2. Values and distinctives of church planting
Values and distinctives of high impact church planting in European Societies
By many accounts the spiritual landscape of Europe today is dismal. Imposing cathedrals, once filled with vibrant spirituality, now echo with the muffled whispers of tourists. Churches that had been open for business for literally hundreds of years are closing their doors damned by low attendance and high up-keep. Powerful preaching, saturated with personal conviction and biblical truth, has given way to humanistic, environmental, and philosophical rhetoric. Half of German church-goers are over the age of 65. Is it any wonder that younger generations deem Christianity insignificant and irrelevant?
Nevertheless, religious affinities are alive and well. Mosques are increasingly becoming a common place sight in European cities. They are swarming with the bustle of robed Islamic men and women, oblivious to the neo-pagan culture around them and impervious to its values. Buddhism has captured the attention of many caught in the throes of life’s stress and apparent meaninglessness. The old Germanic gods who predated Christianity are being dusted off and embraced anew. Were Boniface to cut down the towering oak today, he might be denounced as demeaning to „brother tree“, who shares life with us all.
Perceptible is the underground feeling of Angst in people’s hearts. They feel helpless: being inundated by too much information hurled at them, much of it useless in daily living. Families are dysfunctional and disjointed. The energy and the patience it takes to invest in vibrant relationships full of mutual benefit is just not there. Thus relationships are serial in nature: breaking apart when demands become too great and a new person too appealing.
Europeans need a hearty, vital, and attractive gospel witness. They need communities of loving followers of Jesus Christ who live out their devotion for God and one another before a watching and hurting society. The hope of Europe is the growth of thousands of new vibrant churches.
North American missionaries have been at the forefront of establishing new churches in Europe. Although efforts have been valiant, too often they have cost many years of slow growth, low impact, high frustration, and minimal reproduction. There needs to be a change in the way church planting is carried out in postmodern Europe.
The following ten distinctives represent a growing conviction of mine, meted out in four church plants in Germany over seventeen years. Collectively they represent a spirit of church planting in Europe for the future. While faithfulness is the starting point, it will not be sufficient anymore to merely be faithful with little fruit. Faithfulness resulting in effectiveness is what is needed. Nothing else will get the job done. But just what are the standards from which we need to measure effectiveness? The following distinctives serve as a measurement.
1. Create an image of ministry that is greater than present reality.
Or: “You have no second chance to make a first good impression”
Most of our European church plants are conducted on the basis of the size of the church planting team. The size of the group often unknowingly lends itself to the kind of strategy employed to begin the work. A small core group banks on its own resources and therefore traditionally undertakes small evangelistic forays into the target area such as friendship evangelism, book tables, literature distribution, survey work, door-to-door visitation. In time a home Bible study is generated and services are held in the largest living room available.
Looking beneath the surface, what is really happening?
- Outsiders perceive the new work as cultish (they meet in private homes and aren’t part of the State Church), irrelevant (they lack visibility and clout), and suspicious (they are afraid of what these people espouse and what they might expect of others).
- The core group has it´s own phobias and struggles with identity. Those team members lacking robust personalities and a great sense of God’s calling can quickly loose heart and pack up and leave. A ghetto mentality can easily set in: “It’s us against them!”
- Cultural shyness about being foreigners and not speaking the language perfectly can inhibit church planters from asserting themselves. In an attempt to legitimize their presence, missionaries therefore undertake efforts that are low risk, safe, and won’t cause great loss of face.
A change is needed:
Our beginning stages of church plants in Europe need to create an image of a ministry that is greater than present reality. This is not dishonest. It is an exercise of faith in God’s desire to bless. Church starts therefore need to be high-impact by being highly visible, relevant, and accessible to the target audience. The way we present ourselves and our ministries will convey an impression that will either garner suspicion or curiosity in the minds of nationals. The latter is what we want.
Examples from Kaiserslautern (KL):
In August of 1998 we moved to KL as a family along with two single Germans. We had no contacts. We pegged the start of public services to mid March, 1999, thereby allowing us six months to prepare. Our goal was not to be overlooked by anyone in this city of 100,000 people.
