I want to make a simple case: Sovereign Grace Churches can plant 100 churches per region in the next ten years, all because of our Book of Church Order.
Let me lay out a Gospel Dream: Imagine what would happen if every region in Sovereign Grace Churches committed to planting 100 churches in the next 10 years? You can divide this two ways, 10 new churches a year, or exponential growth, but the vision’s the same: 100 churches, per region, ten years.
Crazy? Keep reading.
Here’s the numbers
Let’s just work with round numbers: I’m not sure how many churches there are per region exactly, but let’s say there’s 8 regions, with 10 churches each.
If every church in Sovereign Grace committed to doing a church plant every two years, a region of 10 churches would be 180 churches in 10 years. That’s just plain exponential growth math. In 2 years, 10 churches becomes 20 churches. Those 20 churches now are all planting a new church in the next two years, which turns 20 into 40. And so on.
Imagine what that would do? Reach the lost. Strengthen the church. Glorify God. Build for mission. We could be over 10,000 churches globally in 20 years.
What if we don’t hit that? What if we don’t hit that number? Let’s say we only half it. Awe shucks, we’ll have only planted 50 churches per region in 10 years… We’ll have to console ourselves with only…what, a 600% increase in our number of churches? You get the idea.
Maybe people read this dream and scratch their heads. Others may have a few questions. Let me raise a few and set them aside.
I think that SG churches have historically followed a big-church model for church planting that we need to adjust. By “big church” model, I mean: Sending 5-10 families off to another city to plant a worship service and build from there. This is a big church model because it requires a church of a certain size to send out a core team of 5-10 families and have anybody left afterwards.
Historically, this looks like a mini-hive model of planting (or a massive-hive-off, depending). I’m not saying it’s wrong, but it’s a model regardless. And it’s largely the only model we’ve followed. This, the majority of SG churches are left feeling like they could only ever hope to plant… someday.
If you look to the places in the world where mission work is growing fast and furious, things look very different. Small groups are the focal point of outreach, and they grow like Catholic rabbits. You see this reflected in the uprising of “missional” literature in the English speaking world. The idea is simple: Love your neighbors as yourself, live a life with the people of God that displays the beauty of the Gospel, and invite your friends in to share in that communal life with you. From there, trust God to do his mighty work of salvation. Fairly simple.
All you need to extend the mission of God is a few people who love Jesus, each other, and their neighbors, and voilà: a church plant. Seems rather simple to me.
If we are going to be serious and proactive in reaching our neighborhoods and the nations, we have to be open to lots of different types of models of planting. Our BCO allows for, and invites this ingenuity. So long as somebody’s not violation our shared values or BCO, in letter or spirit, lead on my friend.
This will mean that our old model of hive-off planting, which is only do-able by bigger churches, will become an option of the many in our tool box. It will also mean that the normal SGC church of 100-300 people can plant churches now, and do more regularly.
The BCO Requires It
Our Book of Church Order, may the hair on its toes never fall out, is in it’s 5th edition. The basic structure is simple: Elderships in regions lead on mission – National serves the work of churches.
National has put together a rather good ordination process, and some very helpful stages for planting. I’ve been though both recently, and while I’d recommend a few adjustments, they put us in a posture for planting that I’m not sure others realize. Imagine the moment right before Olympic sprinters sept out. That moment between gun fire and action. That’s where we are.
An example: Our new ordination process.
Take the ordination process for a second. We now have a rigorous process for ordaining men without having to send them to the Pastors College. They can be truly Sovereign Grace elders without having to pick up their lives, dislocate for a year, get back to their home churches, resettle, and then plant. I think the Pastors College is great, but it’s cumbersome to require all planters to got through it. If we trust the standards our Theology Committee has created (and um, having done it recently, it’s for real), we know that if a man has passed the ordination process, and his church feels he’s called to plant, that he’s ready to go. We don’t need to hold up some unspoken requirement that he get the PC stamp to plant. We’ve agreed to a process, developed it and affirmed it, and now let’s use it. A year or so for ordination, a year or so of a church planting internship and you have your new church plant ever two years.
Men have a clear path for ordination and eldership. Churches have clear direction for accountability. Planters have the ability to borrow elders from the region for stability in their churches. Planters receive coaching. Regions affirm ordinations. Mission advances with accountability and wise enthusiasm. Since church plants are sent with regional cooperation, we are not waiting for national to give green lights. They’re postured to serve the enthusiastic mission in churches local areas.
More lean and nimble than ever.
Because Sovereign Grace Church is now elder lead at a regional level, we are more lean and nimble for planting. We can plant at our own pace. We can ordain at our own pace. We can scheme new planting strategies for our own contexts, without being confined to historic planting methods.
What would be the payoff of such a method? The lost being saved. More churches being planted. The Gospel advancing.
Fellow Sovereign Grace Elders, can I ask you to seriously consider this vision? 100 churches in your region over the next 10 years. Your BCO has laid the ground work. The Gospel will bear fruit for the infolding of the nations. Will you have faith for the mission? Let’s aim high, and trust the results to God.