Time to Enlarge the Church Planting Table 23

For too long we have been guilty of making church planting a ministry for only the high capacity, high caliber leaders.  These are the individuals that I describe as the 8-, 9-, 10-caliber leaders.  Now, while I am all for equipping and mobilizing such church planters (I have done this many times over the past decade.), the reality is that such leaders are a minority in the Body of Christ.  They are greatly needed for Kingdom advancement–but still a minority.

The examples prized in church planting today, particularly in the North American context, are generally reproducible only by this minority. The ecclesiology and missiology, while mostly not lacking biblical support, is often encased with a great deal of Western cultural expectations.

We have created a table for the 8-10-caliber leaders, with little room for anyone else.

It is time to enlarge the church planting table to make room for the majority of potential missionaries who are just as biblically qualified and called, but unable to support strategies, methodologies, and ecclesiologies developed by high-caliber church leaders.

What is most unfortunate is that while we would never turn away potential church planters who fall into the 1-7-caliber range, we ask them to come to the little table that is in place and pull up a chair.

We tell David to kill Goliath, and expect him to wear Saul’s armor.  Whenever he insists that he needs to remove such encumbrances, we permit it, but look at him as if he has lost his mind.  Maybe we have lost our minds…

It is time to enlarge your church planting table, making room for the majority of potential missionaries in the Body of Christ.

Pastors, you need to stop looking elsewhere for the high-caliber church planters you don’t have to send from your churches, and start equipping and mobilizing the 1-3’s and the 4-7’s that the Lord has entrusted to your care.  Be faithful with what you have.  If you have the 8-10-caliber leaders, then be faithful with them as well.

It is my concern that if we do not enlarge our church planting tables, then the church planting momentum that we are currently seeing in North America may soon come to an end.  Any time we elevate, promote, and expect only that which can be reproduced by the few, we show just how unwise we are when it comes to being a good steward with the Body of Christ.  Just look to the 1970s for the smaller churches that could not “do” Sunday School and bus ministries like the few churches who were set forth as the model to achieve.  Consider the 1980s and 90s for the church growth methodologies that only the few were able to reproduce, while we created the atmosphere that “If you are not doing it their way, then you are not doing well.”  A fallout from these once wide-spread trends is that when the majority realized that they were not able to reproduce the models, frustration and apathy were some of the results.

I do not want to see church planting become something that was trendy, and “now it is time to return to what we can do for Kingdom advancement.”  I do not want churches to look at the present trends and say, “Well, if that is church planting, then we do not have what it takes.”

The way to help churches realize that they have what it takes is to change the definitions, expectations, and what is set as the measuring rod.

So, how big is your church planting table in your denomination, network, or local church?  What are you pointing others toward as the way to do it “right”?  Have you created expectations that will set up the majority for failure?

As a leader, if you are only reading the books and attending the conferences geared toward the minority of potential church planters in North America, then you need to change directions.

It is time to enlarge our church planting tables, making room for the majority.  If we do, then we are likely to be much closer to experiencing the multiplication of disciples, leaders, and churches that we all desire.

There are over 4 billion people in this world without Jesus.  75% of the population of the United States and Canada also fall into this massive number of lostness.  I think we need everyone we can get to the table.  Don’t you?

It is time to put some extra leaves in our tables and add a lot more chairs.



(Thanks to Amber Walsh for developing the graphics used in this post.)

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23 thoughts on “Time to Enlarge the Church Planting Table

  • David Limiero

    JD, I appreciate your comments, and the need to come up with church planting strategies and models which make it possible for leaders who might not fit the prevailing approaches.

    We have found that providing good support systems around church planters is one way to increase the health and vitality of the churches that they plant. These range from the obvious ones like coaching and training to the less obvious ones like a strong spousal support system, outside accounting, and management teams composed of local leaders from other congregations partnering together to launch new congregations.

    One of the biggest challenges facing church planters is financial sustainability. Low-cost, bivocational models may be the only way that these 1-3 and 4-7 leaders can not only start a church, but also sustain it over the long haul.

    Thanks for a great article, and for the vision and passion to reach the 4 billion who don’t yet know Jesus!

  • Garrett

    You should connect w/ Ray Woodard w/ SendVancouver of NAMB. These guys are doing great things with church planting in Vancouver and I am blessed to be a part of their table

  • Nathan

    You are so right! We will never see a church planting movement in the West if we don’t start equipping and expecting the “average” Christ-follower to plant simple, reproducible churches. The two major barriers to a CPM are complicated strategies and controlling leaders, which is what we see in many church planting efforts in the West. Let’s simplify, empower, and expand the table!

  • Ken

    I believe this may be expressing a concern I have had for quite some time. How do we replicate models that seem to be unreplicatable (if that is a word)? Plus, if the proposed models are set forth as “the Biblical model”, then those of us who find ourselves (and our churches) unable to replicate them, are left to wonder if we should even try.

