Fuller is excited to now offer a new degree emphasis in Church Planting to master’s students, in addition to our Certificate in Church Planting. As we seek to equip men and women who are called to plant churches, we must ask the question: Why plant a new church when there are already so many? Why not just invest in churches that already exist?
While many believers do feel called by God to build up existing churches, individuals continue to arise who have a passion to plant new churches—for reasons that are as diverse as the vegetation on the earth. We asked several church planters in our Fuller community to comment on the question above. Their insightful responses are below.
1. New translations of the gospel for people with new worldviews.
This question is akin to asking, “Why keep sharing the gospel when there are already lots of Christians?” The expansive nature of God’s grace calls us perpetually to share the gospel more frequently, more broadly, and more contextually so that others might hear and respond (Romans 10:14). To do so necessarily requires the planting of additional gospel outposts alongside existing churches.
Helmut Thielicke famously wrote that “the Gospel must be constantly forwarded to a new address because its recipient is repeatedly changing his place of residence.” This is not only true literally (in which a highly mobile society can reach people who are new to a city), but in addition, people today are repeatedly changing their perspectives and worldview—and so new churches are needed to translate and embody the gospel for them where they live.
Len Tang serves as the director of Fuller’s Church Planting Program.He planted Cedar Creek Church outside of Portland, Oregon, and is now planting Missio Community Church in Pasadena, California.
2. Unique tuning to the evangelistic harvest in their communities.
Missiologist Lesslie Newbigin said that churches are like local embassies for the kingdom of God. Each local church has been strategically placed to be a kingdom witness in a specific community. Each member of the congregation (each one an ambassador) has been called to share the life-transforming gospel in word and deed. Statistics show that church attendance is at a low, with fewer than 20% of the US population going to church on any given Sunday. As Jesus said, “The harvest fields are plentiful but the laborers are few.”
A surface answer is that new church plants bring more kingdom embassies to more locales, which means more ambassadors to reach the lost. Yet on a deeper level, new church plants have a unique opportunity to create a missional DNA in their congregation. Oftentimes, an older church becomes complacent in reaching out and is not attuned to demographics shifts and needs of their surrounding communities. New church plants are uniquely attuned to the harvest. New church plants are keenly cognizant of their collective call to their surrounding community. This evangelistic vision permeates new church plants and makes them alive and vibrant witnesses for the kingdom of God.
Carrie Boren Headington, founder of the Good News Initiative and Missioner for Evangelism in the Episcopal Diocese of Dallas, speaks around the globe sharing the abundant life found in Jesus Christ with spiritual seekers and Christians alike. This spring she is co-teaching Fuller’s new online course Evangelism and Church Planting.
3. Space for people to participate in church who were left out before.
Planting a church is about the birth of a new life. There is always room for a new baby in the family of God. A new life in Christ means having people participate in the ministries of the church who were left out before. Creating space for leaders, ministries, and approaches means ways of relating with one another that were lacking, wanting, or rejected by previous existing church communities.
In short: Why plant a new church when there are already so many? Because God calls me to procreate and share joy, life, and grace with those who have been left out by others!
Johnny Ramirez-Johnson is professor of intercultural studies at Fuller. He has been involved in planting churches around the world, including Middle America, North America, and Lebanon, and has preached around the world for revivals, evangelism, and church growth.
4. Answering the call of God.
Why plant a church anywhere today? And even more, why plant a church in the Los Angeles area? My brief answer: God! The calling to pastor God’s people is a special call, indeed. The call to plant a church is special . . . and especially challenging in the Los Angeles area. With so many churches in the area already, the prospective church planter needs to be careful and deliberate in discerning God’s call. The church planter needs to spend time not just seeking a “yes” from God, but also seeking the who? Why? Where? And how?
As a planter who did not have access to great mentoring early on, it took me years to answer these questions. I knew I was called, but I wasn’t sure how God wanted to use me and who God was calling me to. In hindsight I realize the vital nature of not just being called, but understanding how God is sending you.
Dwight Radcliff is an MDiv graduate and PhD student (SIS) at Fuller. He is also a pastor who has planted and led The Message Center in Gardena, California, for the past 10 years.
Learn more about Fuller’s new church planting emphasis and a new summer church planting intensive here.