If you are a pastor or ministry leader, then this post is for you.
New churches in your town are not a bad thing… even the one down the street. I imagine you know that feeling. I am a pastor myself, and honestly, I have had it too. You are driving down the road on your way to corporate worship one Sunday, and on the route to your building, you see a sign at the elementary school announcing a new church in the neighborhood. If you are like many pastors, your first reaction was probably a question: “Why did they plant here?” After all, your church is only a few more miles down the road. You may be wondering if they plan to take your members. You may jump to conclusions about their doctrine or motivation. Whatever the rub, the initial thoughts are often not positive.
Over a cup of coffee, a friend was lamenting a situation at his local church. He had a deep passion for reaching the people groups in his community and realized that meant planting churches in other languages. Unfortunately, this desire to reach the church’s neighbors through church planting was met with resistance by his pastor. The pushback was not because the pastor had no concern for people groups. It was church planting in general that made the pastor hesitant.
On another occasion, I received a call from an old friend back in Tennessee. He had been serving for a number of years on staff at a church and found himself at a crossroads. Months prior to the conversation, the Lord put a desire in his heart to plant a new church. He loved the church where he served and respected the other leadership. His goal was not to bail on his current ministry but to start one more church for the glory of God. So, why did he call me? He needed advice on how to “break the news” to the staff. He wanted the support of this church he had grown to love but knew their response to supporting a plant would not be positive.
Lastly, two healthy churches were pillars in the same community. They worked alongside each other happily for years, even perhaps partnering on occasion. The past decade in that community saw rapid population growth and one of those churches decided to plant another in that same area. When the plant finally landed on the ground, it settled into a neighborhood relatively close (but not next door by any means) to that other pillar church in town. The response? The pastor of the church was upset, wondering why the plant had to be so close to them.
Why are stories like these so common?
In many circles, church planting is en vogue. At the very minimum, it is starting to get air time. Yet, it often seems we like the idea of church planting as long as it does not happen next to us. We celebrate a church plant two states away and become skeptical of the one down the street.
Do not get me wrong, I do believe we should prioritize church planting in cities with less churches. At the same time, it is poor logic to think it is somehow a bad thing for another church to open in your community. Sure, we need churches where there are none, but it is not going to hurt to have more in places where there are some already. This too, is a thing to celebrate.
What is our church’s mission?
I am not calling you to ask, “What is the church’s mission?” That is certainly a helpful question, but this is more personal. Why does your local assembly exist? Another way to ask this is, “Whose kingdom are you laboring for?” So often, churches drift in their mission from serving God to serving their own ends without even realizing it. This is even easier to see when a church plateaus or begins to decline in membership. Are you laboring for self-preservation or for the proclamation of the gospel to the glory of God? A church that is laboring for its own kingdom will see other churches as competition; a church laboring for God’s glory will see them as reinforcements.
There is no room for territorialism in the kingdom. Any honest church must be humble and admit that it will not and cannot reach an entire city by itself. Lest we think too highly of ourselves, we must admit that our church is only a piece of God’s plan to bear witness to the gospel in our community. Regardless of how expansive your ministries and programs, you need other churches to help you tackle the Great Commission.
Take steps to cooperate with the other churches in your community. By this I mean real cooperation, not just a monthly pastor’s breakfast. If a new church tries to plant near you, get to know them. Talk to their leadership face-to-face, and if you are like-minded, find ways to partner. What kind of testimony would this be to your city?
And church planters, you need to answer the same question about mission. Is your mission to reach the lost in the area where you are planting, or is it to make a church float whatever the cost? This may seem like a subtle difference, but it makes a tremendous impact on how you will relate to other churches around you and to the community you say you want to reach.
If you have been raising funds, you have stood in pulpits and sat in coffee shops talking about your desire to reach the lost where you will plant. Is that really your goal? If so, then do not “sheep steal” from other congregations. Do not grow your church by cannibalizing others. We live in a consumerist culture, and unfortunately this has seeped in to the church. When people get upset at their present church, they frequently decide to jump ship and look for another. That is not healthy. What would it look like for you to tell that new potential member that they should go back home and reconcile with their church instead of starting to attend yours? Are you willing to turn away members from other, like-minded churches in your area and focus on reaching those who have no church?