In the fall of 1986, at the age of 26, I entered seminary. I remember vividly a retreat that was held for incoming first-year students hosted at the epic Forest Home Christian Campground founded by Henrietta Mears*. I had a conversation with a fellow student who invited me to participate in an exciting new church plant he was envisioning to reach 18-25 year-olds. I was intrigued to learn more; that began my journey into church planting.
Have you felt the call to plant a church? The invitation to begin this journey can be intimidating and thrilling at the same time. With this exciting call typically comes the process of discerning what type of church model you and your team will pursue. The array of models can be overwhelming, but one of the most important decisions you will make as a leader. Choosing a model comes down to knowing your community, its culture, and your giftings.
If you ask any church leader, you may get several responses when it comes to the different types of models for a church plant. Regardless of their title, you will find the most models fit into one or more of the following categories:
- Launch a large corporate gathering
- Satellite/Multi-site Campus
- Virtual Church
- House Church (5-20 people)
- Marketplace/Missions Church
- Disciple making movements
- Life Transformation Groups
Although each model is unique, there are some key similarities that help us place them into two categories; micro and prevailing. Below we will examine the pros and cons of each model and how to embrace your giftings not only to where God has called you but to whom God has called you.
- Leadership – established staff/trained team
- Critical mass – requires 30-60 members in the launch team
- Stability – financial model requires partners to launch
- Tools – “portable church”, equipment and resources
- Centralized- depends on a facility of some sort to launch a worship service
- Complex – worship services done with excellence requires a team of specialists
- Upfront cost – equipment, facility, marketing, community events, etc.
- Person power – need many people to help run the church
- Mission drift – keeping the mission at the forefront
- Change management – the pioneer team you start with will be replaced with the settlers
The prevailing church model has been the traditional model for ages. The church I was instrumental in planting was a prevailing model. We started in an apartment, grew to about 3 small groups and then launched a service in an elementary school cafeteria. I remember set-up and tear-down, meeting in apartments and homes for small groups, and coaching leaders. The prevailing church model is the most common strategy used in the U.S. to establish churches within communities. Having a large launch team enables you to reach a larger number of people. The ability to be well funded also enables a pastor/staff to be salaried and focus full time on the church. This is the ideal but, of course, not the norm.
Like with all churches, however, there are drawbacks and challenges along the way. The complexities of a large church can bring pressure. Leading a congregation can often feel like “herding cats” (e.g. managing many opinions of people with different views). Because of this, it is important to always have the vision at the forefront and convey that vision from the start, repeating and reiterating often. This will help you and your team to be aligned with one another in unity and remember that disciples making disciples is the goal.
- Relationally based – everything rises and falls on relationships
- Missionally focused – to make more and better disciples with everyday Christians
- Simplicity – minimal events and programs
- Accelerate the mission – rapid disciple making
- Low cost – the up front costs are minimal because leadership is co-vocational
- Time – leaders need to be bi-vocational
- Attitude – potentially draws people who are frustrated with the established church
- Elitism – potential of exclusivity
- Counter-cultural – in a culture that champions largeness
- High expectations – amazing stories about how this works elsewhere
Micro churches have been on the rise for the last several decades. God has used catalytic leaders like Paul Yongi Cho** who introduced the cell-based church to the rest of the world, illustrating that churches can be large AND small at the same time. Both environments are critical to the health of a congregation. Whether micro churches are a response to the frustrations of the megachurch model or the desire to live out Acts 2, it’s clear there is a longing for simplicity in this world. The micro church model offers a simplistic approach that invites people into relationships with one another in order to grow in their faith. This centralized focus helps people feel known in a smaller setting and engage in deeper communion with one another. Because of this, disciple making tends to happen quicker than in larger churches.
Although the micro church is on the rise, there are weaknesses to look out for. There is a great benefit of being bi-vocational in regards to building more relationships with those who are outside of the faith. However, the potential for burnout can follow close behind if one doesn’t carefully manage their time. Additionally, because of its small nature, exclusivity can be a temptation as any group of people become close, especially ones that do “life” together so regularly. Just like we stated above in the traditional church model, it is vital to church health to remain faithful to the vision God called you to. Seeking the lost and sending out disciples must be at the forefront.
Most of us have a hard time breaking from the model we are most used to. As you journey on this call, it’s important to ask yourself a couple of questions:
- Are you coming out of an experience that has left you biased?
- What model best fits the context of the community God has called you to serve?
- What model helps you to express the gifts God has given you specifically?
In the next two blogs I will be interviewing leaders from each of the models highlighted above that are in similar stages of launching their church. Join me as we explore the realities from the perspective of church planters and discuss the highs and lows of the church planting journey.
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*She had a profound impact on the ministries of Jim Rayburn (Young Life) and Billy Graham (Billy Graham Evangelistic Association) with her clear Gospel message catered specifically to young people. She is believed by many theologians to have directly shaped Bill Bright’s (Campus Crusade), Four Spiritual Laws, which defined modern evangelism. Her What the Bible Is All About (Regal) has sold over three million copies.
** Yoido Full Gospel Church (Assemblies of God), the world’s largest congregation, with a membership of 830,000 (as of 2007).