7 Top Issues Church Planters Face: Evangelism and Discipleship
Back in January, Ed Stetzer blogged on research produced by Exponential about the 7 Top Issues Church Planters face. The sixth issue is evangelism and discipleship. You can read Ed’s post here.
One quote that stuck out to me in this post was:
Evangelism and discipleship does not automatically happen in a new church. That is unfortunate for some aspiring planters. All of us struggle with our view of lostness no matter how long we have been in the faith. Too many planters think that the reason lost people have not come to Christ is because they have not found the right church yet. Thus, a mythological equation is formed: lost culture + relevant church plant service = instant harvest.
In some areas, I this can still sustain a church plant. Areas that have not been saturated with church plants. What happens when this mythological equation works is that you are picking up the low hanging fruit. Christians from other churches who want a better service or transients who have moved into a newer area. While you might be able to plant a church this way, Ed points out that its a consumer driven method. In other words, it won’t produce a disciple making church. No one honestly wants that.
The good news is that I rarely work with or talk to planters who believe in this strategy. Planters are much more likely to focus on being missional. The newer mythological equation looks like this: lost culture + serve the community = instant harvest. The problem is this equation rarely works and doesn’t necessarily produce disciples either.
Here are some of the problems as I see it and some possible solutions:
- Church planters haven’t been discipled. Many church planters come out of attractional churches where they haven’t really been discipled nor have they had a discipleship system modeled for them beyond large group services and small group strategies. My assumption is that the typical small group is much more fellowship oriented rather than discipleship oriented. It’s tough to make disciples when you haven’t had it modeled for you. I regularly see planters struggle to verbalize how to make disciples in the church. If this rings true, I’d suggest spending a year in a church that has a strong reputation for discipleship. If you can’t do that, find a coach who is a great discipler who can help you.
- Evangelism is a lost art. Today’s pastor is great at living incarnationally, building relationships with people in the community and demonstrating the love of Jesus. This has been a significant contribution of the missional movement. However, we’ve forgotten how to be bold and proclaim good news in words. Many struggle with how to move a relationship from acquaintance to sold out Christian and launch team member. We need to pray like Paul for boldness (Ephesians 6:19-20). Neil Cole has a great post on how evangelism has changed. It’s worth a read.
- Tasks detract from people time. This was largely tackled in issue #4. The basic gist is planters have too much administratively to do which is not within their giftedness. This distracts them from people. The solution is to delegate and ask others for administrative help.
- Don’t know how to be the church without a service. I wrote a post called “Are you Planting a Church or a Worship Service” that tackled this issue. I’ve seen many planters struggle during pre-launch because all they have known is church as a worship service. While there was a time when the worship service was a great evangelism tool, that’s not as much the case now. Planters need to understand how to be the church without a worship service. The struggles with evangelism and discipleship won’t disappear when services start, though they may be masked by the busyness of planning the next service. Pre-launch provides you with a unique opportunity to be the church without a worship service. Take advantage of it.
- Measures are out of whack. Reggie McNeal and many others have talked a lot about this topic. Your measures are important. They define what you value and how you know you are winning. What type of disciple do you want to produce? What will characterize them? Do your systems facilitate that type of disciple? Einstein said, “you are perfectly designed to achieve the results you are already achieving.” If your systems aren’t producing the disciples you want, it’s time for a change.