Last week, I attended Multiplying Churches Globally, a training workshop for church planters hosted by EQUIP, the training arm of ReachGlobal. SEND missionaries have participated in and helped to lead some of the sessions over the past few years, and we encourage all church planters to attend the training during their first home service.
One of our workshop facilitators was Jay Pinney, a church planter with Reach Global in Quebec. I was intrigued by his presentation on missionary roles in church multiplication, and particularly by his description of himself as a “botherer”, someone who disturbs the status quo by asking good questions and prompting lively discussions among local church leaders. I found a more sophisticated (not necessarily better) explanation of these different roles in a 2009 blog post by Jay Pinney, and Jay was kind enough to send me an updated version of this article to use on this blog. I have reduced the length somewhat, but you can read the original article on our wiki.
Missionary roles in Church Planting
As we move toward multiplication, what are some roles which missionaries can assume which contribute to indigenous, self-supporting, and reproducing local churches led by national leaders? The roles listed below carry with them the potential to impact a number of churches or even denominations. Often national church leaders have great difficulty filling these roles. This list is not exhaustive.
1. Church Planting Researcher
The research role is undervalued among most evangelicals. At a 2008 European church planting institute, a young Slovak pastor showed other attendees a map of his country in which cities and regions were color-coded in such a way as to designate areas which had the most and least evangelical churches. It was even coded to distinguish between charismatic and non-charismatic groups. Two missionaries had worked to produce the map and the accompanying statistics. The map was having an important impact across the country, according to the young pastor. The need for new churches was clearly evident and nationals were responding to the need by mobilizing themselves for church planting. Two missionaries put in the work and the national church was inspired to take up the task. In France, the use of a map has been a key part in a national strategy to raise church planting to a higher level of interest and commitment across all evangelical denominations. You can see the map which is changing church planting in France, along with clear strategies for developing training centers and equipping coaches and even a DVD to stimulate interest in becoming a church planter. The research and the map took many hours to develop, but the national council of evangelicals in France has embraced it and church planting as a high value for the future.
2. Church Planting Coach
Church Planting guru Ed Stetzer’s Ph.D. thesis was a study of those factors which positively influenced the growth of newly planted churches. One of the factors he noted was the importance of each church planter having a coach and meeting with that coach on a regular basis. Stetzer’s data suggested that instituting regular appointments was one of the most effective ways to increase attendance in new church plants. This coaching function should continue through the first four years of the church plant. Stetzer’s statistics showed a 25% higher attendance for churches by year four whose planters had received regular coaching over against churches whose planters had no coaching. Coaches keep church planters on track and accountable and encourage them as they go through difficult or discouraging periods in their ministry. They also keep their ear to the ground for potential resources and try to spot potential problems before they grow to affect the church plant negatively. Several denominations in the U.S. have committed themselves to not plant churches without providing a coach of some kind for their church planters. Yet on the mission field, unfortunately, coaches are the exception, rather than the rule. It would seem obvious that a great missionary role would be to help national church planters, those who have a greater understanding of the language and culture, become more effective through coaching.
3. Church Planting Catalyzer
Catalyzers are people who use systems, structures, or resources to increase both the number and viability of new church plants. These catalyzers can operate on a national or regional level, with a single association or inter-denominationally. Catalyzers can operate in a variety of ways, either formally or informally encouraging and supporting church planting through promoting church planting, training church planters, seeking funding for new churches, recruiting candidates to become church planters, or in creating training resources for church planting. In France, a number of denominations and missions are coming together to form a network with the goal of promoting best practices. In order for a denomination to establish someone as a catalyzer, there needs to be an important commitment to church planting already in place and some funding available for such a position. Until the resources are available for a national catalyzer, a missionary could fulfill this function. In Germany, the director of Church Planting for the German Free churches is an American missionary who speaks fluent German, Dietrich Schindler. He has set up such great structures and programs for church planting that the German Free Church is the envy of many European evangelicals. Missionaries, with their outside support, can catalyze and build structures that nationals would have a hard time doing while tithing time from their primary ministries.
4. Church Planting Master Trainer/Professor
In Quebec, leaders from all major denominations have come together to partner in training church planters. A yearly church planters’ boot camp is offered with segments being taught by five or six experienced church planters from different denominations. This approach has enabled all the denominations to have high-quality church planter training accessible to them on a yearly basis, taught by national church planters. A missionary coordinates the training and updates the French church planting manual yearly with the help of the Quebec trainers. The same missionary works to organize training events in which best practices and their practitioners are given a platform to speak from. In Africa, ReachAfrica has launched their church multiplication training. But they believe they will not be able to contextualize and distribute the training to meet the needs of the African continent without also training Master Trainers. These master trainers select and coach trainers as well as handle the training.
5. Equipper of Evangelists
In many places where ReachGlobal works, the greatest challenge is the slow rate of conversion. The key to seeing large numbers of newly planted churches is effective evangelism. But who is helping equip and train evangelists? What methods and means of presenting the Gospel are most effective among various people groups? Who is helping promote the most effective methods? Who is recruiting evangelists to work with new church plants, to help them grow and become stable? Again missionaries could have a dramatic impact on a nation through the training of evangelists. There is a great need for training at the grassroots level for those who want to share the Gospel effectively. In countries where post-modernism or agnosticism reigns, there is great need for training to be given so that those who are gifted to share the Gospel can respond intelligently to the rebuttals they receive to the claims of Christ. An equipper of evangelists could see multiplied thousands of conversions take place through their influence and ministry.
6. Church Co-Planter
By working closely with one or more national church planters or on a team, the individual church plant does not depend on the missionary. This also avoids the frequently difficult transition from missionary leadership to local leadership. A missionary who steps up into a direct church planting leadership role, becoming the “up front leader” for a local church, creates an entire set of expectations and certain dependencies. Without knowing it, this missionary may well hamper the growth of the church due to his status as a respected outsider. This can take place even if the church initially grows quite quickly under missionary leadership.
These six roles are by no means exhaustive and they are not meant to rule out a missionary doing direct church planting in pioneering situations where there are no local church planters. Which approach will bear the most fruit over a missionary career – working to directly plant one church over a period of ten to fifteen years or impacting dozens of church plants or whole denominations as a catalyzer, coach, master trainer, co-planter or researcher? This allows a missionary to move on more quickly and see more churches planted over their career. Missionaries can have a greater impact over a longer time frame in a given culture or region by investing in roles which nationals often cannot assume and allow nationals to assume direct planting roles for which they are often better prepared. And isn’t this closer to the Pauline model? From a biblical perspective, the missionary role is an apostolic role, not a permanent leadership role in a given church. Before taking on a direct church planting role, missionaries need to consider the possibilities and the multiplied impact of indirect roles which have proven themselves to be effective in impacting larger numbers of people for the Gospel and in creating greater numbers of healthy churches.