Sooner or later most denominations will get the bug to start planting new churches, and that’s a good thing. But they’re about to make some costly mistakes. Let me tell you about one major mistake to avoid so that the brand-new church planting initiative has a fighting chance to survive and even gain momentum.
Denominations have enormous potential.
To begin, I applaud the direction. Most denominational groups are sleeping giants, with the human, spiritual, and financial capital to see new works launched well. Their potential to reach lost people with the Gospel is enormous. And if they can get a few new churches started successfully, the flywheel will turn. Stakeholders will be thrilled that God is using them. More resources will flow toward new church planting efforts, and a culture of church multiplication can emerge. Early wins leads to more and more wins. (Early losses brings the flywheel to a screeching halt. More about this in a forthcoming post.)
The map isn’t always your best friend.
The mistake to avoid is starting the first new churches in areas far away from supportive and healthy churches. It happens so often because leaders begin by looking at a map and saying, “We have a lot of our churches over here. So, let’s start our first church way over there. Our map will feel more complete when we have a dot over there.” In many ways it makes sense, but it can be risky. To many denominations which have historic rural roots, this often means that their first present-day church planting effort ends up being in an urban area, far from the actual supportive capacity which their fellowship of churches can truly offer. They need to steward these early opportunities wisely.
What we can learn from Wal-Mart:
Wal-Mart is the world’s largest retailer. In its earliest days founder Sam Walton made an important decision on franchising. Wal-Mart would do everything it could to only start new stores within an overnight’s drive from a distribution center. They never wanted their stores to be caught flat-footed. If they needed inventory or strategic help and support, it was available almost instantly. This led to a “stretch-and-fill” strategy. Rather than start a new store “way over there”, they would start them in communities at the outer-limits of the overnight’s drive, and then (over time) start stores in the communities in-between. Stretch as far as can be supported; then fill in-between.
Denominations seeking to enact a solid church multiplication strategy will be wise to seek early wins in places not too distant from churches that can be of help. Pile up the wins; then trust God for the far-away places, too.