What did we undertake in those first six months that was to give us maximum visibility? A call to the local newspaper resulted in a significant article with my picture about the new church start. Six people from the community called us to find out more as a result. These eventually came to a vision night. I visited the chief mayor, deputy mayor and the Lutheran superintendent. We surveyed 500 people and as a result had 200 addresses for future mailings. Radio, newspaper, and video board advertisements were also part of our initial thrust. A black Gospel choir from Boston made up of 23 members came over at their own expense to aid us. They sang on the street and on four successive evenings in a public hall. A German evangelist preached each evening. An average of 100 adults were present. Our first service was held two days later in a downtown movie theater. We had 164 adults present. One young man committed his life to Christ afterwards. We moved out of the cinema after two and a half years there and are now in a former cafeteria building, with lots of parking, in high visibility, on a major street, with a big sign out in front.
2. Diversify evangelism venues
Or: “He who sows bountifully, will also reap bountifully”
Most of us no longer frequent one store for all of our shopping needs. Our grandparents never did otherwise. Businesses know that consumers are horrendously fickle and disloyal. Price, service, selection, and quality are keys to securing and retaining customers.
Why is it then that we would assume that these same consumers would think otherwise when deciding whether or not to participate in an evangelical church? Yet, frequently missionaries have offered their community one-item-evangelism (e.g. personal evangelism or tent campaign or evangelistic sermons or tract distribution). The sowing was limited, and so was the response.
Concern for the lost behooves us to creatively diversify our evangelistic efforts in order that by all means we might win more people for Christ and His kingdom. The greater the evangelistic inroads into the community, the greater harvest potential there is.
Points to ponder:
- Easy access
Barriers between the people we are trying to reach and ourselves must be overcome as much as possible. Accessibility is a key issue. The time of our worship services must be amicable to the sleep habits of our target audience. The place of meeting must not only be central, it must feel comfortable for non-Christians to enter. The order of service must be easy to follow with no hidden cues for the initiated. Consider the uneasiness with which we would visit a service at a buddhist temple, a Mormon church, or a Greek Othodox church. That is the feeling that many people have when they attend one of our services.
- Felt needs
Although the content of our message will be the same, the packaging must be variously attractive. A business man may well have different concerns and interests than those of the house wife, the single in her thirties, the teenager, or the young married couple. There are ways of discovering felt needs such as personal conversation with non-Christians, survey work, demographic and psychographic studies, reading current trends in magazines and newspapers.
- Relational ties
The more believers non-Christians get to know, the greater the chances that they will stay around and eventually become believers themselves. Community is a significant factor. Love, acceptance, fun, and caring can work like magnets on the hearts of people that are starving for these seminal qualities of Christian community. Consultant, author, and pastor Kennon Callahan states: “Increasingly, unchurched people will be drawn to churches that care. High-compassion, high-community congregations will thrive in the coming years” (Leadership Journal, Fall 1999, p. 32). The question that non-Christians are asking when they attend one of our functions is this: “Are these people credible?”. Only after they have answered this question in the affirmative, will they open themselves up for the message of the community. As Ralph Neighbor so aptly states, people have to hear the Gospel before they will listen to it, just as we first hear the music before we hear the words to a song on the radio.
- Time factor
Norton and Engels have convincingly shown us that evangelism is a process. In order for people to come to the point of making a whole-hearted decision for Jesus Christ, they must be given the gift of time: freedom to hear the Christian message, process it, ask questions and evaluate its implications for their lives.
- In-house resourcing
Evangelistic diversification can spring forth out of the expertise, knowledge, experience and ability of our own people. Often our people have resources that are attractive to non-Christians. Why not harness these for the Gospel? For example, a pediatric nurse in the congregation might offer a series of evenings on the topic of caring for new-borns. The target audience would of course be young, expectant, first-time parents. The hobby magician might hold a seminar on magic tricks and end it with his testimony using his illusions. A tax expert might devote an evening to interesting tax issues.
Examples from KL:
Before beginning with public meetings we surveyed five hundred people in the community. Among other questions, we asked them what time they got up on Sunday mornings. Their answers helped us plan our worship time for 11:00 o’clock. Some of the people in their late teens and early twenties said that they didn’t go to bed at all on Saturday night. For them an attractive time would be something like 6:00 o’clock on a Friday evening. That way they could still party the night away.
I the past our most fruitful evangelism tool was a six week Chr. 101 course for non-Christians offered two or three times a year. We have, however, discarded this in favour of an Alpha course. We also offered seminars in hotels put on by Christian business people on topics that are relevant to the business community, but with no lasting fruit. In the future we would like to invite atheists to a discussion group to a hotel and buy them a fine dinner. We want to learn about them by asking them what turned them off to Christianity, how they became atheists, what their values. We believe that Black Gospel singers and music is a culturally relevant way of getting to Germans.
