You may not consider the topic of church planting and launching controversial at all but I do. Why? I’ve marvelled since I was a young girl at the number of churches you find on one block. Growing up in Indianapolis, I could count fifteen churches for every seven blocks on just about any given street, especially the east side.
But I also marvelled at something else:
The lack of community transformation.
I’ll use three rough neighborhoods I lived in as a kid to underscore the issue. In the neighborhoods I grew up in, there were a plethora of liquor stores, taverns, and bootleg numbers-playing operations (that would be illegal lotteries). Worst of all, crack dealers were on the rise and doing business in broad daylight.
The remedy, some would say, is to plant a church in that neighborhood. That will fix everything! Or plant multiple churches. That is exactly what I witnessed. Unfortunately, few if any of these churches were able to be change agents for the kingdom of God. What the heck happened? I was a perplexed young teenager wondering why folks were wasting time and energy in such a hellhole.
Looking back now as an aspiring church planter/launcher, there are several problems:
1. Illegitimate Conception. One of the first questions that I always ask leaders is how their churches were birthed. The more I learned how a number of these churches started, the clearer it became why the churches failed. They were started by some guy or gal who was offended that their pastor wasn’t allowing them to preach. I kid you not. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard fake wanna-be pastors complain about how their old pastors were “holding them back” and “quenching the Spirit” by not releasing their giftings. So their response was to leave and “pioneer” a new church. Look, God is no cosmic dead-beat dad. What He fathers, He cares for. Whenever we plant churches that God did not birth, we create bastard church plants that are doomed to fail. I know: I was a part of one when I was about 8 years old. Please see Perry Noble’s #1 piece of advice to church planters.
2. “Loving” from a Distance. Another pattern I noticed as a teenager living in these neighborhoods was that the leaders and members had little or no interaction with the people they said they were called to minister to. I give credit to one particular ministry who held youth rallies every weekend with free food and games for the kids. At least they were consistent in doing something with the people. But most of the churches were content to come on Sunday, shout a little, tell folks how they “had the Holy Ghost,” and then leave until the next Sunday. We have plenty of examples from the New Testament where Paul writes churches in cities where he is not residing. In fact, Paul wrote most of the New Testament from prison! I’m not trying to be legalistic here but people need to know that you care about them as people before they’re willing to give you their ears. Jesus ministered to the whole person; so must we.
3. Cowardice. I hate to pull this out as a reason but a lot of the church members were scared to engage the people, not sure if they’d get “jacked” (in my ‘hood, that means getting your behind kicked) or shot. I lay most of the blame at the feet of the pastoral leadership who I rarely saw engaging anyone even after Sunday services. I am not cracking pastors for being afraid of circumstances in the communities in which they are planted. I live across the street from a gang-infested apartment building in Los Angeles and don’t go out of my way to instigate drama. But I won’t allow anybody to control my space. Churches that God launches into areas like the ones I grew up in had better understand the authority they have from Jesus. Why would Jesus begin the Great Commission by talking about the authority he has? Because the apostles needed to know in whose power they’d be making disciples (Matt. 28:18-20, TNIV). Jesus promised that the “gates of death” would not prevail against the Church. That means that the Church is coming against the gates of hell and those gates will not overcome us. But for too long this verse has been misread, misinterpreted, and misapplied to mean that the Church is always on the defensive. WRONG! The kingdom of darkness is on the defensive, at least from Jesus’ perspective.
4. Soil Ignorance. If you do not know who God is sending you to, then attempting to minister to those people will be hijacked. God-ordained church plants will seek to know the people before they attempt to do anything else. One of the best pieces of advice I ever got in seminary came from my Small Church professor who said one of the first things any new pastor of a church should do is to find out who the influencers are in the church and then get to know them. I believe that same principle would work well in the community. I remember certain grandmamas who knew every family on the block and could diagnose the root cause of just about any social ill on their block. How much more could the kingdom of God advance in this area if church leaders reached out to the influencers (not exclusively, of course). But you have to actually hang with the people long enough to know who’s who. If gang activity pervades your area, find the leaders and chill with them. Yes, I said that.
5. Mission Shrinkage. By this I mean that for too long, we’ve heard that churches are to impact the neighborhoods they are in. And that is true. I’ve heard myself say the same time and again. But I realized just last night that I needed to abandon that mentality. Missional churches are not content to impact only the neighbhorhoods in which they reside; they seek to advance the kingdom locally and globally. I am convinced that seeking to impact a neighborhood alone is one of the main reasons why we have a bajillion churches within a one-mile radius of each other but few people are receiving Christ and communities are still drug-infested, crime-ridden pissholes where kids can’t even sit on their porches in peace. To anyone wanted to plant a church to impact a neighbhorhood, I’d say please don’t. We have enough unhealthy churches with small vision multiplying as it is.