On Thursday October 16, 2014 the other Church Planting Residents and I skyped with English Church Planter and Acts 29 Executive Director Steve Timmis. Through my time at The Austin Stone I have had the privilege of hearing Steve teach on two other occasions. Furthermore, I have read his book Total Church three times. I have come to greatly respect Steve and have learned when Steve talks I shut my mouth, open my laptop, and type frantically.
Steve covered a great deal of material in our hour long conversation. For the sake of brevity I am going to focus on the three topics that stood out most to me. Those topics are:
- What is the current state of church planting?
- What are areas within church planting that need to change?
- What “Fatherly” advice would you give an aspiring church planter?
Steve has a way of talking (probably the English accent) about issues in a way that sounds deeply profound but very practical at the same time. Every time I have heard him speak I walk away thinking, “Duh, what he said is so simple, why am I not already doing this?”
What is the Current State of Church Planting?
“Globally there is a sense of realism in church planting. Both in the need for it, as well as the difficulty of it. Church planting shouldn’t be the focus on a man, even though a man is important, but the focus should be on the team.”
Basically, church planting is no longer the “cool” thing to do anymore. It’s not the “flash in the pan” it once was. There was a time just a few years ago where the focus was on finding the right man who would follow x,y,z and launch a Sunday service, and BOOM! a new church was born. With America becoming increasingly post Christian the culture is becoming more suspect of the church. The thought of creating a great event is quickly vanishing, and with it the Sunday focused model.
Steve said, “Going downtown and doing a “coffee shop” model was part of the “sexy” church planting movement,”but now he said “church planters need to focus on “Gospel Priority Areas”(GPA).”
“GPA focuses on people who have little to no access to the gospel. Church planters globally are beginning to get this, but this is more costly and will deter planters.”
So the current state of church planting is:
- No longer about a man, but a team.
- Less focused on being “sexy” and more intentional in reaching those with no access to the gospel.
- The bar of church planting has been raised, which is deterring planters.
What are the areas in Church Planting that need to change?
The biggest area that needs to change is the “Transplant Model” of church planting.
The Transplant Model is, “Taking stock from an existing church and reposting it in a different context. Ex: If you have a church of 2,000 you take 150-200 and put them in a new context. Large churches do a great job of this, but its not church planting. If this is the predominate model won’t change cities and impact nations.”
Anyone at least in the United States who is in ministry has in some degree an understanding of this concept. Essentially, this goes back to what was discussed above. Planting cool churches, in cool areas of town, only transfers cool church folks from one congregation to another. Disciples aren’t made…they’re merely reshuffled, until the next cool church comes along. Everything tends to focus on churches “one upping” each other in putting on the Sunday event.
“I get slightly nervous when I hear guys talk about a public launch. It doesn’t make sense and I don’t like it. We need to live life on life, and not based on a location or event. A public launch may be a good thing but it’s not a necessary thing.”
What Fatherly Advice would you Give an Aspiring Church Planter?
“Do it. Quickly. Do it passionately. DON’T BE TRENDY!!!”
- Retain good counsel
- Pursue humbly
- Ensure you keep yourself accountable.
- Don’t carry the weight of the church
- Don’t invest your identity in your church plant in success/failure.
Plant a church around a Godly casualness. You may not succeed and thats ok.
On a very practical level Steve’s advice is to “become an expert in your locality. Find out everything you can, research, talk to locals, familiarize yourself with peoples hopes, fears, and disagreements.”
I love hearing from Steve and I am always left encouraged, but at the same time frustrated. For all the gems that I take away from Steve’s wisdom his counsel tends to go against the grain of what I’ve been taught for years with regards to church planting. At the end of our conversation I had to decompress on my own for a bit. I feel in my heart and mind the weight of what Steve is talking about when he says the reality of church planting is now deterring planters. Questions that race through my mind are:
- How can a church be planted with no public launch?
- What resources do I need to research and identify these “gospel priority areas?”
- Why do I feel simultaneously excited and terrified to engage in the type of church model that Steve casts vision for?
- Would God use me to bring Himself glory through the type of church model Steve talks about?
Lots to process, such good wisdom…