June 20, 2024
This entry is part 7 of 10 in the series Church planting

What does a healthy house church look like? What are the elements of a healthy house church that would indicate to you that it will continue on and grow and multiply without you being present at the meetings?

Exit Planning

In our last few blog posts, we have discussed how helpful it is to envision the time when we are no longer needed in a church plant. We need to describe the functions and qualities that we would like to see in place and under local leadership. Once this happens, we can confidently move on and focus elsewhere. We called this an “exit plan” or a “transition plan.” Some may want to call this document a “church health plan” or a “finish line” and the process “end-visioning.”

As cross-cultural workers, we are always aware that we have been called to continually introduce the Kingdom of God to new areas. In our hearts, we want to see the church established in areas and among people who were formerly in spiritual darkness. We want the new believers from the new places and cultures to gather and grow in order to shine for Jesus in their own cultures independent of us. When that is happening, we know we can transition out and focus on repeating that process elsewhere. Or we can transition to a role of equipping them to repeat the process again in new locations.

Exit Planning for House Churches

But what would a healthy house church look like? Would make us confident that a house church can function as a healthy church community once we leave?

Can you describe what it is you are working to establish? What functions would you want the church to continue independently of the church planter?

We looked in our last post at an exit plan for a larger urban church plant. Today we would like to look at what some church planters are using to “work themselves out of a job”, or into a new role of equipping, in places where planting house churches is a good approach.

Church Health Mapping

As small groups of new believers develop, it is often not helpful to have outsiders come in to lead and to teach. Doing so draws the attention of the local power brokers and resistant religious groups. So, in order to enable the new groups to function as churches on their own, the church planters will need to work quickly to teach and to equip the new local believers to carry on the essential functions of a church on their own. Very often in this process, they will use a tool known as “church health mapping.”

In an article in the Mission Frontiers digital magazine, entitled “The Bare Essentials of Helping Groups Become Churches”, Steve Smith describes church health mapping. Here is an excerpt of what he says could be done using a discovery Bible study from Acts 2 with the newly forming group of believers.

On a blank paper, draw a dotted line circle representing your own group. Above it, list 3 numbers. The first number is those who are regularly attending (stick figure). The second number represents those believing in Jesus (cross). And the third number is for baptized after believing (water).

If your group has committed (or covenanted) to being a church, make the dotted line circle solid. Then put an icon representing each of the remaining elements inside or outside the circle. If the group is regularly practicing the element itself, put it inside. If the group is not, or waits for an outsider to come do it, put it outside the circle.

Icons :

  1. Covenant – solid line instead of dotted line
  2. Baptism – water
  3. Word – book
  4. Lord’s Supper or Communion – a cup
  5. Fellowship – heart
  6. Giving & Ministry – money sign
  7. Prayer – praying hands
  8. Praise or worship – stick figure with upraised hands
  9. Evangelism – one stick figure holding hands with a another he/she led to faith
  10. Leaders – two smiley faces

Finally, you can give your church a name. This helps you establish an identity as a church in your community. Remember your goal is to develop a multi-generational church-planting movement to the 4th generation and beyond. So including the generation number helps you see where you are in seeing God start a movement in your community.

Steve Smith, The Bare Essentials of Helping Groups Become Churches, Mission Frontiers.  Used with permission

An example from the mission group Beyond

church health map

This drawing1 sent to the author by Pete Errington of Beyond from a church planting movement shows one house church reaching out and starting another group.  The items that are being done by insiders of the new group are put on the inside of the circle. Those practices that are being led by someone from the mother house-church or by other outsiders are put on the outside of the circle. Since they do not yet consider themselves a church, there is only a dotted line around the circle. The exit plan or health plan aims to see all the elements active and under local leadership. The plan also is that the group will see itself as a church body.

It’s relatively easy to see what is blocking the group from really becoming a church that can thrive without outside leadership. Though they may be deficient, you now see a way to transform this group into a church. They can see it too! It is a wonderfully empowering, practical process to let the group prayerfully brainstorm about how to add each of the elements into the circle. These become clear action plans for the group. The church planter then models and equips the local members to carry on each aspect of the new church’s life.

Church Health Map of a Church Planting Movement

church health mapping

This is another illustration from Beyond of a health map for a church planting movement. At this point, the early church planters can exit. They might also transition to a role of equipping the emerging leaders and assisting the new leaders to continue the movement.

The exit plan moves intentionally toward the goal of having a healthy, functioning, reproducing church. The church can continue on without the presence of the church planter. The process of implementing the plan seeks to equip the new church to pass it on to the next group that is starting. It helps us devise simple, reproducible ways of building in the necessary elements of maturity and independence from the missionary worker.

Response

Take some time now to evaluate and list the things that would indicate to you that you have a healthy church and that you can now transition out to start again in new areas.

If you have done something like this in your ministry, please tell us briefly about it. Share your thoughts below so that they may help others.

This blog post was originally posted to the TEAM church planting blog at Examples of Exit Plans for Church Planters: #2 A House Church “Health Plan” (goandplant.com). It is republished with permission of the author.

Series Navigation<< Example of an Exit Plan for an Urban Church PlantAdopting a Multiplication Mindset >>

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