How Can An Established Church Start Planting Churches?

How can an established church that has never participated in church planting become a church that plants churches? Many churches aren’t sure where to even begin this journey. Some churches impulsively dive right into church planting by sending out one of their own to plant a new church. This method usually involves investing a significant amount of resources into the planter and rallying behind him. Unfortunately, impulsively diving into church planting can have devastating long term effects for an established church if the planter is ill-equipped for such an undertaking. This can often lead to the established church feeling disillusioned about church planting for several years. 

In our opinion, there are wiser and more prudent ways for becoming a church that plants churches. This transition takes time, so don’t be in a hurry. Below are nine potential steps over the next 6+ years that your church should consider with this transition in mind. However, keep in mind that these steps aren’t meant to be rigidly followed because the Holy Spirit may have a slightly different path for your church to develop into a church that plants churches.  

Year 1

Step #1: Educate Yourself About Church Planting 

The first step is to educate yourself about church planting. What books, articles, blogs, or podcasts do you need to read or listen to? Who are some church planting experts in your area who you can ask questions for a couple hours? What is the history of church planting in your area? What kind of research is necessary to find out why church planting has succeeded or failed in your area? What type of philosophy of church planting is necessary for success in your area? What types of people do you need to talk to in order to learn more about this?  

It’s easy to get lost in the weeds when it comes to learning about church planting but here are a few key resources to start learning more:  

Why Plant Churches? - by Timothy Keller

This is a short six page article and it’s probably one the best and most concise explanations for the priority of church planting that you’ll ever read. You can read it by clicking here.  

Five Reasons Established Churches Should Plant Churches - by Ed Stetzer

This is a short but extremely helpful blog post by Ed Stetzer who is an experienced church planter and missiologist for the Southern Baptist Convention. Stetzer is one of the most well regarded thinkers and practitioners in the world when it comes to the topic of church planting.

Parent Church Landmines - by Tom Nebel and Ben Ingebretstrom

This book is 120 pages and it’s packed with practical insight and advice about how to become a church that plants churches without sacrificing church health. Tom Nebel is one of the leaders in Converge and he’s a seasoned ministry practitioner from the state of Wisconsin. You can find it here on Amazon.   

Small Town Jesus - by Donnie Griggs

If you are wanting to plant churches in small towns then this is the book for you. There are hardly any books on the market that are written about planting churches in small towns and rural communities. This book is 170 pages and it will definitely be worth your time. You can find it here on Amazon.

Gaining by Losing - by JD Greer

This book is 250 pages and winsomely dives into the principle of why sending leaders to plant churches is a healthy and sustainable model for making disciples and multiplying healthy churches. You can find it here on Amazon.

Center Church - by Timothy Keller

If you want to plant churches in an urban environment such as Milwaukee, Chicago, or Minneapolis then this book should be something you should consider reading. It’s pretty extensive but its principles are incredibly insightful and worth your time. You can find it here on Keller's personal website.

Step #2: Educate Your Elders and Missions Team about Church Planting  

The second step is to educate your elders and missions team about church planting. The missions budget is often the most hotly debated and contentious part of a church’s budget and elders aren't overflowing with spare time. Some elders can certainly be single issue voters, but most are very humble and teachable. Along those lines, certain missionaries and ministries often have strong advocates for them in the church’s body. Wise and seasoned pastors know to tread lightly in these political mine fields, but the bottom line is that navigating these types of thorny politics is something you need to do if you want your church to become a church that plants churches. 

When educating the elders and the missions team, you should expect this to take several meetings over the course of weeks, if not months. Let them read the articles and books that you’ve been reading as well as the sermons and podcasts that you’ve found helpful about the topic of church planting. Better yet, here's a simple plan for educating your elders, staff, or missions team about planting. 

Step #3: Educate Your Church About Church Planting 

After making the time to educate yourself, the elders, and the missions team, the next step is to educate the wider church body about church planting. Here are a few ideas: preach through the book of Acts with a specific focus on the strategic value of planting churches, leverage your vision banquet to talk about the value and biblical mandate of planting churches, bring in domestic church planters to be guest preachers and for them to share their experiences in planting, show video testimonies about church plants happening in the Forest Lakes District, include prayer requests in your bulletin and email announcements from church planters in the Forest Lakes District, have applications from your preaching directly pertain to church planting a couple times per month. How is God calling you to educate your church body about church planting?

Years 2-5

Step #4: Model Principles of Church Planting in Your Existing Ministries

The next step is to model the basic principles of church planting in your existing church ministries. If you’ve made the time educate yourself about church planting then you know that the basic principles of church planting are making disciples, training leaders, and sending them out to multiply. For your church to see and understand the value of church planting principles, we would suggest talking with your elders about what it means to incorporate these principles into the life of your existing church ministries. Do you have a disciple-making process in your church? How do you intentionally develop leaders? Are these leaders encouraged to be sent out to multiply themselves in the form of new small groups, new disciple-making relationships, and new ministries? If your church can see that these principles at work in their church, they are more likely to see that church planting is a worthwhile investment.  

