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Thursday, May 24, 2018

Why We Need to Stop Planting Churches

When you see the title of this article, you may think I’m going to say that the church market is saturated and now we just need to figure out how to get more people in the pews. I’m actually not going there at all. In reality, if everyone in America wanted to attend a church service on Sunday mornings, there wouldn’t be enough seats for them all. Instead, I will be sharing the biblical foundation for disciple-making and how it applies in the lives of Jesus’s disciples.

The Great Commission

As Jesus was leaving this earth to return to his Father in heaven, he left his disciples with the following statement:
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.[1]
Jesus’s command to his disciples was to make disciples of all nations. It wasn’t to evangelize all nations (that’s another discussion for another day). It wasn’t to plant churches in all nations. It was to make disciples of all nations.

In Western culture, we commonly associate making disciples with planting churches. We think that if we plant churches, we’ll make disciples. But the data overwhelmingly shows that planting churches doesn’t necessarily translate into making disciples.[2] As missional practitioner Mike Breen once wrote, “…if you make the church, you rarely get disciples.”[3]

It’s time we accept the fact that all of our church planting efforts aren’t doing much to help us make more disciples of Jesus.

But Paul Planted Churches, Didn’t He?

Before I continue unpacking the Great Commission, I want to address another question you may have. Many Christians, especially evangelicals, look to Paul the apostle as their inspiration for church planting. Paul was a common guy like you and me who had a miraculous encounter with Jesus and became not only one of his disciples, but the first great Christian missionary. He traveled throughout modern-day Turkey and southeast Europe making disciples.

One of the things many Christians don’t realize is that Paul never planted a church. He didn’t show up in a new city, set up a church service, and then invite everyone in town to attend it on Sunday mornings. Instead, he went to a variety of different places in each town he visited and shared the gospel message in a way that was relatable to his audience. Sometimes he had the chance to speak in front of a crowd of people and other times he talked with people one-on-one. But he certainly never established a 501c3 organization called a church, organized weekly gatherings on Sunday mornings, and invited everyone to come to them.

If you were to read the entire Bible from Genesis to Revelation, you would fail to find a command in scripture to plant churches. It doesn’t exist.

What Is the Alternative to Planting Churches?

What did Jesus command us to do? Make disciples. What did Paul do when he went from city to city spreading the gospel message? He made disciples. In light of these two biblical examples, what should we do? Make disciples.

So instead of planting churches, what would happen if we planted Jesus? In Matthew 13, Jesus told a parable about a sower who went out to scatter seeds. The sower is representative of Jesus’s disciples.[4] He has given them a role to play in his mission to scatter his seeds amongst every people group on earth.[5]

If we obey Jesus’s command to make disciples, then I’m convinced we’ll get the church. As Mike Breen also wrote, “If you make disciples, you always get the church.”[6] Why? Because the church isn’t a building, event, or organization; the church is simply this: Jesus’s disciples gathered together to worship him. And Jesus said he’s responsible to build his church.[7] If you’d like to read a more in-depth discussion on my definition of the church, I’d encourage you to check out my article titled “Is the Church Dying?

How Do We Plant Jesus?

The great part about our calling to plant Jesus is that it doesn’t take a four year seminary degree and thousands of dollars; anyone who is a disciple of Jesus can plant Jesus. The only prerequisite is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

If you’re good on the prerequisite, then you probably want to know what it looks like to plant Jesus. Does it mean standing up in front of hundreds of people to preach the gospel? Does it involve serving at the local soup kitchen? Does it mean writing blog posts and sharing them with all your Facebook friends? Any of those avenues could open up opportunities to plant Jesus, but planting Jesus isn’t limited to those avenues. You can plant Jesus wherever you are and whatever you’re doing. You can plant Jesus while working, playing sports, walking the dog, and going to the grocery store.

Planting Jesus is something which happens both through our words and our actions. As you’re looking for ways to plant Jesus, consider the following questions:

  1.       What is good news to the people around you? How is Jesus the good news they’ve been looking for?
  2.       What does Jesus’s kingdom look like? How can you show the people around you what Jesus’s kingdom looks like?

What now? GO PLANT JESUS!!!

Now that you know what you’ve been called to do, what are you going to do about it? How can you plant Jesus in the people around you every single day?

[1] Matthew 28:18-20.
[2] The REVEAL study, organized by Willow Creek Church and taken by 1,000 churches, demonstrated that their people were barely growing spiritually. More information on this study can be found in Greg Hawkins and Cally Parkinson, Move: What 1,000 Churches Reveal about Spiritual Growth (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011).
[3] Mike Breen and Steve Cockram, Building a Discipleship Culture: How to Release a Missional movement by Discipling People Like Jesus Did, 2nd ed. (Pawleys Island, SC: 3 Dimension Ministries, 2011), 11-12.
[4] “I planted, Apollos water, but God gave the growth.” – 1 Corinthians 3:6.
[5] The Greek word ethnos in the Great Commission was translated “nations” in English, but could also be translated as “people groups” or “people joined by practicing similar customs or common culture.” The point here is that Jesus intended for his seeds to be scattered to everyone everywhere on this earth. See “1484. Ethnos,” Helps Word Studies, 2011, accessed May 24, 2018,
[6] Breen and Cochram, Building a Discipleship Culture, 11-12.
[7] “I will build my church.” – Matthew 16:18.

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