Church Planting Is for Wimps
The book Church Planting Is For Wimps is not, as you might guess from the title, your typical approach to the topic of church planting. As his subtitle notes, the author, Mike McKinley, admits that he is a messed-up person. Immediately, the (honest) reader can relate. McKinley served on the staff of Capital Hill Baptist Church, Washington D.C. In 2005, God called him to revitalize Guilford Baptist Church, Sterling, VA. This book is a recounting of how God used McKinley to accomplish this feat.
McKinley writes openly and honestly, with humor and insight. He has a knack for keeping the reader involved in the story. Of course, the title communicates much sarcasm since the book is the story of a church revitalization as opposed to a fresh plant; but McKinley in no way communicates disdain for church planting. The book is a must read for those praying about church planting or revitalization. While there are plenty of wisdom nuggets to be found in the book, I want to share the following three:
1) Beware of contextualization: while certain aspects of contextualization have their place, it does seem to be the newest catchphrase for the “homogeneous unit principle”–you know, the “pick your social demographic and appeal . . . to them” (p.20) model. This form of contextualization is problematic for at least two reasons: it caters to the flesh rather than the spirit, and it steers God’s people away from a gospel-centered unity. As McKinley noted, “People favor people who favor them. They favor goods and services tailored to their tastes and how they want to perceive themselves. Niche marketing works.” (p.17). But, as he went on, “if you look at what the Bible says on this subject, you’ll see that one of the glories of the gospel is that it reconciles people that could never be reconciled without it.” (p.18).
2) The preaching of God’s word must be central: McKinley reminds us that if we fail to preach the word of God, then we fail altogether. He wrote, “the one thing that Christians and non-Christians need is the Word of God. It is alive and powerful, and it’s what our churches need.” (p.53). He encourages the church planter to never allow the the preaching of the Word to be decentralized by a plethora of pragmatic and administrative details.
3) Beware of “obessing over church size”: McKinley spoke plainly on this point, “Let me be straightforward. The obsession with church size is killing many church planters. I used to drop in occasionally on a gathering of local church planters. There was a running tension in the group–everyone either subtly bragged about the size of his church (while trying to seem like they weren’t) or made excuses for it.” (p.107). He warns us of the clear and present danger of numberitis.
While these three points fall short of all that Church Planting Is For Wimps relates to the reader, they do serve as a launching point for those interested in further helps in the arena of church planting and revitalization.
For His Glory,
9marks, church growth, church planting, contextualization, nine marks
Sounds like an interesting book. I actually went to McKinley’s breakout session at T4G 2010. He really has a multicultural church! I’ve not been thinking so much about “church revitalization” as I’ve been thinking about “church combination.”
We’ve got so many tiny churches that are struggling to hold a fellowship and impact the kingdom. Many of these churches were planted in days gone by when you needed a Baptist church in every holler because transportation was different. We have Malone’s Chapel, New Hope, West Main, Upper Helton, New Vision, and First Baptist all within a 5 mile radius. These are just the Southern Baptist churches! However, transportation has changed.
In your opinion, is it a good thing to have so many little churches? Would it be better if they combined under a plurality of elders? Would this lead to a greater witness for God? What would be some strengths and some weaknesses? I’m all for revitalization. That’s undoubtedly much needed, but what do you think about intentional combination?
Ben, those are some thoughtful questions. First off, there are a variety of factors to take into account. For example, since these churches are in a rural area, one would have to take past events into account, such as church splits and general “bad blood”. This probably would be the primary weakness depending on the situation.
Overall, however, I do believe that the idea of church combination can be beneficial and even biblical. While rural areas can benefit from several gospel witnesses, it does seem like overkill to have, in many cases, dozens of them. One of the strengths of doing church combinations aside from the financial aspect is it could elevate membership accountability to a more biblical level. It could really put a dent in the “church hopper” mentality–that is people that move from one church to another as frequently as every two or three years. It is extremely difficult to carry out any kind of church discipline when you know that the church down the street will take them right in. Second, as you mentioned, church combination would lend itself to what I believe is the more biblical model of elder led churches, still holding to congregational polity.
Thus, the great strengths of combination would be financial frugality, mutual accountability, and elder leadership, each of which would strengthen kingdom objectives and witness. I’m sure there may be other weaknesses to this approach than mentioned above, but they would seem to pale in comparison to the benefits.
Jeremy, I just saw your reply. I thought I had set it up to email comments, but I guess it didn’t work.
Two other barriers to church combination would be church direction and pride. Assuredly, not all churches think alike, even though they basically have the same articles of faith. Therefore, they’re going in different directions in the peripherals such as music, government, education, the finer points of theology. It would be hard work to combine them. Of course, pride would certainly be a big prohibiting factor. It would be a daunting task, but one that could be overcome through the Spirit’s work and the elders leadership.
Certainly, one possible positive of having so many little churches is the fact that each church offers a little different personality or flavor. A person can find a church that “fits” them best. However, I’m not really sure that that’s a positve. It seems to be nothing more than a manifestation of McGavern’s unscriptural “homogeneous unit principle,” which says that people like to go to church with people like themselves. I really don’t think that God desires niche churches because it causes division. I’m not saying that we have niche churches here, but we certainly have God’s people meeting separately in churches that have almost everything in common.
I truly believe that churches of the same confession in the same community should consider combination.
Thanks for entertaining my questions! Excellent response by the way!
Sorry you’re having trouble with the contact feature of my blog. Your message was blocked on my end again too. Maybe you can help me iron out these issues when we eventually get to meet about the blogging world.
I agree with your comments. Direction and pride are real barriers. I would say that pride is definitely the catch all issue in a church combination discussion, as it is always the perennial problem with us fallen creatures. It certainly would be at the center of “church splits” and “bad blood”. Regarding direction, it would seem to be plagued by pride as well. I further agree that a variety can be the spice of church, yet we want to maintain gospel unity. I think I sense a blog on the horizon from Pastor Ben, as this issue needs to be hammered out some more
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