Header Image

← Return to Articles

Part 3: Planting & Strengthening

04.23.15 | Advance Global | by PJ Smyth

    We will look first at church planting using these headings:

    1. Be convinced that we must
    2. Be sobered by the challenges
    3. Be encouraged that we can
    4. Diligently apply biblical principles

     Be Convinced That We Must

    The Great Commission to take the gospel to the neighbourhoods and nations is given to every generation - it has to be, because every generation needs to be freshly evangelized and discipled, and the timeless New Testament strategy for this is church planting. Be convinced of this.

    Be Sobered By The Challenges

    Planting churches is hard. Planting healthy churches is harder. Repeating the process on a regular basis is even harder. And planting amongst an unreached people group is harder still.

    Genuine gospel extension is hard: For a church plant to “count” there needs to be net gain for the kingdom in terms of more converts and healthier disciples. Success comes from proclamation more than planting, so to speak. Repositioning believers doesn’t necessarily mean reproduction. Moving to join a new church doesn’t magically make you missional - if you haven’t lived missionally at home base, you won’t further afield. 

    Success must be viewed holistically: If the church plant grows large and healthy but the sending church shrinks and weakens, that is not a success for the kingdom. The sending church must remain strong enough, and the new church must soon become strong enough, or else it will suck life out of the leaders and drain movement resources.

    Every church must take responsibility: The movement only plants churches in the sense that the churches in the movement plant or help plant churches. Being a partner church of Advance doesn’t necessarily mean that your church is actually involved in planting churches. We can only say, “Our movement should be planting more churches” if by that we mean “We need to help our church, and the other churches in our movement, develop and deploy more plant leaders, support leaders, and finance”. Every church must take responsibility to help raise and release plant leaders, support leaders, and finance.

    Producing “No.1” plant leaders is the key issue: Outside of God, the leader of the plant is the critical success factor. The other bits - providing support leaders, finance, and strengthening visits from the outside - are all relatively easy compared to producing called and capable plant leaders. Reality check: a movement might take years to see exponential church planting because it might take years to get the churches in the movement producing called and capable plant leaders.

    Desire is not enough: Experience shows that you need a certain gift-mix to successfully plant a church. Even being a good church leader doesn’t necessarily mean you will be a good planter. For this reason, helping assess a potential church planter is vital, and forms part of our Advance Church Planters Course (ACPC).

    Be Encouraged That We Can

    As we saw in Document 1 The Big Idea, despite considerable opposition many strong churches were planted around the Mediterranean in the period of history recorded in Book of Acts. And since then, millions of churches have been planted. In our day, there is resurgence of church planting around the world and success stories can be found almost everywhere. Over the last 20 years I (PJ) have personally played some kind of meaningful role in the successful planting of about 40 churches. I can only think of three failures. Be encouraged. We can do this.

    Diligently Apply Biblical Principles

    Here are some biblical principles that guide our church planting strategy: 

    1. The importance of strong churches: The Jerusalem Church was strong before it ventured beyond Jerusalem. The Antioch Church appeared to have a strong 5-man eldership team before sending two out to church plant.[1] 

    Application to Advance: Within our zeal to plant more churches, we try not to compromise the fundamental strength of existing churches as this would probably mean net reduction of the Kingdom of God rather than net gain.

    1. Convinced of both local and global: Jerusalem needed a severe jolt (persecution) to get them engaged beyond the local. Antioch needed a weighty prophetic moment to get them doing the same. Many churches need something similar to get galvanized to wider mission…such as reading this paragraph! Other churches are prone to neglect the other way, i.e. over-extension compromising the integrity of the local mission. It must be both/and.

     Application to Advance: We help partner churches understand their obligation to the full “glocal” scope of the Great Commission.

    1. Ensure growth not reshuffle: Without genuine and consistent gospel proclamation church plants (and existing churches) can actually fail to truly extend the kingdom of God. Remember, shuffling existing believers from a sending church to a new church does not necessarily mean anyone actually crosses the line of faith! In Acts 8:4 we read, “all who were scattered went about preaching the Word” – that’s the spirit! And Paul stressed that he personally baptised the first converts in the Corinthian church plant [2] underlining the imperative and church plants actually winning souls.

