This morning I came a across a post by Dr. David Fitch written some time ago but reposted on his blog today. Fitch is a Christian in the Neo-Anabaptist tradition, a tradition that has significant differences with my own Reformed tradition. But Fitch is someone I listen to because he consistently sheds light onto the current cultural context and helps me think about what it means to live on mission today. He is a professor at Northern Seminary in Chicago (Ph.D. from Northwestern University), an author of several books, a church planter, and a pastor at Peace of Christ Church in Westmont, IL.
His [re]post this morning contrasts different church planting models, points us toward the proper approach, and encourages us to adopt certain expectations.
Church planting in United States and Canada has been traditionally all about gathering a large crowd, making a big splash in a community and building a building. Success is measured by how big and how fast. Though I recognize there is some legitimacy in gathering converts quickly. This can happen within Christendom parts of America where indeed what we’re doing in church planting is “upgrading” church and making it more relevant for the children of Christian parents who have lost interest in their parents’ form of church. This I suggest still has some validity.But in more parts of America and Canada we are no longer converting the children of Christian parents. There are less and less left who are interested in Christianity. We are in essence therefore left to plant communities in mission. The goal is not making Christianity more relevant to dormant Christians or children of Christians. It is to be a new witness to the Kingdom in a place that lacks such an expression. This ‘shift’ fundamentally changes our expectations for what a church plant should look like. In this regard I find John Howard Yoder’s (RYFC) quote from Theology of Mission (p. 218-19) helpful
“We do not start by assuming the church must take over the place. We start by assuming the number of believers will be modest and the decision to follow Christ will be a costly one, therefore a decision that not many will make. This does not mean an a priori decision that there should never be a mass movement … It means we do not hang our hopes on strategies of effectiveness of the message getting a wide hearing quickly or gaining support from powerful people.”
You should check out the rest of his post here where he explains some of the implications this shift has for church planters (and those belonging to a church plant) regarding their practices and expectations.