When church planting is not part of the ongoing evangelism, missions, and leader training culture of an existing church, the prospect of planting a new church gives rise to various criticisms and concerns, not least of which includes a suspicion of the planters’ motives.
Without the outward-oriented compass provided by consistent church planting, a congregation tends toward seeing itself as existing merely for itself. This tendency manifests itself long before the rebellious upstarts threaten (sorry…propose) to plant a new church. Fundraisers tout the benefit of new buildings dedicated to “community use,” but actual practice regulates and restricts non-members right out of them; Sunday school class members stop attending, but no one shows concern because they obviously don’t want to be there; and even ostensibly outward-oriented projects and ministries morph into self-congratulatory bulletin board opportunities.
Not all churches suffer these symptoms, of course, but they are likely the exception to the rule.
One problem associated with the non-planting, inward-focused, leader-thin congregation is that the idea of members leaving to plant a new church is seen as nothing short of ecclesiological treason. Especially when potential planters are considered “prime” members, their leaving to start a new church (read “competition”) is viewed as a betrayal of loyalty. Rather than being seen as an expansion of kingdom work, the new plant is seen as a drain on leadership, resources (i.e., budget support), and spiritual creativity.
Ironically, one factor frequently contributing to the desire of planters to venture out from their parent church is that they are compelled to lead — with evidence that they are equipped for it — and established churches seldom have opportunity for young(ish), plant-minded leaders to actually lead. While the parent church laments the loss of leadership, nothing is done to provide opportunity for it. In reality, established churches tend to become risk-averse and comfort-seeking, and the type of leadership typical to church planters and their teams frequently decries comfort and welcomes risk (in kingdom terms).
As a consequence, the potential church-plant team is not infrequently asked questions such as “Why do you want to do this to us?”
Furthermore, soliciting support of any kind — whether in terms of additional people to form the core group, or funds to purchase necessaries, or even visible, tangible moral support of parent church leadership — is seen as “stealing” from the parent church those things that are already in short supply and cannot well be parted with.
It is difficult in such an environment to detect a vibrant understanding of and commitment to kingdom expansion, but all too easy to sense spiritual protectionism. One forms the mental picture of the country club that vigorously objects to the opening of a new golf course across town on the grounds that it will deplete the pool of those willing to pay exorbitant greens fees.
Yet if country clubs were evangelistic kingdom-advancers (to keep the metaphor), they would not only provide opportunities for its members to play golf, but they would also train them to start new country clubs all around town, send them out with a few carts and spare clubs, and help them with grass problems from time to time.
Rather than constituting a betrayal of parent-church loyalty, plants can be the natural result of healthy church maturation, leadership development, and kingdom orientation. Rather than a betrayal, planting is a demonstration of loyalty to expansion of the kingdom, of stewardship of the resources provided Christ’s church by his Spirit.