By David Jackson, BCMD Missionary for Church Multiplication
With the increased focus in our convention nationally on church planting, there has been heightened concern over the needs of established churches. These churches of many years often feel disenfranchised by the new emphases and initiatives aimed at starting new churches instead of the needs accompanying their own growth and well-being.
Established churches can quite naturally think that they are being ignored, neglected or taken for granted in the new priorities of our cooperative life together. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Church plants need established churches. Period.
There are the obvious reasons why this is true. First, established churches that participate through the Cooperative Program have in large part underwritten the essential funding necessary to enable new churches and their planters to begin their new work. They exhibit generosity, as they give for others, rather than keep it simply for their own congregational use. They also demonstrate cooperation, knowing that in pooling resources together churches are able to do more than they could ever do alone.
These acts are certainly sacrificial, as they look beyond self to the needs of the Kingdom and those who are yet without Christ. This voluntary “pay it forward” strategy is the genius behind our current success.
Second, established churches pave the way for new churches to follow them. As pioneers in an earlier day, their presence tilled the spiritual soil of the area where new churches eventually will sprout. Such work takes countless hours and investment; yet, established churches have done this tireless, but eternal work for the sake of the Kingdom.
These same churches provide stability—gravity, if you please—for the risk-taking, fragile new church attempting to establish itself within a community. Such stability provides balance in the work of the Kingdom, something rarely acknowledged, but genuinely needed by both entities.
Third, established churches give birth to new churches. Denominations don’t start churches, nor do conventions or networks.
The biblical model is churches planting churches, churches sending out new workers into the harvest fields.
Since God has created all living things to reproduce “after their own kind,” it stands to reason that the church—a living organism—must necessarily start other churches. Nothing else can serve as an adequate biblical equivalent. Being a “parent” to new churches means the role of modeling ecclesiastical theology, values and lifestyle is an important part of what church plants “learn” from established churches.
But established churches need church plants, too.
Church plants add vitality to the life of established churches that are giving birth to them. They enhance the community dynamic, adding excitement and adventure to each and every moment.
Established churches are energized by the difference they see and experience through the work of church plants impacted by their own congregation. They renew hope and purpose for the established church, much as a new child or grandchild brings deeper joy and meaning to life.
They also challenge established churches to live by faith, not by sight. What appears reckless and risky in the life of a new church confronts the cautious assumptions that keep most established churches from stepping out in faith, as it did in its own early years.
The fierce confidence and determination that God will provide evidenced within church plants leaves many established churches—while sometimes shaking their heads—admiring their boldness and willingness to live on the edge.
Such church plants see God at work regularly and experience the miraculous often, something every church should long to experience, too.
Finally, they remind established churches why every church truly exists: to “go and make disciples.” It has been said that entities, including churches, quickly and easily begin to look inward, rather than outward, as they become established.
New churches point us all back to the purpose God has intended for us all: to share the Good News so that others can hear it, too. They help us “keep the main thing the main thing.” A passion for the lost and the development of new believers to maturity are the keys to the growth in church plants; these priorities are from the heart of God for His people.
Yes, church plants and established churches need each other.
They can’t, and won’t, exist apart.
Some try to make this an “either/or” equation; however, it’s clearly a “both/and,” if you ask me. Both give and both receive. Both teach and both learn. Both are necessary for healthy, effective Kingdom work. The last time I checked that meant all churches need to be involved; anything less keeps the church—established or brand new—from fulfilling its God-given potential.
David Jackson is the Team Strategist for Church Multiplication with the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (410) 977-9867.