What Do You Mean, “Church Plant”?

Every church is a church plant. No contemporary church came into existence ex nihilo. All churches had starting points–planting points.

What Do You Mean, "Church Plant"?

I frequently hear pastors say, “Our church is a church plant.” These days I have to ask what that means.

The best I can discern is that being a church plant possibility has something to do with the age of the church. However, even with duration of existence there is no agreed upon definition. I hear from church planters, “Our church is 6 months old. We’re a church plant.” Then I hear from others, “We’re a plant. We are three years old.”

Or, maybe being a church plant has something to do with the amount of structure and organization in place. Sometimes the words “church plant” are used apologetically, such as when I (a former mega church pastor) am talking to a pastor who has been serving a church of 20 people for the past year. “We’re a church plant,” he says with a sense of embarrassment because his church is not as large and with all the cool stuff like my faith family.

Just the opposite, sometimes “church plant” is worn like a badge of honor. Such as, “We don’t have all that traditional stuff to weigh us down like the rest of you. We’re a church plant.”

Then there is the financial piece with some using the church plant label because of limited resources for pastoral salaries. Note: In the distant history of my denomination, churches unable to support a pastor with a full-time salary were referred to as “half-time churches.”

What do we mean when we say our church is a church plant? The reality is every church is a church plant. That means:

My church nearing 30 years of age, with great complexity, is one.

The first church I pastored was 10 years old with 50 people. She was one.

The church that started last week in a home with 7 people is one.

Every church is a church plant. No contemporary church came into existence ex nihilo. All churches had starting points–planting points. Whether they began with 100 long term Kingdom citizens, or birthed from the harvest, all churches were planted in the context of cultures.

The words “church plant” are not bad or incorrect. Keep using them. But what do you mean when you say your church is a plant?

What are you teaching and modeling before others about biblical ecclesiology when you use “plant” to describe your local expression of the Body of Christ?

Is that group of people a local church or not a local church? If they are, then describe them in biblical terms and do not be so caught up with all of the adjectives, modifiers, and apologies.

Just call her “church.” Then tell the wonderful story of how the Father, Son, and Spirit brought her into existence!


This article originally appeared here, and is used by permission.

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.