Created by Paul Bulter, an intern at Facebook
Recently, there have been an increasing number of people asking me, “How do we, as a church, decide which city or campus to plant a church in?”
I think in light of our 2020 Vision, we are trying to come up with some systematic way of implementing our desire to plant churches around the world. But one thing I have learned over the years is that strategies and a well devised “plan” can only go so far. Ultimately, as I look back into the church plants that we have participated in, there is simply no “one way” to do it. A good STRATEGY without God’s SPIRIT will always end up in SHAMBLES. But without any PREPARATION, things can easily be done without a clear PURPOSE.
This is why we are trying to find a good balance between allowing God’s Spirit to lead us, while at the same time doing our part in getting ready for the next step.
When it comes to allowing God’s Spirit to lead us, it is important that we are praying and listening to the Holy Spirit. There is definitely a spiritual element of discerning what God is doing around the world when it comes to church planting. Then, there is also a practical element of coming up with the possibilities of starting up a church in a particular area.
I have been trying to teach people in our church to take it from two different levels – one is from the individual level, and the other from the corporate level. Please keep in mind that this is all contextualized in the HMCC context.
On the individual level, I have communicated to people to remember the PLANT acronym:
1) P – Pray.
God often times uses prayer as an avenue to strengthen a conviction or lead us in a different direction. Therefore, before we either rule out the possibility of being part of a church plant or believe that God is calling us to do it, we need to pray. As we pray, God will give us His burden and will speak to us.
2) L – Learn. I have told people to learn as much as you can about the campus, city or country that God is placing in your heart. Without a proper knowledge of the city, we will never be able to make an accurate assessment of the feasibility of planting a church. Also, when we learn as much as we can about a particular place, it will just solidify more of our convictions.
3) A – Assess and Affirm. We have to keep in mind that having a community of believers who know us well and who can speak into our lives is a vital part of discovering God’s will for your life. You need to include your pastor or your leader in this process as well. Even though you might have a desire to participate in a church plant, if people who know you well are having a hard time affirming you, then it might be better to go back to the drawing board and continue to pray. When we have an honest assessment of ourselves, then we will fair so much better in the long run. It is usually better to find out areas of your life where you need to grow in and commit to in developing your character.
4) N – Network. As you pray and learn as much as you can about a particular city, and as people are able to assess and affirm your calling, then the next step is to network with other people – both, in your HMCC church as well as other HMCC sites. You will be amazed once you connect with other people who have the same burden or who want to go to the same city. We have to remember that we cannot do things alone. We need to find other people who are praying about the same particular city. It might be good to even meet up with them and start praying together. By networking, we are creating bonds of relationships that will allow us to partner together for Kingdom work.
5) T – Training. Once, many of these factors are considered, then we can start going through specific training in order to send you out. One of the best training grounds is the small group context. Our LIFE Group ministry is really like a mini-church plant. A lot of the things that are required in planting a church, you can experience in the process of doing community with others. Remember that the better trained you are, the more likelihood you will be ready to face some of the difficulties of church planting.
The PLANT principles are more on an individual basis when it comes to determining whether planting churches is something that God is calling you to do. But we also need to look at church planting from a corporate level, which entails not only your particular church site, but also all the HMCC churches.
In order to achieve our 2020 Vision, we have to see how all the pieces are coming together. Simply, we need to “connect the dots” so that everything that we do is tied in with our overall vision of transforming lives and transforming the world.
I will explain the corporate level of planting churches with the acronym SEEDS. It is important that rather than looking at SEEDS as a strategic model or program, we look at it as a process. This means that we have to be flexible, but yet focused.
Here are the five principles of the process:
1) S – See God’s Sovereignty.
It is imperative that we learn to see what God is doing in a particular location. Often, we try so hard to “force” things to happen. When we trust in our human wisdom, it always leads to manipulation and frustration. Rather than trying to make things happen, it is better to see how God is sovereignly bringing things together. In the past, God clearly opened up specific doors for us as a church by bringing people together without any direction or “help” from us. God has also brought sovereign circumstances together without our knowledge or our assistance, which opened up opportunities for us. When we know that it is something that God is doing, there is great confidence that He will carry us through.
2) E – Explore the possibility. As God is sovereignly bringing the pieces together, we must then take the responsibility to explore what the possibilities are for starting a church in that particular location. This is when some initial contact must be made in order to explore the various things that God is doing in that campus or city. A vision trip is helpful in order to assess and pray more specifically for God’s will to be revealed. As God’s Sovereignty and human responsibility come together, we will be able to see more clearly the direction God wants us to move towards as a church.
3) E – Establish the community. One crucial piece of the whole exploration process is to start establishing a community of people, who are willing to commit to the vision of starting a church. It is critical that we have some people in that city, as well as people from other HMCC churches, who are willing to sacrifice for the reality of the church plant. We have to remember that not all our church plants will start off right away as a “typical” church. We are open to initially starting a LIFE Group or even starting a house church with the established community. As the community is established, we will be able to make a better, informed decision on the possibility of planting the church.
4) D – Discern the sustainability. With the formation of the community of faith, we need to prayerfully discern if they are able to continue to live out the principles of Acts 2:42-47 in a sustainable way. There are four specific areas that will give a good indication of the sustainability of the community: maturity, ministry, multiplication, and missions. When a community of faith is growing in their relationship with Christ and their love for one another, then the community can be sustained. As the community is growing in maturity, it will naturally overflow to people doing ministry by serving one another and to the surrounding area. One factor that we want to carefully observe is the multiplication of disciples. If people are not reproducing themselves by evangelism and discipleship, then the community will be weakened and implode due to their self-centeredness. This is why the group’s heart for God’s mission has to be monitored. These markers will help gauge the realistic sustainability of the future church plant.
5) S – Start with quality. Too often, church plants are concerned with growth in the quantity of people that it is easy to compromise on the quality. We have to remember that Jesus never sought after the crowd but rather He focused on a few. It was through this intentional, focused investment that the Church was established after His death. When we start the church with a focus on quality, we will be able to build up a strong church. The quality has to permeate in our disciple-making, our witness, our LIFE Group community, our love for God and love for people. If we are faithful in developing quality Christ-followers, then the numbers will take care of itself.
Therefore, if we remember the acronym PLANT SEEDS, then we will have a pretty good idea of how to move forward in HMCC’s vision to plant churches in various campuses, cities, countries, and continents.
The most recent example of these principles being lived out is in Singapore. As the church was started in an unconventional way, we are seeing God do some extraordinary things in the lives of the people at HMCC of Singapore.
As we look forward into the future, we are seeing God sovereignly bring people together in different cities in the States, as well as in international cities around the world. With prayer and God’s grace over our lives, I am confident that we will be able to witness more churches being planted by the year 2020.
“’Well done, my good servant!’ his master replied. ‘Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities.’” (Lk 19:17)