The Holy Spirit is the architect for new bodies of believers, but it takes people guided by principles to carry out the plans. This article focuses on calling leaders, sustaining ministry, and encouraging multiplication. These principles are the core of the peace church-planting pipeline that Mennonite Mission Network is launching in January 2019.
At the heart of any form of church planting are leaders who have been called to join with God as co-creators. Leaders are foundational for a faith adventure that attempts to gather together a group of followers of Jesus. They are by nature of their call entrepreneurial persons. The definition of an entrepreneur includes initiative and risk. In the last eight years in my role as minister for church planting, I have met many leaders who have undertaken risky initiatives. They were often regular folks without much knowledge of the risks they were about to face:
- A journalist in Colorado Springs responded to the growing number of Latino immigrants, and decided to start a Spanish-speaking congregation in partnership with an Anglo Mennonite church.
- A couple of professionals became involved with immigrant clients through their medical and nutritionist practices, and are hosting a home Bible study group in rural Minnesota.
- A group of young artists launched an art school for children, and were encouraged by the children's parents to start a worship gathering.
The history of Anabaptism spreading around the globe is filled with examples of farmers, carpenters, businesspeople, men and women in these and many other vocations who responded to the call to start something "out of the blue" wherever God had placed them. The work of the kingdom relies on leaders who take risks and venture into new forms of being church.
Successful leaders work with partners
People with a vision for something new need partners for both strategic and spiritual reasons. Partners increase the possibilities of success for those who really want to become a presence of Christ in a new environment. Potential partners may be local churches, nonprofits, and urban agents who will welcome someone with vision and a desire to be a kingdom presence. Working with partners is central to God's Trinitarian nature and the church as a diverse body of believers.
Discerning the call
How do people find out if they are good candidates to be effective church planters? Initiating a new church is a serious endeavor and it is important to be sure that entrepreneurial church planters have a significant chance for success in what they are preparing to do. Tested assessment tools are available for church planters and their coaches.
Statistics show that church planters have a much higher success rate when they have a coach. This coaching is based on a trust relationship and includes both practical and personal conversations about spiritual issues. It is not something merely centered on strategies and tactics. Personal coaching is especially important when church planters face discouragement or conflict.
Ideally, church planters will already know leaders with whom they feel an affinity and who can serve as models for their ministry. If not, missional leaders from the larger system—conferences and national—will provide names of potential coaches willing to walk with new church planters. (footnote 1)
Most church planters I know generally resist the idea of long-term planning. I really enjoy traveling to my native country, Argentina, where I am refreshed in conversations with church leaders who depend day-by-day on the Lord. But we live in America, where management is a leading cultural value. Church planters in the United States cannot escape this reality, and their partners and supporters will expect it.
Creating relationships with people who will serve as listeners, supporters and accountability stakeholders in the work you are doing is critical. Most conference systems have something in place to connect church planters to existing clusters of churches that meet periodically for fellowship, mutual support, shared-event coordination, mission festivals, financial matters, and other issues. These relationships will be the core of developing a donor base, hopefully with a solid partnership of congregations or networks.
The three SENT conferences have demonstrated how much church planters and their partners value sharing ideas and supporting one another. At Mennonite Mission Network, we are working to create a church multiplication network that will include active participation from conferences already involved in church-planting work or wanting to become more involved.
For most church planters, reproduction is part of their DNA. That said, it is not always evident that planters develop systems for discovering potential church planters, equipping them, and sending them out with the support they need. Planters spend so much energy in getting their group started that little time and energy are left for thinking about how they might reproduce.
Skepticism of institutions
In today's religious context, most young adults seem to be skeptical of institutions in general and the church in particular. That is why it is important to work side-by-side with young adults who are transforming the culture of the church and how it calls leaders. I have met several young adults in the last few years who have entrepreneurial spirits, but who will not function in the traditional systems currently in place in our churches.
It is true that not all churches are missional, and even fewer are interested in church planting. Anabaptist entrepreneurial leaders may struggle to find established Mennonite churches wanting to support them. Many congregations are used to acting as if the "mission field" is in some far-away Third World country.
The landscape has changed, however, and younger generations of millennials no longer believe that mission is only somewhere else. They are locally focused and want to see transformation happening in their communities. Leaders and churches can be revitalized by connecting with the passions and visions of younger generations. Through these encounters, new opportunities to serve God's kingdom purposes will multiply.
 For additional resources on "coaching," visit the Mennonite Mission Network website under "church planting" at www.mennonitemission.net/ChurchPlanting.