Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Two Extremes Resource-Deprived and Resource-Driven Church Planting

Coach's Corner April 2011

The story of two German church planters

Frank Hammand is a corporate lawyer in Frankfurt whose real passion is to plant culturally-relevant, gospel-centered churches throughout the city. His vision is a movement of five churches in 10 years. His commitment is evidenced by the fact that he told his law firm he wouldn't work more hours no matter what they paid him. He and his family of three live in a cramped apartment because of the high cost of living downtown- but they wanted to live in the community. Recently the socialist party leader announced that he was the hardest working pastor in Frankfurt when it came to serving the people. Frank strikes me as a creative church planter, with a credible platform as a lawyer, in tune with his targeted community. My prognostic is that if Frank isn't successful in Frankfurt, who would be?

Yet, as we talked the tension between the big vision and the challenges of the launch of the first church became apparent. Their growth is primarily by conversion and Germans aren't looking to the church for answers. In 2009 they grew by 10% so they aimed for 20% growth in 2010. But, it turned out to be a year of consolidation without new conversions. In 2011 they are pulling all the stops in their evangelism and have started two discovery groups, one in a quaint flower shop and the other at the corner Coffee Fellows (the equivalent of Starbucks). This bi-vocational approach, exemplified by Frank, could be called: "limited investment, slow saturation." My question to Frank was "Are you going to make it? Frank said he couldn't be sure but he wanted to persevere with the bi-vocational approach because, if they can do it, it would be a replicable model and they could find planters for the next projects.

I wanted to stop in Berlin but wasn't able to. But Diet Schindler, Church Planting Director for the EFC of Germany, told me with great enthusiasm about Christian Novatski and the Berlin Projekt. Diet estimates that only 5% of church planters are apostolic (regional movement) leaders and Christian is one of them. He leads a team that is focusing on a disciplemaking movement that will yiled many churches over time. The mother church sent out members to start a 2nd generation church in a suburb called Pankow and plans are on the drawing board for an immigrant church and an international church. This effort is resource intensive. It takes a special kind of leader and a team who are supported from the start. Diet figures that 350,000 Euros (around $500,000) are needed to plant a high impact church, from start to finish. Christian's approach could be called "big investment, rapid impact" of a city. My question to Diet was: "Is this approach reproducible and sustainable?" He thought that it could be but didn't seem to have a clear idea how 2nd and 3rd generation churches could be planted with less external resources and why they would expect any less.

Let's compare the two approaches:
Limited investment, slow saturation
Big investment, rapid impact

Description: Incarnational church planting in a specific community using a bi-vocational church planter and core group.

Description: Catalytic church planting in a targeted region of several communities using a supported church planting team led by an apostolic leader.

Advantages: Not resource-driven, easier to find planters, reproducible model, could be used almost anywhere, bi-vocational worker identifies with community, culturally-relevant, ministry team of local disciples.

Advantages: Strong leadership, team approach from the start,
more visibility, more personnel for holistic ministry, more rapid development, greater potential for regional impact, diversity of target groups.

Disadvantages: Church planter has less time and resources,
development is slower initially, planter's family makes more sacrifices, higher rate of attrition.

Disadvantages: Requires a special leader, high financial investment initially, not easily reproducible, not likely to lead to 3rd generation without a shift to self-supporting planters.

This is a question of methodology that doesn't require an "either or" choice. But approaches might be effective and efficient under the right circumstances. Frank's approach is common in Latin America and Asia. Nicolas is typical of the planters in the Purpose Driven approach in the USA and the some high invest, rapid impact project in developing world cities.
Here is where I would like to go with this. In both cases there is the danger that multiplication (defined by reaching 4th generation churches) is never achieved. Sustainability must take into account the DNA of the church, the reproducibility of the model, the availability of the kind of planter that is needed and of financial resources. Would you give this 10 minutes of thought and jot down factors that would contribute to multiplication by answering three following questions:

1. "Which of the two approaches to do you think would fit your region better?"

2. "What would help the Frank Hammands of the world avoid burnout, plant reproducing churches, and achieve multiplication?"

3. "What would help the Christian Novaskis of the world to avoid dependence on external resources, plant reproducing churches, and achieve multiplication?"

P.S. The long term fruit and reproducibility of big investment, rapid impact approach was tested in Lima, Peru. It was called the Encounter with God Project. A Christian business man, R. G. Letourneau, got behind the project with his resources and mobilized others to pray and contribute. They brought in an Argentinean who was a gifted speaker and leader, built an attractive building on one of the main streets and began with a concentrated effort of evangelism and disciplemaking.

As a result, "From 1973 to 1987 the movement grew from one church with 117 members in 1973 to 20 churches and 9,127 members in 1987. By 1997 there were 38 churches with 15,870 members and a weekly attendance of 25,000. A launching grant of $300,000 was provided and a comprehensive evangelistic and church planting strategy, including local refunding of the project, was implemented. Funds were used for evangelistic outreach, advertising, the purchase of properties, and construction of church buildings (Mangham 1987, Turnidge 1999). Though the Lima project inspired many similar attempts to launch church planting movements in other countries, none have matched the remarkable results of the original project in Lima." (Ott and Wilson Global Church Planting 2011).

Althouth much attention has been placed on the heavy investment in infrastructure the greater part of their success may be linked to the cycle of prayer, evangelism and discipleship they used called "saturation evangelism."

Let me know if you have a question or a suggestion for a future article.

Gene Wilson

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Gene is serving as Church Planting Director for ReachGlobal and has been a church planter in Quebec and a church planting coach in Latin America.