    Application to Advance: We help partner churches develop integrity and consistency of gospel proclamation. We help partner churches produce gospel-centered and gospel-sharing believers who are clear on the gospel and able to share the gospel with others whether they are at home base or part of a church plant team. This usually requires a tool such as Gospel Revolution. 

    1. Multiplication of leaders. We encourage a philosophy of “treble it” whereby a church endeavors to produce three times the amount of leaders that they currently need. Ambitious, I know, but if you shoot for the stars at least you will hit the moon. The thinking is that you need one group of leaders to lead your church at its current size, and another group as your church grows, and another group available to send out to a new church plant.

    Whilst we are excited about helping develop leaders at every level, No.1 church planters (i.e. the leader of a church plant) are a vital group to spot, develop and deploy. Philip was an example of a No.1 church planter who successfully planted in Samaria.[3] Paul was another example of a prolific No.1 church planter. Another important group to develop is support planters (i.e. those who are part of a church plant team). An example of this would be the Lystra church generously sowed the promising Timothy to the wider mission.[4]

    Application to Advance: We help partner churches create a church culture that helps draw through leaders at every level. We help partner churches spot, prepare and correctly deploy No.1 planters and support planters and elders and deacons. Elders, senior leaders and potential No. 1 planters and support planters are encouraged to attend ACPC.

    1. Short strengthening visits: Acts 8:14 records that as the new Samaria church was being planted, Peter and John came from Jerusalem to pray for these new believers to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Although this point underlines the importance of believers getting filled with the Holy Spirit, it is actually about the importance of short strengthening trips to help get a new church up and running.

    Application to Advance: We encourage team members and churches to do short strengthening visits to assist church plants (and mature churches). We encourage all churches to offer their strengths and ask help for their weaknesses. Think in terms of categories such as administrators, implementers, work-place gurus, discipleship gurus, worship leaders, and Ephesians 4 ministries. What are you good at? What do you need? Every church is strong in at least one area and able to help strengthen a new church in that area.

    1. Long region-establishing deployments: As well as doing short visits to places, Paul sometimes relocated to a place for several years that resulted in the planting of many churches. For example, his two-year relocation to Ephesus resulted in “all Asia” hearing the gospel,[5] no doubt involving the planting of a region of churches in that area.

    Application to Advance: Whenever possible, we try to free up appropriately gifted people for middle-to-long-term deployments to a new region to plant a region of churches. This is often costly but a highly effective way to work.

    1. Systematic training of leaders/planters: Whilst in Ephesus, Paul taught daily in the Hall of Tyrannus, which as we have just seen, resulted in enormous gospel fruit. My guess is that his lectures started with evangelism and developed into training.

    Application to Advance: Training of senior leaders and potential church planters is best done together via programmes such as ACPC and E+. Note, we do want to disempower local churches in terms of their own training, but training of senior leaders and planters is almost always best done at movement level. 

    1. Back gifted reproducers in key regions: Certain people in certain places emerged as key hubs of reproduction. Examples include the apostles in Jerusalem, Paul and Barnabas in Antioch, Paul in Ephesus, Thessalonica who significantly influenced the surrounding regions (1 Thess 1:7-8), and we can speculate that Philippi (the leading city of Macedonia) became a reproducing hub for Eastern Europe.

    Application to Advance: There is often a noble desire in churches, especially in developed nations, to plant or support churches in underdeveloped and unreached nations. This desire can lead to a well-intentioned yet unstrategic, even unhelpful approach. Without stifling credible acts of mission, we encourage partner churches to help raise up and then support key ministries in distant nations who can develop into bases from which churches can be planted and strengthened. This is usually the most strategic way to work and more fruitful in the long run.

    1. Contribute in finance and prayer: New Testament churches gave finance and prayer to church plants.

    Application to Advance: We encourage partner churches to sow finances and prayer into the wider mission. More about this in Document 5: Hubs, Leadership, And Finance. 

    10. Partnership with a trans-local team: The New Testament pattern is churches partnering with other churches and trans-local teams teams in order to plant and strengthen churches. This combination of local churches and trans-local ministries results in well-founded churches.

