Planting churches in Mission is a subject near and dear to my heart. It takes a different kind of imagination from the models and processes for church plantings that have developed within N America these past half a century. That’s why I was pleased when Mark Lau Branson and Nick Warnes put together some stories of missional on-the-ground church plants into a book entitled Starting Missional Churches. Of course some plants have been more “successful” than others. Nonetheless, these first hand accounts get us thinking about what the future in church planting might look like. Here’s my foreword to the book. If you like where its’ going, I encourage you to buy the book.
Recently I received a big surprise while sitting in a meeting with a group of denominational leaders discussing “church planting.” A prominent leader in the room announced “we will spend no more money on traditional church planting. The failure rate is over 90%. No one is willing to give us funds for this kind of effort anymore.” It did not surprise me that this one person would say this. I was stunned however to see that almost everyone in the room agreed.
Can it be any clearer? The landscape has changed for church planting. For years, denominational groups have used “church planting” to expand their reach into new neighborhoods and population groups in North America. Churches would send small groups of people into a locale, set up a worship service and provide a list of support services for families. They would announce their arrival with some advertising and then wait for people to gather at a public “launch” service. A new church would be born. But North America, once a ready market of Christians eager for these new churches, has become a mission field. There are now fewer and fewer Christians even remotely interested in another local ‘franchise’ of a church. What used to work in starting new churches now fails. We need a new practice of church-planting for the challenges of a post-Christianized society.
The good news is that, beneath the radar of most large church planting organizations and outside the purview of the “100 largest churches in America” lists, hundreds of new churches are springing up in N America that look very different from the church plants of the past. They begin small and relationally. They live life among their neighborhoods. They view the incarnation as the way God works so they go be present “with” people, not offer services “to” people. Inspired by an enlarged view of God’s Triune work in the world, they seek to discern God at work preveniently where they are living. They are there to join in God’s mission. And so a missional movement of churches is now sprouting up all over N America.
Mark Lau Branson and Nick Warnes are two veteran grass roots workers in this movement. In this book, they open a window into what God is doing in these churches. Bringing their theological skills and their on-the-ground experience, they give us a way to understand missional and incarnational that helps us reflect on what is happening in church-planting as well as what we’re doing in our own church life. Most importantly they let the stories tell themselves. In so doing, this book funds our imagination for what church planting can be, a renewal of mission for N America.
For hundreds of years God has re-birthed His church through movements. Whether it be the monastic movements, pietist movements or frontier revivals, the church has always been renewed through the forming of new communities that call the rest of us to repentance and renewed commitment to live into the fullness of the gospel for God’s Mission in world. There comes a time in all such movements when the stories must be told if we are to learn and grow with them. I believe the missional church movement is one such renewal movement in our time. And I believe now is the time for some of these stories to be told. Lau Branson and Warnes have collected some of these stories that need to be told. They have provided a framework to understand them. They are doing the work here that is so essential for this next leg of the journey that is the missional church. The only question is, will we go with them? Will we as Christians, disciples of Jesus, leaders, pastors join them into the vast new territories of God’s Mission in North America and beyond? I pray it be so. I pray that the stories of this book be multiplied a hundred times over.