3. Spare almost nothing to provide quality and excellence
Or: “People expect quality from the business community but not from the church, therefore surprise them!”
Robert E. Quinn in his book Deep Change writes the following: “If you perform beyond the norms, you disrupt all the existing control systems. Those systems will then alter and begin to work to routinize your efforts. That is, the systems will adjust and try to make you normal. The way to achieve and maintain excellence is to deviate from the norm. You become excellent because you are doing things normal people do not want to do. You become excellent by choosing a path that is risky and painful, a path that is not appealing to others” (p. 176).
The design, building, and maintenance of both tabernacle and temple are indications that God places a premium on quality. Quality and excellence convey to people that we care about them and are serious about who we are and what we propagate. Whereas excellence can never substitute for the dynamics of Christian community, it can however give voice to its innate values. Living for Christ entails giving Him the best of who we are and the best of what we can offer.
Several cautions must be made though. Quality does not necessarily mean expensive. Quality and excellence have more to do with the way people do things than with the things with which they do. Even where funds are plentiful, quality goods do not guarantee quality of implementation. Excellence is hard work. Looking at existing ministries working well and trying to make them run better is demanding. “Let good enough alone” is not part of the mind set of excellence. Often the good and the satisfactory can keep us from the better and the best.
Examples from KL:
Even before we had our first service, we had a graphics artist design three different brochures (introduction and overview of the new church, values, Chr. 101 course). Our services are all done with Power Point and projected onto a large screen by an LCD projector. First time visitors receive a welcome packet. Regularly the sermon topics for the next two to three months are printed up in a handbill and given to our people as well as mailed to over 150 business people on our mailing list. Tapes of each message are available for a reasonable price at the close of our services. A large and well-stocked book table is also on display each Sunday. An excellent sound and lighting system is meticulously set up and taken down each week. Our homepage is connected to that of the city of Kaiserslautern as well as to the homepage of the German Evangelical Free Church.
4. Prayer and fasting open closed doors
Or: “Hidden sacrifices secure public victories”
I am impressed with the now-ness of the Gospel. Although the kingdom of God is future, the kingdom of God is also present, because Jesus is with us by His Spirit. “Realized eschatology“ is what we call it when God´s rule breaks into our present world. Prayer and fasting are the means by which God secures His victory.
The New Testament church prayed and fasted, and God worked as a result (Acts 13:2; 14:23). Though it is not attested in the best manuscripts, the passage in Matthew 17:20 where Jesus tells his disciples that this particular kind of demon possession is only cast out through prayer and fasting, seems to validate early church practice and confidence.
Example from KL:
I am often ashamed at my lack of time spent in prayer and lack of intensity in prayer to believe. It is ironic though, that long intense prayer once finished has never left regret in my heart. The Lord said that he had come to destroy the works of the devil (1 Joh 3:8). Europe is most certainly one of the devils strongest citadels. Only believing prayer and humble fasting will bring down his ramparts.
5. Create your future by setting challenging reachable goals
Or: “The most important step is not the next one, it’s the one after that”.
“Paying the rent”: doing the normal, correct and expected things in ministry is not enough in a church planting setting. Unfortunately, many missionaries seem to think that it is. They think that if they just prepare and perform the expected functions of preaching, leading Bible studies, counseling, visitation, evangelism, then God will bless and the work will grow. He may, but he may well want to bless more if more were wagered. Often church planters in Europe have been more reactive than proactive. They have been faithful without being future-oriented and strategic in their actions.
“Goals are not ends, but ideal processes by which the future can be created” states Warren Bennis. To create the future – that grabs me! Church planters need to be dreamers of what could be. They need to dream God’s dreams for His church and see what no one else can yet perceive. “Without a vision the people perish” (Pr. 29:18). Hudson Taylor stated it succinctly: “Expect great things from God, untertake great things for God, experience great things with God”. Perhaps our expectations of what God can do and our dreams of how He might bless are too small.
From a set vision are derived reachable goals. Breaking down the vision into manageable segments is the path to seeing vision become reality. Often our goal-setting is too short-sighted. We might plan to take the next step, when we really need to be going beyond that and planning the step after that. If we plan for evangelism, discipleship strategy must also be in place. If we want small group leaders to come up through the ranks, then we need to find co-leaders.
