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Church planting questions (3)

Posted by Mark Jones Parry on

Church planting:  Should the meeting or the community take priority at the outset?  (Part 3 – Understanding “the culture gap” and introducing “rent-a-crowd”)

I’ve asked the question whether establishing a church meeting is always the best strategy for building church community, or whether there are contexts where other approaches are more appropriate. 

To make the point I’ve suggested two “extremes” of church planting strategies:  A meeting-led plant (whose immediate focus is to establish a public meeting) and a community-led plant (whose immediate focus is to build relationships with the local community). 

The two extremes are somewhat articificial - for a church plant in practice, these twin foci will always be present to a greater or lesser extent. But the early days of a church plant are hard - time and other resources are short - so I think it’s worth asking the question:  Where should a particular church plant sit between these two extremes?


Here are some brief thoughts as to when each might be more appropriate.  For me, the defining question is: how wide is the cultural gap between the planting team and each of (i) the local churched culture, and (ii) the local unchurched culture.


a) Where the context favours a community-led plant

The cultural gap is significant. The watching world is largely unchurched and it will take time to address their misunderstandings and stereotypes through the sharing of lives (1 Thess 2v8-9).  Public church meetings are not initially a fruitful pathway into church community.  Time is required to contextualise the communication of the gospel and the church’s practices, which will then shape the public meetings when they are established.


b) Where the context favours a meeting-led plant

The cultural gap to either the local churched or unchurched cultures is not great.  Church is an appropriate pathway for some in the wider community, allowing the church plant to expand quickly (initially through isolated Christians joining the church or through some transfer). 

Where the cultural gap is significant, the church will need to listen to the local joiners and be critiqued by them.  The perennial question will be:  “What differences are because of and for the sake of the gospel and what are not?” The challenge is not to conform local people to the likeness of the church planters, but that both groups would be conformed to the likeness of Christ!

Where the cultural gap between the planted community and the wider community is not great, it may be appropriate to duplicate many of the practices of the planting church.  I would suggest these practices still need to be held with an open hand, and intentionally reviewed to overcome cultural inertia.


(Aside:  The benefits of “rent-a-crowd”

There may be contexts where a public church meeting is appropriate, but where the size of the planting team makes such a meeting practically difficult or simply odd.  (e.g. if the pastor is preaching to his wife and two others, the atmosphere is somewhat intense/intimate for anyone joining off the street and expecting a “church service”!)

We faced this difficulty on a central London social housing development.  The issue was addressed through the support of our wider church network.  Our sending congregation encouraged some of its members to attend our public meeting and to support its practical running.  These volunteers were essentially “rent-a-crowd”.  The meeting became less intense (because it was 12-15 people not 3!) and local people joining experienced something more like “church” as they were used to it.  The outside support meant the church planters who had moved to the area were freed up (from practical aspects) to chat to visitors and build relationships. 

The “rent-a-crowd” joined on the understanding that they remained committed to another congregation as “their church”  (i.e. barriers to commitment were much lower than those for the core planting team).  As the church grew, they were able to reduce their time commitment.  After three years, some of the original “crowd” have made the plant “their church”, the majority no longer join us on a Sunday.  We are however massively thankful to God for all they did to help us establish a public meeting early on which proved to be a suitable pathway into Christian community for many in the local area).  

Tags: radstock, church plant, community, meetings, relationships, contextualisation


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