Recently, I learned a statistic from a Perspectives course that I found hard to believe: of all the money that goes towards “missions” in the American church (which is by far the wealthiest and most resource-filled), 5.5 percent goes to the “reached” world. That means places where Christianity is acceptable and local churches exist. It includes all of the developed world and some of the undeveloped world, including North America and yes, Spain. Remember, just because it is reached doesn’t mean it isn’t needy. But, alarmingly, only half a percent (or half a penny of every dollar!) goes towards reaching the unreached world. Unreached means the Gospel has no penetration, churches are secret if they exist at all, and/or preaching is illegal. In short, missions to unreached parts of the world needs a lot of money!
How do you think the remaining 94 percent of money used for world missions is being used? To reach Christians.
It is shocking!
And I would argue that perhaps that means that the American church is spending a lot of money to promote world missions, or to reach cities like Seattle, which is one of the least churched cities in America. But the fruit of that would be more missionaries, and if we were sending more missionaries, wouldn’t those tiny percentages – 5.5 percent and .5 percent – be increasing? If only slightly?
Here’s the stat come to life: I think American church plants are reaching American Christians, and shame on them for it. We should not be stealing Christians from other churches to create and bulk up new churches. It seems to me that big churches “see a need” (what that means must be different for each church), buy a building, send people who live nearby to the new building, and call it a “church plant.”
Maybe that is useful. In America’s least churched region, I am willing to say it probably is useful. Perhaps saturation is a relevant tool for spreading the Gospel. Perhaps.
But let me describe my view of church planting. It’s not glamorous. It’s hard. It’s not for the faint of heart. It’s certainly not for the Sunday Christian.
An area, like a small city, a suburb or a large neighborhood, lacks a Bible-preaching, Jesus-glorifying body of believers. Not a building called a church, but a group of people meeting together for the sole purpose of worshiping God.
God calls a family or a VERY small team of people to move to that area. They move, and spend their days bathing their new home in prayer, getting to know its culture, its way of things, and people. Maybe they meet other parents and the school their kids go to, peers at the local coffee shop, neighbors. They minister to people: maybe they feed the homeless or fix pipes at the local women’s shelter. And as they are going about these tasks, they are introducing people to Jesus. They’re sharing the Gospel in their own words, without the use of big events or invitations to Sunday church. Combined with their ministry to people – maybe a neighbor had a baby and these “church planters” brought a meal and spent some time holding a baby so mama could shower – the Gospel is relevant. When your actions say things, people are willing to listen to your words.
And then, not suddenly but over time (probably a long time), a little Bible study is formed. At first, one other couple comes over sporadically to share a meal and listen to a little bit of Bible teaching and ask their questions. Then, more regularly. Maybe they sing a little hymn that everyone knows from childhood or lyrics printed on a page. And one week, three new people show up.
Other weeks, no one shows up.
Once, the church planters had to start over completely because the Gospel is so offensive to their friends they stop coming altogether and take the others with them.
Months in, the original family discovers that their living room won’t hold all the people coming to study the Bible. So they ask one of the regulars if their much larger home might be used. These new hosts are now serving in their church, but they don’t know it! And then months later, it happens again. And maybe a small group breaks off to study a little differently. There’s some one on one discipleship happening among some of the first believers, so they feel comfortable leading a study.
Not before they know it, but after many months of prayers and crying out to God because people aren’t interested, or leave, or succumb to sin, or become Christians and start serving and then move away, there’s a crowd of people who want to serve their neighborhood corporately. That’s a church.
So they rent out a room in a local community center, or a movie theater, or whatever, and they start having an organized meeting. Someone who plays an instrument has joined the group and he leads music. Two women who love babies volunteer to hold them for the hour that church meets.
And it grows. And thrives. And blossoms. And possibly sends out to another neighborhood with no body of believers.