving churches and movements, including those within the U.S., we forget how they got there in the first place:
- Shaping our lives towards that of Christ.
- Dependence upon the Holy Spirit.
- Serving the marginalized.
- Expecting God to speak and move.
If we really want to copy successful churches, we can’t copy where they’ve ended up. We instead need to copy how they started.
2. We haven’t reckoned with the uniqueness of the American spirit. “It works there, why doesn’t it work here?” Because we haven’t done the missionary homework of exegeting the culture — that is, interpreting the context. This isn’t Korea or China. That much seems obvious, but only in retrospect. We honestly thought the Korean cell-church model would take off here.
What a lot of people miss is that this isn’t the Christianized America of their memories. This is postmodern, post-Christian America. Cyber-connected but relationally starved. An individualistic consumer society seeking instant gratification.
Enter missiologist Alan Hirsch who teaches us to ask, “What will sound like good news for these people?”
To be continued… [This is part of Starting New Churches: Is Our Focus Misplaced?]