why church planting

originally posted in the PCA News web magazine (06/06/2001), now called byFaith web magazine - this was a comment by Tim Keller 06/06/2001 in a PCA News web magazine discussion thread

A Renewed Commitment to Church Planting and Revitalization: It's True and Not an Insult

Tim Keller


I'd like to defend Jim Bland's asserting that "New churches reach more people with the gospel than do established churches." I think Santo Garofolo's reaction is normal and understandable. He does not question that this is an accurate statement. But he wonders whether to make the assertion is not somwhat insulting and discouraging. "It sounds like MNA is giving up on established congregations."

But we shouldn't be insulted by this fact. We should say it and acknowledge it and embrace it. Why?

1) First, it is true. It is a simple fact that new congregations in general will always reach unchurched and non-Christian people more effectively than longer-established churches in general. My church (Redeemer)is now 12 years old, and I can see the change already. Though we continue to be very effective in evangelism, we don't reach people at the same "rate" we did in the first three years of our church's life. There are many reasons that new churches are simply more open and easy to enter and flexible and focused on evangelism than older churches, but we can't go into that here.

2) Second, the Presbyterian doctrine of the church makes it easier to embrace the idea that the newer churches will usually be the main evangelistic channels for a city or Presbytery. Presbyterians don't see the individual congregation as being the whole church standing on its own, but rather sees all the connected congregations in the whole region as "the church." If that is the case, different congregations will have different gift-mixes. Just as in a local congregation you may have some ministers and laypeople who 'specialize' in outreach, so in a presbytery you will have some congregations that excel in outreach. In general, it will be the newer churches that will be the 'evangelistic' department for the whole presbytery.

3) Third, church planting is therefore the main way for a Presbytery or a regional body of churches to be sure they are winning new people into their communion from their city. In any city or Presbytery it will be the newer churches that will be the main evangelistic channels bringing people in. If you 20% of your congregations are always under 10 years old, your overall body will be growing and bringing new people to Christ. If few or none of your congregations are new, your overall body will probably be shrinking. Church planting is the single most strategic way to be sure to expand the kingdom.

4) Fourth, this in no way at all gets existing churches "off the hook" to do evangelism. Indeed, this fact proves that existing churches have more work to do to be outreaching, not less. It doesn't come as "naturally' as it does for church plants, and so they need to hold themselves accountable to be in mission. Evangelism is not an option for any congregation--it is a command, no matter what their 'gift mix'.

5) Fifth, one of the best ways to revitalize the existing congregations in a city or region is to have a lot of newer congregations around. Newer congregations tend to be more willing to try new things and are better pioneers of new ways of doing outreach which then the existing congregations from learn from. They function as the "R and D" department of a region.

These are some reasons why we should not be put off by the fact that our newest churches will always be the 'evangelistic' edge of our denomination and presbyteries, and why we must always be planting a very large number of new churches each year.