Example from KL:
In my junior year at Columbia Bible College God gave me a vision for planting churches in Germany. He also gave me a numerical goal: five churches during my ministry. “Five to grow before I go” became my motto. I also knew that I wanted to establish these churches in partnership with an existing evangelical denomination and thereby gain credibility and preserve fruit. We are currently on our fourth church plant. The other three churches are all in the hands of German leadership and all integrated into the German Evangelical Free Church. One fellowship has already birthed a daughter.
Going into this most recent church plant God upped the stakes. Taking the grace of God into consideration along with another ten years of living, I knew that I could reach my life’s goal by my late forties. I then began to consider the kinds of visions God gave his leaders. I came to the conclusion that they were always above and beyond each person’s means and capacities. Abraham was in no shape to generate a great nation. Moses was alone, isolated, lacking resources and a following when God called him to lead two million people into freedom. David did not have the credentials to become king. Peter was more shifting sand than a rock upon which to build God’s new enterprise the Church. I then realized that to plant another church and then another wasn’t a high enough vision anymore. It was in line with my means and my capacities. That’s when the Lord challenged me to dream about planting multiple churches. Now that’s gotten under my skin! We need a church planting movement of multiplication in Germany, not just of addition. Thus, for the first time, we hope to see multiple churches birthed in Kaiserslautern.
How will we go about that? Two different avenues are possible. One idea is to periodically group our cell groups into clusters. Each cluster would plan, prepare, execute its own worship service in different locations on the same Sunday. We plan to ebb and flow between centralization and decentralization until the clusters are confident and stable enough to carry on by themselves.
Another way of birthing a second congregation is the establishment of a Saturday evening service in another location. This would be identical with the Sunday morning service. With the added option of another service we hope that certain definable constellations of attenders will become evident. Each group would then begin to take on its own character and identity. In time the Saturday evening service will be the seedbed for a wholly autonomous church.
Each year I set new goals for our church. In a member’s meeting we go over these goals and pray for them. Among other things a goal of mine was to personally visit 500 business people in their place of employment. I have made 400 visits to date. Each business person receives a brochure, topics of up-coming sermons, a copy of a newspaper article written about us, and a coffee mug with coffee in it. Names of positive respondees are placed in a data base from which we send out periodic mailings.
6. Enlarging the leadership base will lead the way to greater quantitative and qualitative growth
Or: “If you want height and depth, then expand your width“.
The key to qualitative and numerical growth is not programs or activities, it is leadership development. The narrower our leadership base, the less growth potential. The opposite is also true: the wider our leadership base, the higher the growth potential.
The church planter must therefore constantly be on the look-out for potential leaders. His job is to spot them, give them a vision of how a certain ministry fits into the totality of church planting, equip them as they serve, encourage and correct.
A church planter will ask himself the following questions: What am I doing that someone else can do? What is keeping me from spending more time on developing leaders? Who are those leaders that are sitting in the second row as untapped potential? What do my current leaders need to become more effective and to train up new leaders themselves? Who has strengths where I am weak that I need to compliment me?
The danger is that the missionary will do too much too long himself. In his flurry of activity he thus succeeds in actually hampering the very growth that he is working so hard to attain.
Example from KL:
I must confess that delegation is one of my greatest challenges. Personally it takes a great amount of energy to get my attention off of what I am doing and concentrate solely on the ministry and development of another. But I can’t afford not to do it.
We have made it a priority to coach all of our workers. The childrens’ workers are coached by a woman who heads up that ministry. The head of sound and lighting coaches his workers. I am responsible to coach the small group leaders and those moderating the worship services. Currently we have hired a one of our members, a jobless musician, be do a one year internship with us. We want to train non-theologically trained people, who are members of our church, for pastoral and church planting ministry.
- 7. Grow big, but remain small
Or: “Great churches have great community”
We find many admonitions in the New Testament about caring for people.
- „Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers“ (Acts 20:28).
- „They (leaders) keep watch over you as men who must give an account“
- „Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers“
(1 Pet 5:2)
- „Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God“ (Ro 15:7).
The kind of community that the New Testament describes is face-to-face interaction that is heart-to-heart. By its very nature it thrives in the smaller setting. The early churches met this need by assemblying in multiple small groups in homes throughout their respective cities. Nurture, pastoral care, counseling, confrontation, encouragement were primarily done in the small group setting.
A key, therefore, to a healthy, growing church is a growing system of small groups with dedicated, loving leadership. As Carl George has repeatedly pointed out, the core of effectiveness in this ministry is not the leader, it is the co-leader. For it is the co-leader, properly trained, that meets the need for new leadership after a group has divided. Dividing the current worship attendance by fifteen represents the number of small groups of which a church needs.
