Best Practices for Church Planting and Multiplication – Is the concept helpful or even valid?
A best practice is a practice that, through experience and research, has proven to reliably lead to a desired result. A commitment to use best practices in any field is a commitment to use accumulated knowledge that comes from experience to improve the chances of effectiveness and success. Is the concept valid in kingdom ministry?
The argument against using best practices
In the sciences and technology we are dealing with closed systems and best practices make a lot of sense. The research team conducts comparative studies to show a correlation between practices and results. Once the research is done, practitioners can be relatively confident about best practices. In kingdom work even the best practices can't guarantee results. Only God gives birth to new believers and churches. Only He can multiply them into church planting movements. Besides we serve in such a diversity of contexts and cultures that best practices have a narrow sphere of relevance at best (Muslim ministry, same-culture ministry).
The argument for using best practices - If we believe there is a human element in ministry and our practices have a bearing on results, we may find that some practices are preferred to others because they are typically more fruitful. They must of course be adapted to culture and context. In 2007, 300 workers from 34 agencies involved in the formation of communities of Jesus-followers among Muslims –met at a consultation to explore specific practices that seem to contribute to fruitfulness. During this five-day event, they shared lessons learned and insights gained through case studies, surveys, ministry profiles, small group discussions and interviews. They used a survey to come up with seventeen contextual factors affecting fruitfulness. Here is an abstract of what they found:
Abstract: Research from church planting field practitioners in the Arab Affinity Bloc demonstrates a relationship between fruitfulness in ministry and the following categories of Fruitful Practices: communication (including fluency, using the heart language, integrating learning preference into their strategy); encouragement of seekers and new believers; modeling life as a follower of Jesus; equipping new believers to share and defend their faith; and persistent prayer (If you would like the full article just email me).
Wise use of best practices - There is a third option. I believe we should learn from mistakes and successes. If we don't learn from ours we are fools. If we learn from those of others, we become wiser. Isn't one of the purposes of Proverbs and the narrative texts of Scripture to learn the lessons of life from those who have gone before us? That is one of the presuppositions behind coaching – that novices can benefit from reflective practitioners who identify fruitful practices. Would you agree with this statement? Wise church planters flesh out biblical principles by applying fruitful practices from similar contexts, prayerfully adapting them to their context under the direction of the Holy Spirit.
The wise use of fruitful practices - We are learners and are just scratching the surface here. Please give us your feedback on these.
- Prioritize biblical principles. If the fruitful practice has biblical precedents you are much safer.
- Major on the majors. Focus on practices that have stood the test of time.
- Use them as starting points or reference points - not rules. We give others pointers about raising their kids. But every child is different. They have to figure out the details.
- Don't extrapolate. Fruitful practices are only relevant in similar contexts. Avoid copying specific strategies or methods. Understand the principle behind the practice and adapt it locally.
- Fruitful practices are confirmed corporately when church planters find common patterns of effectiveness. The broader the consensus the greater the confident you can have.
- Remember your mission. Fruitful practices are closely linked to a goal or end product. Fruitful practices for church multiplication will be different than fruitful practices for an urban holistic ministry.
- Don't trust in best practices. Always seek God's direction. He may be doing something atypical and totally new.
- Any feed-back on these ideas?
- Would you like to be part of a discussion of fruitful practices in your area?
- Can you help? Would you help us identify fruitful church planting practices? Please respond to the 12 minute survey attached if you know at least one church planter you would consider fruitful. If you would extend this invitation to others on your team that would be a real blessing.