There’s no such thing as church planting

iStock_000061451376_LargeAnother big tree in the church planting movement has fallen.

Darrin Patrick, pastor of Journey Church in St. Louis, and author of the book Church Planter was recently asked to resign. You can read the details here.

DarrinI met Darrin last fall. He was one of our keynote speakers at the Reload Men’s Leadership Conference in Denver. He seemed like a really solid guy. A gifted speaker. Here’s a selfie I snapped during a break.

Patrick also lost his position as Vice President of the Acts 29 church-planting network – North America’s most influential association of young, married, male, bearded church planters. Acts 29’s founder, Mark Driscoll, was forced to leave the pulpit 2 years ago under a similar cloud.

Why did these men fall? The easy answer is to suspect some deep character flaw. But I don’t think that’s the root cause. Perhaps there’s something wrong with our modern model of church planting.

I’ve written on this blog why I’m not too excited about church planting. Here’s another reason: the term itself is deceptive.

Let me point out something that should be obvious: you can’t plant a church. All you can do is plant a worship service – and hope that a church grows out of it.

When a man says he’s going to plant a church, what he’s really saying is he’s going to start offering a weekly, public gathering featuring himself in the pulpit (No one plants a church so someone else can preach). Our church planter will rent a hall, sound and projection equipment. He’ll find find a musician who wants to play worship songs. He’ll work 80 hours a week to get people to come to his worship service. He’s going to start a children’s ministry – and search for a woman to run it.

Will a church grow out of it? Probably not. Most church plants fail within two to three years of launch. Attendance and giving never reach the point that the enterprise pays its bills. Supporters pull their funding. The sound equipment gets sold. Attendees scatter to other churches. The church planter finds a job selling used cars.

I’m not disparaging successful church planters. Nor am I not saying we should stop establishing churches. But a bit more honesty – and humility – might be in order.

A few months ago I received e-mail from a young man who fancied himself a church planter. He said, “David, I’m planning to plant a church this fall and I’d like to build men into our DNA. Do you have any advice?”

“Yes,” I said. “Start by being honest about what you’re doing. You are not planting a church. You are starting a worship service – in hopes that a church grows out of it. Whether or not a church actually forms depends on God.”

I haven’t heard back from him.

Extra credit questions:

Is it healthy to build churches on the back of  one man?

If our goal is to disciple people, is a weekly worship service the best way to do that?

Might there be a healthier way to plant churches? A way that would be more effective in discipling people?

Could we organize a group of Christians around something other than a weekly public worship service. Would such a gathering be a church?

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