New church plants can be awesome. They may not be. But they can be. Here are three thoughts on that.
1) New church plants tend to be desperate for God. On a lot of levels, that is a very good thing. Desperation for God drives us to seek God earnestly (and God says if we seek him with our whole heart, we’ll find him.) Desperation for God drives us to our knees. As Joe Alexander says,”faith may move mountains, but prayer moves the heart of God.” We pray. God moves. We bless God! Desperation also opens our eyes to look to see what God is doing. Consequently, people in new churches tend to see God to work. That stimulates faith and joy in a gathering! Ultimately, desperation for God leads us into one of our great purposes: to glorify God. At our new church, First Coast Missional Communities, we have a saying: “Only God can do this.” When something goes right, we know where the credit goes. We glorify God!
2) New churches are awesome places for the broader church to learn new patterns for ministry that work. I’ve been active in a bout a dozen well established churches – I’ve been in leadership in a half-dozen. So I mean it when I say that established churches have a lot going for them – resources, traditions, history, influence, etc. But very often they get entrenched: stuck in patterns, unwilling to change. I think the more successful a church was in the past, the more likely it is to get really stuck. “We’ve never done it that way before…” carries a lot more weight when the way we used to do it worked really well. But if culture changes (and ours is changing rapidly) the old patterns don’t work so well anymore.
One church I worked in ran a mid-week children’s program for about a dozen kids and a few volunteers and one discouraged (occasionally blamed) staff member. Whenever we tried to change it, the old-timers remembered the good old days when dozens of volunteers led by an energetic staff member served more than a hundred kids dropped off by their moms after school every week. Moms in our community don’t do that anymore. Times changed. But the church could carry the load of sustaining an outdated program. A new church could not do that – and that is a very good thing. A new church will either find a pattern that works or close because there’s very little cushion to fall back on. Frankly, that makes us a little more teachable.
Here’s a pattern we’re trying at FCMC. The worship service is important – but it’s not the center of what we do. We are a church of missional communities. We are more interested in getting people in missional communities than anything else. We believe worship services are important – but true worship is about glorifying God with our lives. People learn that better, we think, by “living life like Jesus” with a highly participatory missional community than by singing songs and the listening passively to a sermon in a worship service. I cannot imagine the established churches I pastored making a shift away from the worship service being the center of everything – unless I could point to another church that had tried it and succeeded.
3) Lastly, new churches are a awesome places to make disciples of Jesus Christ who make disciples of Jesus. We have to teach discipleship so our people can make disciples – or we may not survive. We can’t count on transfers from other churches. But in making disciples, we are reconnected to the movement of God in the world. By contrast, established churches usually feel and act institutional. (You can read a great article on movement vs. institution by Tim Keller on that here.) Now, I like institutions. I enjoy the stability, security, comfort, and safety of a well established institution. But there’s a problem when a church becomes too institutional. That would be because Jesus – the Head of the Church – started a movement of discipleship. And while I can only speak for myself, pastoring a church plant has reconnected me to that movement in ways that are, well, awesome.