So You Want To Plant A Church?

Church PlantingThe confessional Reformed churches face many struggles. In Recovering the Reformed Confession I classified some of them under two headings, QIRC and QIRE, the quests for illegitimate religious certainty and experience. There are others. We are still playing Whack-a-mole with the Federal Visionists. Thus, even where there are NAPARC congregations, they are not always faithful to the Reformed theology, piety, and practice. People hear the call to stop their Nicodemite ways, to leave evangelicalism but too often when they do what they find isn’t what we advertised in our confessions and classic theologians. Another great problem is that there are great swaths of North America where there are no confessional Reformed congregations.

There are several reasons for that neglect. Some of these places aren’t densely populated. That fact deters some church planters. Reformed/Presbyterian churches tend to be clustered where certain groups migrated and clustered (e.g., Grand Rapids and Philadelphia). As the culture continues to become increasingly mobile those old pockets of Reformed populations may scatter.

Still there are people who are discovering the Reformed theology, piety, and practice (the Reformed confession broadly defined). What should they do? The most attractive situation for consistories or others looking for places to plant a confessional congregation is to begin with a core group. Are there others, like you, who are interested in exploring the Reformed confession? If there is, that is a promising start.

Is it possible to plant a church where there is only one or two families or perhaps none? The latter is the most difficult, of course, but that would probably take the most preparation. It is difficult to begin with a very small group but we must start somewhere. There are different views about whether to begin with a Bible Study or worship services. When there are only a few it seems wisest to begin with a Bible study. In that case perhaps a minister may travel to an area to see what develops, to see whether others in the area show an interest.

If there is an existing core group then some would begin holding services right away. We are talking about “church planting” after all. Visitors to a new work are perhaps more likely to return if there are services being held. It has been said that there are two kinds of laity involved in church planting: pioneers and settlers. There’s truth in that. Pioneers are more likely to stick it out through a course of Bible studies while the foundation for a new congregation is being built but the settlers tend to want to move to an established village, as it were.

If you’re in an area where there are no confessional Reformed congregations but you would like to see a church plant initiated there are four things that you need:

  • Prayer
  • Preparation
  • Patience
  • Perseverance

The first thing to do is pray. Church planting is, finally, a work of the Holy Spirit. Where the Spirit has not prepared the way, no amount of work or planning will prevail. Then pray a little more.  Second, count the cost. Planting a church is like starting a small business with no help from the bank or the SBA. It will likely be understaffed and under-funded. In this life you spend either time or money and in church planting you will likely spend a good deal of both. Third, Talk to your friends, neighbors, and to others in your circle of friends and co-workers to see who might be interested in attending a confessional Reformed congregation. Finally, contact the nearest session or consistory of a confessional Reformed/Presbyterian congregation to see what they advise and whether they are able to work toward a church plant in your area. Click on the link to NAPARC above and use the church directory for the various denominations/federations. Beware, not every group calling itself “Reformed” is (e.g., the Communion of Reformed Evangelical Churches is the home of the Federal Vision error). This may take some time. Reformed/Presbyterian sessions/consistories often only meet once a month. This may mean that your request may sit for while until it can be addressed and a response formulated. The session/consistory/pastor you contacted may be equally under-staffed (no secretarial help) and under-funded. It’s possible that your query may go nowhere. You may have to knock on more than one church door, as it were. Not every session is enthusiastic about church planting or prepared to help. At this point you will begin to discover the sort of perseverance required to plant a church.

There’s a great lot more that could be written but this is a start. if you’ve been seeking a confessional Reformed congregation in your area, don’t be discouraged. It is happening in many places. It’s a big job. In a sense the confessional churches are starting from scratch after being more or less wiped out after the turn of the 20th century. The NAPARC world is a tiny number but Christ is great and glorious. He’s ascended in power and the Spirit blows where he will and he’s still knitting dry bones together through the preaching of the Gospel.

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  1. Reformed/Presbyterian sessions/consistories often only meet once a month.

    This has bothered me for some time. Once a month seems like the very bare minimum (if that) for shepherds to gather, pray, discuss, debate, trouble-shoot, and plan for the nourishment and edification of the sheep. There seems to be plenty of time to include any number of activities into one’s weekly schedule…

    Just a random shotgun-shot thought. The question that keeps popping up is, “how serious are we about this church thing?” I’ll stop, as I doubt my comment is on topic. [File under “postcard from the edge (as he steps back)] 😉

    • Hi Jack,

      Frankly, given the pace at which people live, I’m grateful that ruling elders are able to meet that often. These are often long, difficult meetings. Many times I’ve been up to all hours sorting through some painful issue with elders who then must go home, get some sleep (if possible) and get up and go to work in the AM.

      Then, if they’re in a URC setting, for example, they also have a council meeting to address the regular business of the church. Those meetings are usually less difficult but they take time.

      Then there are house/elder visitations to make.

      Then, there are committee meetings and pity the poor elders whose pulpit happens to be vacant! Then they have constant demand to find pulpit supply and oversee (or better) conduct a search for a new pastor.

      So, an elder has taken on a significant, unpaid, part-time job in addition to his work and family responsibilities.

      I know that you’re not being critical but I thought it might help to add context.

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