    Application to Advance: We want partnership to be productive, enjoyable and based on healthy expectations. We want to emphasise both church-to-church connection and trans-local connection.

    1. Robust in the face setbacks: Acts 16 records two false starts in Asia and Bithynia before the gospel advanced into Philippi in Macedonia.

    Application to Advance: We try to help planters and their sending churches be aware of the risks and challenges involved in church planting, understanding that church planting is not an exact science, and that there might be some unexpected turns in the road ahead. And, we remain loving and loyal to each other and the mission in the face of set backs, disappointments and delays.

    1. Organised and flexible and spiritual: The New Testament planting strategy was a combination of the planned, the spontaneous and the supernatural. Whilst there seemed to be a deliberate plan to target the main cities around the Mediterranean the early church also responded well to spontaneous initiatives such as preaching the gospel when they had to flee from Jerusalem (Acts 8). Additionally, they were open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit such as Acts 13:1-4 and Paul’s Macedonian dream in Acts 16).

    Application to Advance: We try to be organized and strategic in our planning, whilst remaining flexible and open to spontaneous initiatives and the prophetic leadings of the Holy Spirit. We also work to cultivate prophets and prophecy in churches and in the movement knowing that this is one of the most important spiritual gifts.

    Strengthening Strategy

    Let’s turn now to our church strengthening strategy under the following headings:

    1. Why Strong Churches?
    2. Strengthening elders
    3. Strengthening doctrine
    4. Strengthening values 

    Why Strong Churches?

    Paul’s mission was to both plant and strengthen: The same apostle who urged the church in Rome to engage with church planting in “regions beyond” (Rom 15:22-24) did so on the back of fourteen chapters written to strengthen them. The same apostle who planted churches in Iconium, Derbe and Lystra returned twice to strengthen them, and sent delegates and epistles when he couldn’t. In 2 Corinthians 10 Paul infers that local church health is an excellent launch pad, even a pre-requisite for the mission to advance to regions beyond (2 Cor 10:15-16). This was why Paul would plant a church and then keep nurturing her through follow up visits by him or others, and through writing letters to her. To use Isaiah 54 language, the mission is to both lengthen and strengthen.

    Paul was in pursuit of churches that would take the gospel further but which were also well founded. A movement that has truly New Testament aspirations will certainly aim to plant churches, but also to strengthen churches, and be prepared to spend time, money and energy on doing that. For example, the fact that the churches on Crete were weak was a bother to Paul, and caused him to send Titus, one of his leading men, to strengthen these churches. He could have directed Titus’ energy (and the funds that paid for what must have been a costly mission) into planting new churches which would have looked a whole lot better on the website, but he didn’t. Rather, he spent movement resources on strengthening churches. 

    Paul aspired to churches that were both missional and mature. As much as he wanted them to be outward looking and mission-minded, he also wanted Christ to be formed in them (Gal 4:19) and emphasised the essential God-given role that Ephesians 4 gifts play in maturing the church (Eph 4:15-16). 

    This begs the question, “how do we strengthen churches? It seems that Paul poured most of his strengthening energies into three areas: eldership teams, sound doctrine, and values: 

    Strengthening Elders

    Common sense tells us that healthy elders should result in healthy churches, but it is worth logging the emphasis that New Testament apostolic ministry placed on appointing and strengthening elders. To mention a few key aspects: Paul appointed elders in the churches that he planted (Acts 14:23); Paul gathered and taught the elders of various churches in Miletus (Acts 20); both Paul and Peter wrote lengthy passages specifically to the elders (1 Tim 3, Titus 1 and 1 Peter 5), and epistles themselves were often specifically addressed to the elders. 

    We help partner churches spot, train, appoint, and continuously develop elders through:

    • Relational connection with the eldership team, including general support and specific support during times of crisis or transition. 
    • Various courses and resources, including E+ and ACPC - part time training courses for senior leaders, potential elders, elders, and potential church planters.
    • Elders and potential elders prioritizing attendance at Advance gatherings. Elders must learn to receive 2 Tim 2:2 style, which involves absorbing things in a group setting and then going and imparting that truth to their church. This is the bible way. Visits to individual churches may happen from time to time, but elders and other leaders gathering together is a biblical and economic way to build. Therefore, all elders, especially market place elders, need good warning of Advance events, and are hopefully willing to take leave if necessary, and they (and/or the church) should be proactive in fund-raising and budget provision for such trips.

