Monday, April 5, 2004

Permanence: Part 2

Some helpful advice (I use the term "helpful" in a manner which could best be described as ironic, if not outright sarcastic) that I, and numerous other pastors, were given about ten years ago on the subject of church-planting:
"Within the first two years of your church plant, about 80% of the people who came with you to plant the church will have left already. Don't let that discourage you. Keep plugging away, and God will bring new people to replace those who have left."
I turned to our senior pastor at the time and said, "Then why plant a church with your friends, if you're assuming you're going to see them walk away? Aren't we really saying that this thing called 'church plant' is more important than maintaining our relationships with our friends?"

He shrugged and gave an answer that was something along the lines of church-planting being the most effective way of evangelizing neighbourhoods, so it was all part of "counting the cost". It was obvious that he didn't like his own answer; he was simply repeating (with some level of cynicism) what he'd been told by others.

My (somewhat cynical) thought at the time was that any wanna-be church planter should gather only people he/she doesn't really care about, since they were going to be gone in a year or so anyway, and safeguard his/her closest relationships by not including them in the church plant. 80%?!? That's an awful price to pay to ensure that the "vision for a new church plant" succeeds...

I wonder if the problem is really that 80% "typically" leave. I wonder if the problem might be far more insidious than that:
  • If you buy into that kind of thinking, that 80% will be gone in two years, then you would be tempted to approach the whole church plant in basically a mercenary fashion, using people that you consider expendable (since they're going to "desert" you anyway) to meet the goals of getting the church plant off the ground.
  • You would have a hard time being in "community" when you're expecting them to disappear fairly soon -- you'd be really hard-pressed to not guard your own feelings from being hurt by staying aloof to a greater or lesser degree. You'd talk about community, because that's what church-planters do, and deep down you really believe in what you're saying, but you'd have a tough time modelling it -- it would come across as promising one thing, and delivering another.
  • From the very beginning, you'd be already looking to the next horizon that doesn't include the circle of relationships you currently have. People will eventually realize this, and that may be the reason they leave -- they have figured out that the "success" of the church plant is more important than they are. "And I joined the church-planting team because I really believed this church was going to be different..."

The more I look at this whole thing called "church-planting", the more convinced I am that part -- a major part -- of what needs deconstructing is our understandings and assumptions of what makes a church plant "successful".

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