Examples from KL:
Currently we have five small groups with a total of about sixty people attending them. These are open small groups with new people coming to them frequently. Some of these groups are open fellowship groups, others are closed discipleship groups (Navigator´s 2:7), one is a Beta course.
- 8. Difficult people disciple congregations
Or: “Poor qualities in people bring out the best in healthy congregations”
In every church setting God intentionally places less-than-amicable people. Quite often they are people who have been victimized by other people. Unknowingly, their pain spills out into the lives of others in the church. This can take on many forms of adverse behavior and attitude: slander, bitterness, envy, impatience, self-centeredness, anger, self-pity. Instinctively, such people cause us to recoil and we wish to avert ourselves from them. Passive neglect often results. This is, however, a mark of lovelessness.
God disciples His churches to health by gifting them with people with character flaws. They are the means through which God teaches what it means for a body to love. For love is never learned in loving the lovely. It is always in loving the unlovely that love grows in Christlikeness. In a postmodern society it will be the churches with the most love to give that will be the most attractive to non-rationalistic seekers.
Examples from KL:
A healthy church, loving and open to the hurts of others, is God’s best medicine for the wounded. The unattractive ones are God’s hidden opportunities for an entire congregation to learn to love. If we neglect reaching out to the unfriendly in our midst, we might miss out on one of God’s greatest means of discipleship.
Caution: One of the most frequent mistakes early on in church planting is to go after anyone who shows interest. Extra grace needed people seem to show up in disproportionate quantities. Too many of these people will, however, keep psychologically healthy non-Christians at bay.
- 9. Anticipate growth barriers and induce birth pains
Or: “The impetus for current growth can be the blockage for future growth”
A church start has it’s own attractiveness to newcomers. It is usually small, personable, friendly, and feels like a family. These will be the very reasons why people decide to stay with a small church. The average church size in the States is 70-75 attenders. In Europe many churches struggle to get beyond thirty or forty people. One reason for this phenomenon is that the atmosphere of a church changes as it grows bigger. After a certain size (smaller in Europe than in the States), fifty to sixty in Germany, growth stagnates or even declines. Those that were once happily committed to the family-size church don’t feel at home any more. The influx of new people has made things increasingly impersonal, distant, uncomfortable. As a result, some begin to stay away or look for other fellowships. The very reason for initial growth becomes the brake for further growth.
How to cope with growth barriers? Realize that they are healthy and good. Anticipate them. Educate the church people by telling them what they will begin to sense and to feel as they bump up against the edges of the family size fellowship. Tell them that it’s normal to feel that way. At this point instil in them a renewed vision and concern for the lost. Out of concern for the lost, we must open ourselves up to dissonance and the discomfort that change brings with it. Telling the stories of new people that have found their way into the church or to Christ can also help the old guard make the emotional switch.
Example from KL:
Currently, with 100-110 adults in attendance we have surpassed the family-size barrier. I’m emphasizing the importance of small group participation as a place in which the family feel will still be prevalent.
- 10. Work toward initiating a church planting movement
Or: “We need to move from church planting by addition to church planting by multiplication”
A church planting movement is exponential growth versus the incremental growth of church planting by addition. Often the church planter has seen exponential growth on the level of small groups. He therefore needs to raise his sights to believe God for such progress on a church level. This must be intentional from the start in order for it to be part of strategic planning throughout the process.
Example from KL:
Early on we communicated to interested people that we were planning to start multiple churches in our city. Throughout our short history we have reiterated this value. In the first three years of our history we have had three German interns working with us. In September we launched our first daughter church in the nearby city of Ramstein.
If we want to know what it’s like to walk on the water then we must get out of the boat (Matt 14:29)! The needs in Europe are cathedral-like. Our resources in planting multiple churches are often limited. We ourselves as church planters often feel a great sense of inadequacy. Yet the task is essentially one of risk. It is the risk of faith: trusting God to go before, to go with, and to supply all along the way. Each of us only has one life that is ours to invest in a great cause. There is no greater motivation for risk-taking than the motivation of the greatest of all causes: to see the Lord raise up multiple churches through our efforts in Europe. The dividends of such a venture are payed out long after we’ve gone. The joy in heaven and in our hearts is great. The company of thankful throngs praising Christ the Saviour is an incomparable delight – forever and ever.