why didn’t my Church plant a new Church?

Ed: Colin Stoodley is the Assoc Training Director of The Pines Training Centre. He has planted two Churches, pastored a thriving suburban congregation and now trains Church planters and those who would be. We asked him why successful Churches aren’t successfully reproducing in Australia. Here’s part one of his reflection:

Before I tackle this question, I want to make something clear. I have come to the view that all Churches (like all disciples) should be reproducing they should be life giving.

I know a few people will take issue with this, but I really believe I am right on this question.

And I also want you to know that sharing this with you, I’m not blaming anyone for anything.

I’m certainly not calling into question the heart or motives of anyone at the Church with whom I just concluded ministry.

That said however, I do have a personal sense of regret that we didn’t plant a Church.

I have been a Church planter twice.

In the first one planted in the ACT early in the 1980’s I was able to see the plant get through the early phases of growth and left it (at the instruction of the denomination) with about 100 adults and about 60 children in regular fellowship after six years. But I never planted out from that work.

The second was in Brisbane in the mid-90’s. Very different context.
Whereas the first work was planted in a suburb of a growing city; the second work was planted in inner-city Brisbane. I only saw this second work through the first phase before mentoring a young man to replace me.

I left behind about 35 people and a lot of hope.

In 1997 I was led to take over a very small Church which had, in its past, been a thriving Church. After periods of real difficulty, the Church had dwindled until in 1996 they faced closing. I was their last call. I’ still not sure how I feel about that!

From January 1997 to December 2005, I was Pastor and then Senior Pastor.
At one stage it was a 600 strong congregation, with strong mission emphasis and support as well as an emphasis on grace and restoration.

But we never planted!

Here it is. I wanted to plant; most of the leadership wanted it; there was no opposition in the Church; but we never planted!

Why not? The answers may surprise you, but I think they go a long way to explaining a problem we are facing.

In 2000 I sensed the time and decided to add to the staff a man who I believed would coach the whole process.

He was willing and in fact, looking back, would have been an excellent facilitator of the call I sensed. But it never eventuated. Here’s what I think happened.

First, I got distracted.

I know that our warfare is not against flesh and blood and so I realise this distraction was a critical intervention by the enemy. But I also realise it still didn’t need to go this way even a little bit!

Tough side-issues come up for all of us, so focussing on the important stuff is crucial.

In my case, it was leadership tension that arose within the Eldership which meant the process to support and guide the staff appointment and the task of planting beyond that was left untended.

It lapsed. It just died on the vine while I managed the whole matter to prevent it from becoming some sort of division. And by the time I was ready to return to the matter, the opportunity and the moment had passed.
Distraction is, I believe, the major reason why other Churches never plant.

We all face distractions; they come up all the time. Yet we must not allow them to dictate whether we do this most fundamental of works.

That distraction aside there was another problem.

When I returned to the matter in 2002, I began looking for a leader. Some of you will be saying now why did you have to look for a leader? Weren’t you raising them up?

Yes, all true.

First though, when I say look I meant that I looked within the fellowship.

I had managed to develop leaders in the mission and pastoral care areas, but not in the planting area.

When I couldn’t find anyone, I began intentional leadership development within the Church in mid-2004. But what leaders we did have at that time simply weren’t planters.

The advice I knew in my head and the advice I heard from Bob Logan (who I had just heard speak in mid 2001) was unless you had the right leader, you ought not to start.

Perhaps I didn’t look hard enough. But I couldn’t find the leader I needed.

We began to put money aside. I began to do some planning. I decided on a training phase and established in a formal sense with the leadership that we would use the Pines Training Centre.

But we never found the leader!

This is the killer isn’t it? We’re all struggling with it as an issue. It will not go away.

I went another two years before the transition out of the Church began, without taking another step towards Church planting. We never planted.

How about you?

I’m not telling my story to give reasons and defend myself.

Pastors who are leading Churches that don’t plant aren’t awful people.

They are not rebellious or anti-Kingdom leaders.

No-one intentionally refuses to plant do they? Really? Do they?

I think most of us get distracted and because we aren’t intentional enough we never get back to it and it never happens.

Some people say if you don’t plant in the first four years you will never plant.

Thats true and it’s also not true!

I believe it is never too late.

The barren can be fruitful and this isn’t just a Biblical theme of hope.

The barren Church can be fruitful but there needs to be attention given to the DNA factor.

I haven’t mentioned this yet.

The third issue was, as I look back, that I never took the time to check whether the DNA to plant was in place.

In a sense, if this is right, almost nothing can stop you.

The DNA is what drives a Church to plant. It’s what guides the process of planting. It’s what summons the leader to take passion into the work.

Looking back, I never checked. Now I see why.

In late 1997 in a prayer meeting a sister felt to say she believed the Lord was asking us to make our Church a ‘safe-place’. A place where people could come to recover and re-vision.

This really made sense to us that Sunday night.

My own guess is in Brisbane for every believer in Church there are two not in Church!

So we took that theme up in everything we did as a Church.

The next year, a brother raised the same matter. This brother hadn’t been at the meeting the previous year. But his word was, that the Lord was giving us a name ‘Hebron’. It was the name for a safe-place in the Scriptures. Again, it seemed to fit and we were even more intentionally focused on being that place.

My point is, this became our DNA and I didn’t even realise it at the time.

When I raised the issue of planting and Kingdom-focus in 2004, it was mainly in the hope the Church’s new leadership would take it up and move with it.

What I was attempting was to change the DNA. Or at least start the process of change.

It has been pleasing to see the Church continuing to develop these fundamental aspects and I pray it continues and ushers in a cycle of reproduction and results in a new Church planted.

I think the reason we didn’t plant was that our DNA wasn’t quite right and we were in actual fact ‘sterile’.

We didn’t look sterile. We looked healthy and we were in every way except this one. We were growing. In fact what began around 40 in early 1997 became almost 600 by 2004.

But we were sterile; we couldn’t birth babies (baby Churches, that is) because we couldn’t conceive.

I don’t blame anyone. Not God. Not myself.

All I know is I think God wants our attention on this matter. We need missional Churches. I define this word missional as meaning reproducing.

These missional Churches must be supported to birth as many times as possible, birthing other Churches with the same missional factor in their DNA.

This is how you get a Church Planting movement.

When I write part two of this reflection I want to take up the question of whether every Church should be planting.

~ Colin Stoodley

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