How to ensure new Christian communities make it to maturity

Have you ever thought about planting a new church? Gary Gibbs argues there are no guarantees but he offers his advice based on the discoveries he has made.

Question: How do you guarantee that a new church plant will eventually grow to a place of being strong and self-sustaining?

Answer: There are no guarantees!

At the time of writing, the Elim Movement is blessed with approximately 60 church plants of various sorts. We would all want to see more, but one very important issue to face up to is: how can we maximise the chances of these new baby Christian communities making it to maturity?

Here is a list of some important discoveries we have made:

1. You have to have a healthy balance of being missional and attractional

Missional means ‘go’. Attractional means ‘come’.

One of the biggest mistakes is when we simply start a new service in a building, advertise the fact in the locality and think that the people are going to start pouring in through the front door. Now, of course, we want to any service we hold as attractive as possible to those seeking faith, but if we haven’t connected relationally with lost people in the community they will not just magically arrive! Your new service may grow, but the people coming will almost certainly be saved already.

2. You need to be appropriate

In ‘mission speak’ it’s called ‘contextualisation’. For example, why would you begin a church plant in a middle-class neighbourhood by holding a two-hour service on Sunday morning/evening with four people in the worship band and twelve people in the congregation, sitting in rows facing the front? Is that in any sense appropriate for reaching this community?

3. You should look for ‘persons of peace’

Based out of a particular reading of Luke 10, successful planters are discovering that when they seek to penetrate a new community, God has already gone ahead of them and prepared a particular person or persons for their arrival. This person of peace is usually influential in the area, open to the Gospel, hospitable and a ‘door opener’. Two good examples in the book of Acts would be Cornelius (Acts 10) and Lydia (Acts 16).

4. You have to make disciples

So, my calling is as an evangelist: I never feel more alive than when I’m preaching the Gospel. But let’s not fool ourselves. It’s a wonderful thing when a person responds to the Lord for the first time and says the ‘Big Yes’ to Jesus. At that point, the new Jesus follower is in desperate need of being trained, equipped, mentored, discipled!

One thing is clear to me: discipleship doesn’t really take place in Sunday morning services. I believe we need to be far more intentional about this. Can I ask you: what does your disciple-making strategy look like?

As we help believers to grow in character and gifting and as outward focused witnesses, we have the potential release of a multiplication of new disciples!

As Elim continues to imagine and work out all that the Lord is calling us to be and to do, taking the Good News of Jesus into new areas will be a non-negotiable issue. The challenge will be to do it with hearts on fire, creativity stirred and faith that the Lord of the Harvest is leading us onwards and outwards. Kingdom come!

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