At the time we moved to our city, most church planting organizations were training their recruits to use marketing techniques to build their new churches. This included using mass marketing devices such as mailers and positioning the new church’s location near fast-growing areas of a city. “Low hanging fruit” was the target.
This method has two noticeable benefits and one drawback. Benefit number one is that it is an effective way to quickly grow a church with money and resources. The marketing methods, by their very nature, ferret-out people who are actively looking for a new church and have experienced being part of a church. Many of them are ready to jump in and start giving.
The second benefit is that the church planter doesn’t have some of the usual anxieties that come from economic uncertainty and shallow church-talent benches. Among the previously churched folk that show up are some with excellent talent to share.
The big drawback is that this “low hanging fruit” strategy overlooks folks that are not as convenient or easy to attract to the new church. They are often unchurched from infancy and totally unschooled in matters of faith and devotion to God. They have no reason or experience to trust the church planter knocking on their door or the mass mailer that someone hangs on their door.
For someone willing to expend the energy on such folk, the benefits are extraordinary. But the church planter has to change strategies to find such newbies. The secret to this is building personal relationships – a slow and methodical process.
The chicks at our church have given me wonderful pictures of the returns received from this slow approach. The first, and most wonderful picture, is of the rise of prayer in the lives of these young disciples. One of our members used to sit quietly when our small group engaged in group prayer. It was not something she was acquainted or comfortable with. Now she engages fully in the group prayer, sometimes even laughing as she talks to God.
On another occasion our church went to one of our members’ home for a pot luck dinner. In the past, I would have been asked to pray for the group and thank God for the meal. Our hostess gathered everyone around, and she confidently led the prayer herself. What satisfaction it is to see such growth in new disciples. It is not “amazing” to see a veteran Christian pray in this way.
Another event also occurred at small group. We were studying Acts, and Paul’s warning to the Ephesian elders in chapter 20, when one of our members asked what an elder is. I explained that it was not a power position but that, rather, it was a role that involved serving and protecting the members of a congregation. The person asking the question grew up in a local church, but she said, “why haven’t I heard about this before?” Even though she grew up in church, she had not been taught nor had she experienced what she was reading in Acts.
“I’d like to see an elder like that,” was her reaction to the discussion.
Our church planting approach changed after we realized the template we were given would never work in our town. Not only that, we experienced being pushed and shoved by God into contexts that we would have never imagined and were placed into relationships we would have never experienced in a traditional template.
The result has been that our church does not look like traditional church plants. Abandoning the traditional church plant model we were taught created a model that was more organic and appropriate for our community and our time. We’re small, our members are in the infancy of their discipleship, and we are watching tangible spiritual growth among our members. This is a warmly satisfying outcome even though it is fraught with all kinds of uncertainty.
I’ll take the uncertainty!