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Small Town Church Planting: Keep Your Options Open!

Luke Geraty

Luke Geraty

Pastor, Red Bluff Vineyard
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smalltownchurchplantingmodelsI find myself in many conversations with church leaders and people interested in planting churches and most of the time the discussion ends up circling around to the topic of church planting models. Some of these conversations are really helpful to me and I learn a lot and find I might even have some helpful ideas to contribute. Those conversations leave me refreshed, encouraged, and excited about the state of church planting, not to mention the fact that I love learning from others!

And then there are the other conversations…

If there is one thing that frustrates me, it’s the assumption that there is only one church planting model that should be used. Argh… drives me crazy!

Yesterday I had the pleasure of listening to Michael Gatlin speak at the Church Planting Leadership Fellowship meeting in Nashville (thanks to Ed Stetzer for hosting such a great event!). In his brilliant and extremely helpful talk, he said, in passing, something I want to draw your attention to:

Doesn’t buy into all of the [false] dichotomies… There are many ways to plant churches; rather than create a bureaucracy on church planting, Multiply Vineyard embraces a lot of approaches…

Michael talked about how, as an artist, he tends to see how all of these models and approaches fit together and complement one another. Additionally, as Michael also pointed out, the Bible gives us a number of approaches and methods in regards to evangelism, discipleship, and church planting.

Keep Your Options Open

The primary reason why I am tempted to throw a couch out of a window when I hear people talk about the “best” or “biblical” or “effective” or “right” church planting model is because it reduces the missional task of making disciples to a boxed formula. Yet anyone who reads the Gospels or Acts realizes that Jesus and the apostles did not take a monolithic approach to proclaiming and demonstrating the kingdom of God. In fact, the very nature of both living and walking in the Spirit assumes a much more dynamic approach to life and ministry.

Small town church planters, and all church planters for that matter, need to remember to keep their options open. Don’t buy into the suggestion that there is only one way to make disciples and, consequently, plant churches. As Michael said today, Jesus was both winsome and organic and missional. He didn’t pick one approach; rather, he kept his options open and did ministry always looking to see where the Father was at work.

How Do You Know Which Approach to Use?

This is, obviously, a great question. In order to follow my own advice here, I’m going to simply suggest a couple of ideas that might help you keep your options open in rural communities. I’m hoping that you readers can add some ideas in the comments!

So in addition to praying and asking God for direction with your church planting team, here are three ways to discern which approach to use:

(1) You need to know what the goal (mission?) of your church plant is and what success will look like. 

I’m a firm believer in the assumption that, from the very start of a church plant, God’s mission needs to be clarified, built upon, and embraced. This will keep the church plant on track with multiplication, both in the immediate as well was the future.

Plus, if success for the church plant looks like twenty-five missional communities spread throughout a small city, some of the models may be more helpful than others. It’s hard to know which model/approach will be most helpful if you do not know where you hope to go (after all, where we plan to go and where we end up are not always the same!).

(2) Know what your options are! 

Related to the importance of knowing goals and how those will be measured, it’s rather difficult to make decisions about church planting approaches and options if you don’t know which options are available!

Ed Stetzer is developing a helpful series of posts on Church Planting models (post 1 and 2). If you are unfamiliar with some of the current models that many people are using, I’d recommend reading his thoughts there.

And by no means should you believe that the models that Stetzer suggests are the only models available. In fact, study Scripture, be creative and ask God for direction and who knows… maybe you’ll develop something unique for the context in which God is calling you!

(3) Keep record of what seems to have “traction.”

Over the years, I’ve noticed that when things are going really well, I often stop paying attention to what’s working. Yet when things are going bad, I write lots of reports and summaries in order to process what not to do. While keeping track of what’s not working is helpful, I have learned I need to make note of what’s working.

This is especially true for those of us who are doing our best to join what God’s doing. I’ve found that it’s very easy to essentially overlook what God’s doing if I don’t jump on board with it and follow his leading.

For example, if the church planting model I intend to implement is a “classic” or “traditional” approach and yet all around me small missional communities are being created and are multiplying and God is clearly blessing them, perhaps I need to adjust my plans and go with what the Father seems to be doing!

Small Town Models

Something I’m interested in exploring and talking to people about is how rural communities may create unique church planting models. I have more questions than answers, of course.

With rural community economies often struggling, and rural villages often having populations less than 200 people, I wonder what modified bio-vocational missional community church planters will develop and what methods they will use to best make disciples and form/shape community.

And how might these small town church planting models develop within local community networks, such as the schools or assisted living homes?

I’ve written previously about the need for small town church planting to be creative and imaginative, mostly in regards to outreaches, serving, and evangelistic work. I guess what I’m thinking about here is how, in addition to that evangelistic work, how might we have more creative and imaginative models in rural communities.

What do you think? How else can we determine the best approach? Why do you think church planters often buy into the idea that only one approach works? What are some creative approaches you think might work? 

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About the author
Luke Geraty is a young budding pastor/theologian who serves at Trinity Christian Fellowship. Husband of one, father of five, and deeply committed to proclaiming Jesus and the kingdom, Luke contributes regularly to ThinkTheology.org and Multiply Vineyard. Follow Luke on TwitterFacebook, or send him an email.

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