Church Planters I draw my conclusions from my own personal observations of being a church planter and mentoring church planters.
When wanting to start a new church in a particular area it has been a common practice among many denominations and in particular my denomination (Southern Baptist) to look far and wide to find that perfect church planter. Many times these church planters are brought in from states different from the place where the new church is being planted. The group that is calling this new church planter then spends money relocating them, getting them set up, and providing start up equipment and this is in addition to the time and money that has already been spent searching for this new church planter.
In other words a huge financial expense has been invested and the expectations for success are enormous. Sadly to say, a large percentage of these church planters just don't pan out. They're on the field for a few years, three to five, and then they are heading back home, wherever that might be.
There are two major reasons why these relocated church planters have not panned out. The first is due to their outside financial support running out and the new church is not yet strong enough financially to support themselves. When starting a new church denominational leaders have an expectation that over a period of a few years the new church will be able to be financially self-supporting. This time period, ironically, is the same time period in which church planters usually leave to go back home, it is a three to five year period. What happens is that the church planter and his family are then faced with the decision to either look for another job in addition to pastoring the church or take the experience gained from starting the new church and going back home to pastor a more established church that is able to support them.
The second reason is more sociological than financial. There are many cultural differences throughout the North American landscape and taking a person/family from one culture and placing them in a different culture and still expecting them to thrive can be a tall order if they have not been adequately trained. What happens over time when the newness and romance of the new location and church wears off, is that the internal calling of "HOME" keeps getting louder and louder. Memories of family and cultural traditions keep tugging at the heart. Over time this tugging keeps getting stronger and stronger. Sometimes it's not even an internal calling but a real and physical calling of family members back home asking if they are planning to come home soon. Some people will say that the solution is to do an even better job of interviewing or to do a better job of preparing the church planting family for cross cultural ministry.
Most people are not spiritually gifted for cross-cultural ministry. Moving a church planter from one part of the United States to another, regardless if he is reaching out to people who are of the same ethnic group, he will encounter a huge cultural divide. The solution is not to tweak this ineffective strategy - the solution is to scrap it and establish a more effective and, I believe, Biblical one.
The rising new breed of church planters are those people who have been born and raised in, and are part of the targeted community. They are truly the absolute best candidates for being successful as a church planter. This is true for a few reasons:
- Indigenous Church Planters Don't Have To Exegete the Community They Are The Community. Indigenous church planters instinctively know what will work and what will fail. This hasn't been learned by books or studies. They understand it because they understand the values of the community intrinsically.
- Indigenous Church Planters Won't Get Homesick Because They Are Already Home. Indigenous church planters already have a network of family, friends and business associates well established. Family members won't be pulling on the emotional heartstrings because the family members only live a few miles away.
- Indigenous Church Planters Don't Need Financial Support Because God Has Already Provided That Support Within The Community. This rising new breed of church planters, for the most part, already have the financial support they need. For many, their spouses are the primary bread winners, or the church planter has another source of income, and some are able to work a full time job as well as start a church.
- Hire a few people with the spiritual giftedness for cross-cultural ministry to be, not church planters, but to be what the International Mission Board calls Strategy Coordinators. The Strategy Coordinators job would be to develop a strategy for raising up indigenous and ordinary Christians as church planters in their particular people group or geographical area.
- Create a discipleship/mentoring process for training these indigenous church planters.
- Unleash these church planters and try not to control them. Don't bottleneck the movement of God with a bunch unnecessary rules and regulations.
- Don't pay these indigenous church planters a salary. Since they are indigenous they have already established their financial resources.
- Do provide resources for culturally relevant evangelism/outreach and discipleship events and materials.