    Strengthening Doctrine

    Doctrine is important. The content of the epistles testifies to how much Paul wanted his churches to believe correct doctrine and be “pillars of truth” (1 Tim 3:15). He wanted churches to believe the right things about who God is and how He interacts with mankind. He wanted churches to grasp the full benefits of the New Covenant and the primacy of the Church in the heart and plan of God. He wanted churches to correctly understand this present age and the hope we have in the future age. And, He called for church leaders and believers to hold fast to truth, to defend truth and to proclaim truth.

    Of course, doctrine is set for all time in the bible but doctrine needs to be dynamically laid in every church in every generation. Whilst local elders play the predominant role in teaching bible truth to their churches, trans-local ministries are especially gifted to help lay these foundations in elders and churches, setting the local elders up to build on these foundations week-in-week-out. 

    We help partner churches become strong in sound doctrine through:

    • Our Statement of Faith that outlines what we consider to be the primary, non-negotiable biblical doctrines. Partner churches are free to adopt this Statement of Faith as their own, or minimally to use it as a plumb line of truth against which to gauge the doctrinal strength of their church.
    • Various courses and resources, including E+ and ACPC. Partner churches are encouraged to use and promote Advance resources and other recommended resources to help drip-feed correct doctrine into their members.
    • Elders, leaders and members of partner churches prioritizing attendance at Advance gatherings that always help promote doctrinal clarity and courage. 

    Strengthening Values 

    “For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me. That is why I sent you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach everywhere in every church.” (1 Cor 5:15-17) 

    Interestingly, Paul’s concern for churches went beyond mere sound doctrine. As much as Paul wanted churches to imitate his beliefs, he also wanted them to imitate his ways in Christ (1 Cor 4:15-17). This text gives two key words to help us understand this – father and ways. Healthy families share a common way of life. A dysfunctional family might have no father at all or one that acts like a Truth Policeman without impartation and coaching in how to translate truth into effective living. Conversely, functional families have fathers that lovingly teach both truth and how to apply truth. It is the same in the family of God where we need help not only with the truth of Jesus, but also with the ways of Jesus. It is the combination of truth and ways (truth applied) that gives a family a helpful and unifying way of life

    For example, it is possible to believe (correctly) in God’s sovereignty, but to still be mean, miserable and driven. We need help in learning how to apply the sovereignty of God to help us be kind, joyful and peaceful. Equally, I know churches who pride themselves on proclaiming the one and only true gospel of God’s grace, yet you don’t notice too many smiles during their times of corporate worship. They need help in the way God’s grace pertains to worship and all of life. 

    Similarly, Paul wasn’t content for a church to just have head knowledge of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit; he spent multiple chapters about the way we should eagerly and intelligently facilitate the working of the Spirit in church life. And take leadership, to believe (quite rightly) that the church should be led by leaders/elders is one thing, but creating a healthy dynamic where leaders are humble yet confident, servant-hearted yet fearless, takes modelling and impartation not just one-dimensional instruction in truth. The what and why is important but so is the how. 

    As their father, Paul felt a responsibility to help with how that they expressed sound doctrine in their lives and churches. He wanted them to share a helpful and unifying family likeness flowing from his “ways in Christ Jesus”, but as any good father does with his children, he wanted his churches to develop their own unique personality in terms of how they expressed these values. We refer to these ways as values

    We help partner churches become strong in values through: 

    • Our document called Values of Partner Churches that provides an overview of the main biblical values that we encourage partner churches to use as a framework to inspire and guide them into a compelling practice of New Testament church. As we have just said, the expression of these values may differ from church to church according to local personality and context.
    • Various courses and resources, including E+ and ACPC that all help teach and impart our values.
    • Elders, leaders and members of partner churches prioritizing attendance at Advance gatherings that always help promote clarity and courage of our values.

    [1] Acts 13:1-3

    [2] 1 Cor 1:14-16

    [3] Acts 8:5

    [4] Acts 16:1-3

    [5] Acts 19:10