Church planting: Should the “church meeting” or the “church community” take priority at the outset? (Part 1 – A “meeting-led” model)
What should be the focus in planting a new local church? Is establishing a church meeting the best strategy? Or are there contexts where a church-planting team would be wise to focus on building the church community in other ways?
In a way, it’s a “chicken and egg” kind of question. A meeting helps establish community (as people gather together). A community will inevitably meet (to sit together under God’s word and share lives). So it might seem strange to ask “what should a church plant focus on?” But at a time when resources are often stretched, a team’s focus needs to be clear and deliberate. Where is prayer and energy best devoted?
I would suggest that the “culture gap” between the church planters and the community into which they plant is the key factor in whether to focus on a meeting or community-building.
To help make the point, here are two (intentionally polarised and slightly caricatured) examples:
MEETING-LED CHURCH PLANTS:
With an undergirding of prayer, this church plant’s immediate focus is to establish a church meeting (which then gives the scope of the church community). In all likelihood the “sent church” closely resembles its sending church in the way that it meets.
This approach has a number of immediate positives…
- The public meeting creates an immediate pathway into the new Christian community Local people familiar with the new church's meeting (or with an independently awakened spiritual interest) can simply walk into the meeting and encounter Christian community from day one!
- The public meeting may bring in relationally-connected Christians Advertising may bring in like-minded Christians from the area who were unknown to the team, and who might join the church! Local Christians bring deeper, more long-standing relationships with local people than the planting team may possess.
- A public meeting can be quick to establish Since new meetings are often based upon the forms and practices of the sending church, they are often quick to establish, and the “sent” planting team is immediately familiar with what’s going on.
However, meeting-led church plants are not without potential limitations…
- The danger of focusing on the meeting to the exclusion of other priorities The planting team typically lack the resources of the larger sending church. Valuable time and energy can be drawn away from friendships and (pre)-evangelism to meet the practical requirements of a public meeting.
- The difficulty of contextualising the meeting You only get one chance to make a first impression. Setting up a meeting after little contact with the local community means it can be hard to contextualise to the new setting. Subsequent review and change by the team has to do battle with inertia and habit (on the part of the church planters). In the worst case, the first locals to experience the new meeting may go away thinking the church doesn’t 'get' people like them, share that impression with others putting them off, and be slow to give the church a second chance 6 months later when the church has changed to be better contextualised.
- The risk of being job-led rather than gift-led A desire to reflect sending churches' practices can mean that less attention is paid to team members’ God-given gifts and more to “we think this job needs to be done, so someone will have to do it”.
More on this theme in blog-posts to follow...