Can We Still Call It “Church Planting”?

The further we move away from biblical models to guide our actions, the greater the likelihood our actions will move away from biblical purposes.

Can We Still Call It "Church Planting"?

What is Biblical Church Planting?

The further we move away from biblical language to describe our actions, the greater the likelihood our actions will move away from biblical purposes.

The further we move away from biblical models to guide our actions, the greater the likelihood our actions will move away from biblical purposes.

Without the anchor, the boat drifts.

In 1955, Donald McGavran wrote about “church growth” as conversionary growth. However, others took his terminology and changed the definition to focus on transfer growth. In fact, most opponents to the Church Growth Movement voiced their concerns not knowing what McGavran wrote but having experienced the distortions of his missiology. By 1988, he changed his language to “effective evangelism” because church growth was no longer focused on the biblical purpose. The new terminology never caught on.

Missions is a concept that needs an overhaul. This Latin word that came into use in the 16th century to describe Jesuit work now means everything from putting roofs on church buildings in Honduras to teaching in schools in Egypt. And there is nothing wrong with roofing and teaching. But such activities are often an end unto themselves and removed from making disciples of all nations.

Or, consider church planting. Church planting in the West is about starting with a multi-talented pastor, who can gather long-term Kingdom citizens, who can then start an instant church with all of the structures, organization and ministries of a church that has been in the Kingdom for 20 years. And there is nothing wrong with starting healthy churches this way. But church planting practices have moved a long way from the apostolic model we read about in passages such as Acts 13-14, 1 Thessalonians 1:2-10 and Titus 1:5.

The nomenclature of “missions” and “church planting” will not go away. They will remain in the church’s lexicon. They will continue to mean the multiple things they mean. Using them in Christian circles is like witnessing to Mormons—same terms, multiple definitions.

We can try to redefine these cherished words. Maybe that is a way forward. Or, maybe a better way is to describe biblical practices with a more biblical terminology. Maybe we leave these extra-biblical words be and develop a new nomenclature. Keep the biblical definitions, change the terms.

And just maybe such terminology will eventually catch on. If not, we will at least cause people to stop and think about the apostolic work of the church and their present practices in the world. McGavran did.

This article originally appeared here.

JD Payne
J. D. serves as the pastor of church multiplication with The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama. He has pastored churches in Kentucky and Indiana, and served for a decade with the North American Mission Board and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of several books on the topics of evangelism and missions.