In the course of evangelical trends, it seems that church planters are the new front line ninja, guru, jedi master, seal team six, hip, cool, people to be. There is a lot of resources being put into planting new churches in large cities in the USA, UK, and Australia. And let me say, that this is a good thing. Planting more Christ-centered and Bible-preaching churches is a must for the growth of the church in major urban centers. It is also something that is needed especially in areas with new residential developments on the outskirts of cities and in places where few churches currently exist.
However, I wonder if this vision to keep planting more and more churches in these urban centers is somewhat overstated in importance.
In Melbourne, Australia, there are three major church planting groups: Geneva Push, Acts 29 Network, and City to City. And that is not even counting the efforts of other Baptist, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, and Anglican churches involved in denominational church planting projects wholly apart from these networks. Now these are good organizations with godly ambitions and with good people (including many of my current and former students). But is this a bandwagon that too many people are jumping on and will there be enough room on the bandwagon for all these new churches?
I can’t speak for other places, but Australia has more churches than primary (elementary) schools. In my experience, the inner city areas are not lacking churches per se, though there can be a dearth of evangelical churches in some areas. What is more, and I say this with some degree of trepidation, I’ve come across many young men who seem to think they have some kind of destiny to become the next Mark Driscoll or the next Tim Keller. They have a church planting strategy from the movie Field of Dreams. Remember the motto of that movie: If you build it, they will come. But the reality is a bit more complex as church planters are not just battling against a secular culture, but competing with existing churches in their area and even competing with existing church plants. In addition, many church planters are abandoning their denominations to plant these new independent churches, leading to a kind of righteous remnant mentality, cultivating a very low ecclesiology without historic bonds to the past, and looking down disparagingly on pastoral leaders who decide to keep working within their existing denominations.
In fact, similar concerns are raised by my good friend, Rev. Josh Dinale, an Anglican Priest of an evangelical church in Brisbane, Australia. Read his post here. He raises five points of concern about the new church planting movement and I think he makes some legitimate points.
So I’m wondering, without disparaging church planting efforts, if we need to focus more on church rejuvenation over church planting in areas already well served with churches.