    Not only is this an issue of a shortage of high caliber leaders, but it’s also an issue of a shortage of financial resources. The current strategy of church planting movements is to collect a large sum of cash to launch a church plant. Just as with the supply of high caliber leaders, the number of churches (and even networks of churches), that can underwrite these financial needs (for all of the churches that need to be planted in North America), is equally in short supply.

    What would help is a forthright discussion of what the church really is. Let’s have an honest dialogue about what the Bible says is “church”, devoid of all of the western cultural trappings. Once we know that, then we can consider some alternative strategies that might otherwise have been considered off limits.

    I downloaded your e-book yesterday (“Leading Your Church in Church-Planting”), and I’m hopeful that you engage in that discussion, and perhaps even begin to offer some solutions. Looking forward to reading it!

  • Jacob Vanhorn

    Hey JD, followed Logan Gentry’s tweet over here. Would you mind elaborating on what you mean by enlarging the church planting table? Trying to read between the lines and see if you are saying train & release everyday disciples to be missionaries in their neighborhood and using church planting as a ‘sending term’ or if you are saying we need to train & release biblically qualified, but less talented church planters in the ‘autonomous church’ planting sense.?

    Not picking a fight, but trying to understand. In our own context we are asking what it would look like to be more risky in mission, so this question fits there. Many thanks.

  • Craig Whitney

    Thanks JD. Church planting has looked too much like the New York Yankees. What we really need is something that looks mor like Monday night softball league, whe everyone plays.
    We will see a lot mor fruit when that happens.

  • JD Post author

    I am saying that we need to equip, mobilize, and release all levels of leaders in the Body of Christ to plant churches across the street and across the world. Yes, we need to do so with everyday disciples who are biblically qualified (which includes high, mid, and low caliber folks).

  • John Sam Wallace

    JD, Caught this post from Ed Stetzer’s Roundup. I am encouraged that you are saying this. I left a church that intentionally narrowed it’s church-planting focus to work only with high-calibre leaders. A major concern I had was that their cursory evaluations of a leader’s potential was driven largely by their cultural and personality preferences. I don’t believe that a leader’s potential can be adequately assessed without seeing him function in a team context. This means we have to take more risks in allowing people who sense God’s call to try. We have to evaluate their impact, give honest feedback, listen to their perspectives, and provide coaching. This is messy and it takes time but I believe we used to call it “discipleship” (That’s still part of the Great Commission, is it not?). Now it seems that we just send out drones to do community service, call it “on the job training”, and say we’re being “missional” while doing very little to invest in the spiritual formation of our people. Meanwhile our elite gather around the table to figure out how we can get our rock star on another movie screen across town. (OK, so it’s a bit of a straw man but it makes a point.–We are becoming far too dependent on those 8-10 calibre leaders.) It disturbed me when the church to which I belonged was cutting discipleship programs order to be more “missional”. Yet it seemed painfully evident to me that they were simultaneously depending on laborers who had been spiritually formed in churches that they were so quick to criticize, churches that had invested deeply in their people. I’m not opposed to elites; I’m just concerned that we are abandoning our farm teams and depending solely on free agency to re-evangelize North America, a strategy that I believe is already eliciting diminishing returns.

  • Chris Krycho

    I think you’re right, and I (like others) would be curious to hear your ground-level suggestions to complement this high-level view.

    One thought I’ve had for a while is that sending teams of church-planting elders makes much more sense than sending a single planter, even a single planter with a “team” consisting of a core for a plant. This is true in general; it’s all the more true for 1-7s. In some ways, I’d be inclined to say that three 4’s may be better off than a single 10. (This presupposes a multiple elder church, but I think that’s biblical anyway.)

  • Angela C. Gifford

    I think you are on to something JD, but an even bigger problem than only letting the high numbers “play” is the process of deciding what makes some a high number and others a low. Discipleship is more about relationship than knowledge or education. Amazing leaders are not always giving amazing position or financial backing, but it makes them no less Amazing. John C. Maxwell’s 360 Degree Leader is an amazing read in that light.

    I’m blessed to be a part of an incredible church that has planted six other churches in the last ten years, all healthy and growing. I’d highly recommend a look at Real-Life Discipleship Training Manual: Equipping Disciples Who Make Disciples by Avery T Willis Jr, (and some of my pastors:) Jim Putman, Bill Krause and Brandon Guindon

  • J.R. Miller

    I have seen this problem for years and glad to see others beginning to rethink their strategy. If you are serious about this, the first thing I would suggest is that you fix your terminology. Calling leaders a 10 and then others a 3 wont exactly inspire people to believe you are serious about inviting them to the “big kids” table.

  • Brandon Boone

    Great thoughts and can’t help but think about applying the same principle to church leadership in general. Broaden the base of leadership and the whole structure becomes that much more stable!