Step #5: Allocate a Percentage of Your Budget for Church Planting 

The next step is to allocate a percentage of your annual budget for church planting. Good ideas often don’t get significant pushback until money becomes involved. If you have gently, winsomely, and persistently followed the previous steps you’ll probably lessen the pushback you'll receive when you actually start allocating part of your budget towards church planting. What percentage of your budget will be allocated towards church planting? Will it be an overall percentage off the top of your giving or will it be a line item in your missions budget? Whatever you decide, keep in mind that there is no such thing as a “church that plants churches” that doesn’t allocate a generous amount of financial resources for church planting. 

Step #6: Partner With Like-minded Churches to Support Church Planting

This step isn’t for everyone but we would suggest at partnering with other like-minded churches to do together what you probably can’t do individually, namely to collaboratively support a church planting endeavor. This could include a few churches in your area that collaborate to fully fund a church planter or partnering with the Forest Lakes District to support a specific church plant in the state. Think of this as a church planting mutual fund. Rather than trying to fund a church planter by yourself, look to partner with other churches in doing it.  

Step #7: Adopt and Support an Existing Church Planter

Alongside step #6, we would also recommend that you adopt and build a relationship with an existing church planter. Here are some possible ways to do this: Choose a church planter to get behind, offer financial support to that planter, build a relationship with the church planter you have chosen, look for ways to bless the church planter and his family, allow the church planter to preach a couple of times per year, and keep the church plant in front of your church as a part of your missions commitment to them. 

However, keep in mind that if your church doesn’t have a history of planting churches then it’s important to carefully select the first church planter you adopt. That’s because if the first planter, or plant, goes sideways then it will probably take an incredible act by the Holy Spirit for your church to forget that failure. You can’t afford to lose momentum so make sure that the risk factors for your first adoption are pretty low. 

Year 6 and Beyond

Step #8: Create a Church Planting Residency For a Future Church Planter

If you’ve seen God bless your efforts in the previous seven steps, the next step you should consider is creating a church planting residency for a future church planter that you will eventually send out. If this is something you are considering you should consult with the Forest Lakes District because we would definitely be willing to coach you through this process. Generally, a church planting residency is a 12-18 month per period where a planter is prepared and then sent out by your church. This may be a person from inside your congregation or someone you bring in from the outside. However, if the idea of a “church planting residency” is too big and intimidating for your church, consider starting some version of a leader development program that will potentially lead to developing leaders in your church who might eventually be sent out to plant. If this is something you are interested in, the Forest Lakes District would love to consult about this as well. 

Step #9: Hire Staff With the Aim of Sending Them Out to Plant After 3-5 years

The next step you should consider is hiring staff with the purposeful aim of sending them out to plant after 3-5 years. This could be almost anyone on your staff but let’s specifically consider the position of youth pastor because, after all, many of us have a youth pastor on staff. Twenty years ago the standard on-ramp to vocational ministry was becoming a youth pastor but that doesn’t happen as often today. That’s because an increasing amount of young leaders are looking to plant churches rather than do youth ministry. Therefore, if we want our church to plant churches, perhaps it's time to rethink the youth pastor position. 

The first way that we should consider rethinking the youth pastor position is, generally, to stop expecting our youth pastor to stay for more than 4-5 years. Most youth pastors don’t stay longer than that. Of course we want them to stay longer and we all know a few that stay 15 years, but these are typically outliers that buck the trend. Let’s be realistic and acknowledge that five good years with a youth pastor is a win for a church. Consider looking at your youth pastor both as a gift to your church but also as a ministry leader who needs to be developed in order to spend a lifetime in ministry. 

Furthermore, you should consider recruiting a youth pastor who you intend to send out as a church planter. In our opinion, there is no better training program for planting a church than being a youth pastor for five years. A youth ministry is a smaller version of church. Youth pastors do many things: speak to a difficult audience, administrate, lead a staff, lead outreach, create discipleship processes, get criticized, plan events, build worship teams, train leaders, lead small groups, start new things, succeed, fail, and experience most of the joys and pains of vocational ministry. Imagine casting a vision to a young leader to commit to five years of serving your church in youth ministry, being developed during this time, and then being sent out into church planting (or whatever God has for him next). These five years will truly show him what he is gifted to do. I suspect that you will have a lot more leaders interested in being a youth pastor if they see an intentional five-year plan to develop, train, and send them out into church planting. 

Lastly, many of us should probably stop asking our staff to die alongside us. Longevity sounds romantic but the reality is that not many leaders spend their entire lives on the same church staff. Our suggestion is to aim at developing the leaders that you have while you have them. Be willing to send staff people out on good terms. When they are ready to go, send them out willingly. A church that is recruiting, training, developing, and sending out leaders is very attractive to young leaders.