Our church is beginning a very exciting new chapter. We are beginning to embrace the reality that a healthy church is a multiplying church. A healthy church is a church-planting church. What is true for individual disciples, that they be disciple-makers of disciple-makers, is also true for local churches.
Now, almost every pundit on matters ecclesial agrees there are pockets in North America that are under-churched. Marin County, CA and Portland, OR are two examples. But, what about the South? Does the Bible-belt really need more churches? Aren’t there enough churches in the South that Southern churches can take their limited resources and pour them into the places of real need, like the unreached people groups of the other nations?
Clearly, healthy churches need to be devoted to bringing the gospel to the nations. This is not an either/or. It is a both/and. But, should churches in the South spend a lot of time, energy, and money on planting new churches in what seems to be one of the most established Christian areas in America, which seems to be the most Christian nation in the world?
Yes. Absolutely. I think we would actually be neglecting our call if we did not. It would be unhealthy if we did not.
But, some of you might need to know why. And, some of you may still not agree with my reasons, but at least you will see there are good reasons. Each needs much more unpacking, but let me at least list them out.
1. Biblical theology argument: The New Testament shows that the model of kingdom expansion was church planting. As soon as the Apostles began their ministry outside the initial revivals in Jerusalem, churches were planted in Asia Minor, often directed by Paul and his cohort. The kingdom had its pivot foot in local churches, and still does. This New Testament paradigm is not just descriptive but prescriptive, and there is a library’s worth of nuanced Biblical and theological treatments that establish this. Take a look at http://www.redeemer.com for some resources.
2. Healthy church argument: Simply tallying up how many churches are in a given area and how many people attend them is not the way to do the math on this issue. The issue is: how many heathy churches with converted Christians who are on mission comprise the ecclesial make up of an area? Many people define a healthy church as: orthodox, stable attendance, and stable income. That is not the right definition. A healthy church is rigorously Biblical with a value for expositional ministry, has godly leadership, it equips believers for ministry, it has a strong community, it has a clear and robust gospel-centered vision, it invests mercy locally, it emphasized and trains people for personal evangelism, and it is committed to multiplying healthy churches locally and globally. So, are there enough of those churches in any area, even the South? No. Nope. Nada. Uhuh. From Chapel Hill to Nashville, Birmingham to Jackson, Richmond to Memphis, more truly healthy churches are needed. By the way, when more heathy churches are planted in an area, two things happen in that community. The churches that have potential (Biblically faithful but not healthy yet) are stoked to life, and unhealthy churches (dysfunctional, theologically liberal, legalistic) are brought to a quicker end. Adding more churches only helps the true churches of that area. Everyone benefits.
3. Demographic argument: Even though the South tends to have more healthy churches than other parts of the country, most people in the South are not Christians and do not have a strong connection to a healthy church. In the Triangle, there are over a million people who do not know Christ. We could triple the amount of local churches and still not adequately reach these people. Different churches, while sharing the characteristics that make for health, can still be quite different in ethos. Different ethos attracts different people. The more churches that are contextual to a certain sub-group or demographic, the better.
4. This only helps a commitment to the nations argument: Churches that plant churches, as long as they are truly healthy, will be more committed to international church planting and ministry, not less. Multiplying churches are also better internally. There tends to be more growth as a local body. There are more resources to take care of internal needs. A multiplying church is robust and full of gospel energy. A lot of that energy (and finances) can be directed at the nations.
5. History proves the above arguments argument: The biggest thing going against those skeptical of this is history. In the last 25 years, as this vision of the church has taken off as a fact of Biblical obedience (not trendiness), the above four arguments have proven to be the case. Now, can church planting churches not be healthy? Of course, and history has shown that, but that is why I defined health not solely upon church-planting but also other indicators like godly leadership and Biblical fidelity.
Therefore, the South needs more healthy churches. But, so does the Northeast, West coast, Midwest, and the Rockies. So does Africa, South America, Europe, Asia, Australia, and Antarctica. Let us be committed to all of these. Let us not forget who lives across the street, not just across the oceans. Let us not forget that the church is the hope of the world.