There was a huge push when I was in seminary for those of us who were graduating to set out and plant a church in an area that needed something modern and relevant to reach a lost and dying world. Many of my friends answered the call and went for it. Some were successful while others couldn’t seem to get one to either start or lead it to an established state. Regardless, none of my friends 20 years later are still with the church they started after they left seminary… they now have found “homes” in established churches. Whether this is a sad commentary or not is irrelevant. What is relevant however is many of the things that are true of a church plant should also be true of an established church. What is sad is somewhere along the way some (not all) established churches have lost some of the basic things a church needs to be doing regardless if it is new or old.
First there are very few (if any) pew sitters that go to a church plant. If someone comes to church and is not involved in some form of that church’s ministry they are called – visitors or better yet “Guest”. For some reason most established churches have plenty of members who just pew sit every Sunday and do not get involved in the ministry of the church. There are various reasons for this but the point here is that there should never be a member of a church that isn’t involved in some type of church ministry, regardless if it is new or old. Just think, if we could figure out how to mobilize the pew sitters in our congregations how powerful that would be not only for the life of the church but think of how impactful that would be for the community around the church.
Second, a church plant will except anyone that walks through their doors. This acceptance isn’t in the sense of “accepting people’s sin”, but rather acceptance that comes from the understanding that church is a place you “come as you are” and is a place “sinners need to be at.” One of the reasons people fear coming to an established church is the fear of rejection, of not being accepted. A church plant is so hungry for people that they always accept any visitor and try to make them feel at home while they are there. Some established churches struggle with those who have tattoos, piercings, dress differently or come from a different race or social standing than they are accustomed to at church. I would argue that any church established or new should focus on making people far from God (or close to God) feel welcome and loved. This is how Christ reached people and so should we.
Third, in a church plant the members seem to bring visitors every week. In most established churches people quit inviting people to church a long time ago. The members of any church should be out promoting the church they are a member of by inviting their friends and neighbors to come and attend. This is part of the great commission. One of the reasons established churches do not grow is because of this.
Fourth, the environment of a church plant oozes with change. In fact ,change is expected. Some established churches cringe at any change that might be made. An environment of change however breaths life into the church body. Yes, not all change is good, but that isn’t what this is about. If something remains the same and changing something becomes a thing to be feared, the life of the church will soon be choked and the life within it will die. (In some churches you can smell the moth balls when you enter them.) All churches should have an environment where change is expected instead of resisted.
Fifth, rules and policies are simple and not cumbersome. Most church plants haven’t had the time to create a bunch of policies to govern their church environment and because the policies they do have are not generally written down, the policies/rules have to be simple enough to remember. Simpleness breeds practicality. Too many established churches have policies and rules that are way to complicated (probably because something bad has happened and they want to make sure it doesn’t happen again). Maybe, it’s time for your church to ditch Roberts Rules of order and get rid of some of the committees it has so you can function a bit better and move a little bit faster on things. This would take a new way of thinking of course and the way to accomplish this would be to sit down with some church planters in your area and ask them how things operate at their churches. Not so you can give them guidance, but so you can see clearly where your established church is bogged down with needles red tape.
So there you go….
…a few things we who have an established church can learn from a church plant that we need to be reminded of lest we forget some of the things that should be part of what we do.