Update: The year was 2010 and I was teaching a Church Planting class at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School when a bright student asked a very good question. This post was a result of that encounter.
I was asked a great question by a future church planter today. “How do you go about recruiting for a church plant?” Sometimes in casual conversation, we are not very precise or clear in our language. But this is a really good question despite the broad range of assumptions that might be behind it.
In a traditional model, attractional style church plant of a “church on the street corner,” (even if the street corner is a local elementary school), the approach is often to recruit or gather a Christian core/launch team that will be part of the workforce to plant the church and run the programs and ministries thought to be needed.
In a more “organic” model or house church, often a group of Christians gathers in a home for a Bible study or prayer time that by intention or gradual development becomes a house church.
Churches assembled by such a process in both cases are evangelistically challenged. They may believe the gospel. They may preach the gospel on Sunday mornings in their “services” but they have formed not around new believers and their nascent faith but around the felt needs of the already converted and their desire to grow spiritually and have a safe and comfortable place to worship.
Career missionaries have an easy way of determining whether new missionaries arriving on the field will “make it” or not for the long term. If in the first month, the new recruit bonds to the believing network surrounding the mission, they will be short term on the field. If on the other hand, they bond to the unbelieving culture and the needs of those who have not responded to Christ, they are much more likely to “make it” as effective missionaries.
Something similar happens when a church starts in the fashion described in the first three paragraphs above. When the new church, whether traditional or house church, forms around the needs of Christians rather than the mission of God (the missio dei) to seek and save the lost, to announce the Kingdom, to proclaim the gospel of grace, to declare the need for repentance from sin and faith in the risen Christ, it may grow but it won’t grow, generally, by making new disciples.
To make disciples the way Jesus and Paul and Peter and Phillip and the rest of the apostles and all of the apostolic legates of the New Testament made disciples you have to fish for men. You can’t just process fish that other people or churches have caught and process them for the King. We aren’t cooks for Christ; we are fisherman for Christ. At least we are supposed to be.
Tomorrow I will try to answer the good question my friend Frank Abt asked me.