Maybe you are thinking, “Why do we need to start new churches? Aren’t there enough churches already out there?” As we scan the pages of Scripture and also our surrounding world, we see that the world is in desperate need of new churches. One of the major reasons for planting new churches finds its foundation in the narrative story of Scripture. The story of creation portrays the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as one who pursues reconciliation with His creation, and His chief instrument for conducting His mission of reconciliation is the person of Jesus Christ. As we study the life of Christ, we see that He was from the Father and that He focused on training others to carry out the mission of the Father. In His own words, Jesus proclaims, “As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world” (John 17:18). Being that Christ is the head of the church and the church is the body of Christ, church planting is our response to the sending commission of Jesus (Matthew 28:19–20).
Many Christians and churches teach and preach that missions are something we support or do, such as sending or supporting missionaries in other countries. This may have been the case twenty to thirty years ago, but in the 21st century, the mission field has come to us. North America is now a post-Christian part of the world where people simply don’t know the gospel anymore. Therefore, we are all called to be missional and share in the mission of God.
What does it mean to be missional? Executive Director of LifeWay Research, Ed Stetzer, conveys it this way, “Missional means actually doing mission right where you are. Missional means adopting the posture of a missionary, learning and adapting to the culture around you while remaining biblically sound” (Planting Missional Churches, 2006, p. 19). The missional heart of God is the basis for the Christian movement. God is a sending God who impels us to join Him in mission. Thus being missional isn’t about creating something from nothing. Rather, it is about joining a mission that has existed from the beginning of time.
While we see that church planting is joining in God’s narrative of history, we also know that church planting serves this mission through practical means. Roughly one-third of the people on the planet are still without a local church. The need for planting churches in global urban centers and among unreached peoples is growing daily because over two billion people who have never heard of Jesus now inhabit our planet. That equals 6,500 unreached people groups who are waiting to hear what God has done for them. Many of these lesser-reached peoples are from restricted-access countries and locations resistant to the Christian message. In order to reach these people, we must provide Christ-communities in which they can interact and grow spiritually as the body of Christ.
Yet as we speak of the global proportions of unreached persons, all we have to do is look in our own territory and we can see the epidemic. For those of us who live in North America and Europe, we see a growing number of people all around us who are radically unchurched or without knowledge of the basic principles of the Gospel. In the United States alone, there are 180 million who have no connection to a local church, making it the largest mission field in the Western Hemisphere and the third largest mission field on Earth. With over 337 languages, the United States has become the most multicultural and multilingual nation on earth. The challenge of reaching these people groups is a result of the growing diaspora of people from other nations who have come to North America. These men and women are often difficult to reach due to various language and ethnic boundaries. As we witness the globalization of North America, the nations on continents such as Africa, Asia, and South America are beginning to send missionaries to re-evangelize the West through church planting!
As we view the very culture that surrounds us, we are instantly confronted with examples of a global issue. In order to become a global church that engages local cultures, we must have cultural intelligence to understand our context. The changes of the postmodern world are real, but the church has been slow to address them. As a rule, the church has been one of the last institutions to acknowledge and engage contemporary thought and culture, and many churches have chosen to respond to the changes in our culture with apathy and denial. It’s no wonder that an estimated three to four thousand churches close every year. How will we reach these people with the gospel of Christ? Experts agree that culturally-relevant church planting is one of the most effective ways to reach unchurched people and make new disciples for Jesus Christ. Sometimes it is much harder for traditional churches to reach the unchurched. Therefore, there is an even greater need to plant churches that reach the unchurched for Jesus Christ.
If you are interested in learning more, we recommend reading Winfield’s book, Plant: A Sower’s Guide to Church Planting.