Thinking outside the church planting box

Thinking outside the church planting box July 8, 2014

When I was a college student I did a summer of fieldwork in Mexico. One late evening we pulled into the industrial city of Querétaro. Thousands of immigrants were living in ramshackle huts clustered along the main highway. And every 50 meters or so stood a taco stand, lit by the piercing glow of a propane lamp. There must have been hundreds of these stands, all serving the exact same food.

I remember thinking to myself, “If somebody put in a hot dog stand, they’d clean up!”

Praise BandWhen it comes to church planting in this decade, everyone is putting up the same taco stand. Almost every church plant is built around a weekly public worship service between 1 and 2 hours in length. Ninety-nine percent of these services occur on Sunday morning. The service starts with music delivered by a rock band. Then it transitions to a spoken sermon delivered by a man. Then we partake in a sacrament, socialize a bit and go home.

Singing, sermons, sacraments and socializing. I call it the 4-S model. It’s so ingrained we don’t even question it.

I’m not saying that this model is bad. But if we keep planting the same worship service over and over, are we really trying to reach the unreached? Or are we simply competing for the people who already like church as it is? What if there are millions of men who would become disciples if only we offered them something other than a weekly stage presentation centered on the four Ss?

You can’t change what you can’t define – so here’s my attempt to define the church planting box. If you attend a church that’s been planted in the past five years, please answer the following questions. For every statement you DISAGREE with, give yourself one point:

  1. Our church plans to offer a weekly public worship service open to all.
  2. The public worship service will meet on Sunday morning at a set location.
  3. The length of this worship service will generally be longer than 1 hour.
  4. The length of this worship service will generally be shorter than 2 hours.
  5. The two activities that will consume the most time during the worship service will be congregational singing and a spoken sermon.
  6. The singing and sermon will be led from a stage or an “upfront” area. All seats will be turned toward the front, theater style.
  7. We plan to offer live worship music, played by a rock band (guitars, drums, etc).
  8. We will encourage people to respond individually in worship, standing or sitting as they feel led, raising hands or not as they feel led.
  9. We plan to project song lyrics and other information on a large screen.
  10. We plan to use stage lighting and microphones.
  11. We plan to use multimedia including video clips.
  12. We plan to receive an offering.
  13. We will strive to create an informal, non-religious feel.
  14. We will serve coffee and allow people to drink it during the service.
  15. Our worship services will be “inclusive.” All will be welcome to attend, regardless of age, dress, language, gender, race, sexual orientation or socioeconomic status.
  16. We plan to offer challenging sermons that encourage people to give their lives to Christ and follow him as Lord.
  17. We plan to baptize new believers by immersion.
  18. We plan to offer communion as a regular ordinance, via a small amount of bread and a one-ounce container of juice or wine.
  19. We would like to purchase a building as soon as finances allow.
  20. We plan to offer free childcare during our weekly worship services.
  21. We plan to offer a youth ministry program as soon as we’re big enough.
  22. We plan to offer midweek activities and groups, including a home-group ministry. We will strongly encourage our people to become involved in these opportunities.
  23. We plan to have an awesome Web site, Facebook page and Twitter feed.
  24. During a typical weekend service, 80 percent of the people on stage will be under 50 years old. The majority of images on our Web site will portray a diverse group of people under 50.
  25. We plan to advertise our services by placing removable signs on the streets leading to our location.

So, how did I do? Does my “box” resemble your experiences? If you have the guts, add up your score and report it in the comments below.

And on to the subject of men: Do you think men meet God within this box? What behaviors do we model in our worship? Are these behaviors that stir men’s hearts? That connect men with the divine?

And for extra credit: Does the Bible tell us to plant within this box? How much of this box is commanded by God and how much is rooted in the traditions of men?

Please leave your comments below – or join the conversation on our Facebook page.


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