January 27, 2021

No Riffs: 11:14:07: Piper on Church Planting and Ministry to the Poor

uganda-poor-church.gifJohn Piper has enough truth in this sermon to revolutionize evangelicalism—if anyone is really listening. Read it several times. It’s absolutely on target.

Memorize those church planting statistics, young preachers/church planters.

The connection between church planting, evangelism and ministry to the poor is a balance evangelicals need to embrace in a way that shapes everything we do. Education. Preparation. Cooperation. Leadership. Finance. Evangelism. All our priorities. Thank you, Dr. Piper, for making this connection clear.


  1. I think it’s a good speech/sermon, but “revolutionize”?? Nah. There’s nothing new in it.

    I don’t just mean that in the “there is nothing new under the sun” sort of way. Rather, everything he says there has already been said by others, recently. I have read all of those ideas in books available in Christian bookstores. He says it very well, but hardly something to “revolutionize evangelicalism”.

    I hope he and the others who are emphasizing these ideas become the standard, rather than the relatively small impact they are now. I use the term ‘relative’ just because the build-megachurches-with-fancy-programs is still the 800-pound gorilla in evangelical communities. I’d put the ideas like those Piper gives here somewhere around the highschool-football player sort of category: quite a bit less visible, but still very present.

  2. It would be revolutionary in the evangelicalism I live in. Almost no church planting at all.

  3. Really? Do you think that might be more of a geographically regional thing, rather than a denomination-wide attitude?

    My Northern Virginia area might be odd; with all the population growth in this area, it seems that every denomination I know of is planting new churches here. I can’t remember which Baptist group you’re with, but there are a couple new (less than 10 years old) Baptist churches in my area. Heck, I even heard of a new Lutheran church starting up!

    The most activity I see around here are independent church plants, AG churches, Episcies, and small “denominations” like New Life. Perhaps because I’m part of a “new” church (6 years old) the other new churches coming into the area catch my eye. As a 6-year-old church, we’re considered to be established!

  4. Brandon T Milan says

    In the evangelicalism in which I live, church planting is seen as unwanted competition to the dying churches. The poor are seen as a burden on “normal” folk.

  5. I appreciate John’s emphasis and concern. His stats are all wrong based on recent research but the general direction is fine. For more current research see Leadership Network’s recently released “State of Church Planting” papers available for free on the web site http://www.leadnet.org.
    Full disclosure – I am managing director of Leadership Network and also, Bethlehem Baptist has been a participant in our Church Planting Leadership Communities.
    I would also counter – We are seeing a real wave of church planting churches right now. Lots of planting going on in a variety of contexts and methodologies.

  6. I have my doubts about “Church Planting”.

    1) My writing partner is a burned-out pastor in rural PA. Looking around his area, you are NEVER out of sight of a church steeple; most of these churches have maybe a dozen in their congregation with a median age well past sixty. Yet you hear of Christians “being called” to go into church-saturated areas like this to “plant churches”. Why not try to revitalize the myriad of churches already out there?

    2) I have also had first- and second-hand experience with flake Christians, such as IMonk has profiled in his “Long Slow Drive Over the Edge” series of essays. (IMonk: Some of these don’t make me think I’m in a bad Star Wars movie, they make me think I bamfed into the Thirty Years War and its Witchfinder Generals!) And a lot of these flake-cities talk about “planting a church” because all the existing ones are too Apostate for them. (As in “I alone have the One True Way! Get on my bus or I’ll run you over!”)

    3) I have also heard many times about the total-withdrawal-into-the-Christian-Ghetto types always wanting to move away from the Big Bad City and “plant a church”. Are they being “called” or is this just a way to baptize a getaway with God-talk?

  7. Having lived in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which is one of those places with a church every four blocks and weird Christians that separate at the slightest provocation, I understand where Ken’s doubts come from. But there are large parts of this country where this is not the case, like the Pacific Northwest, where people moved here much faster than the churches could. In Seattle, large churches (like Mars Hill) are doing good work, but they seem to be attracting Christians moving into Seattle more than they are reaching to the unchurched who are already there. The old-line churches are present but did not arrive here until the city was already fairly well established. Seattle could use more small churches, especially in the dense urban areas where so many people do not attend and have never attended church services. We don’t need any more megachurches here – just small churches that mostly fly under the radar but preach the gospel faithfully – and that means church planting.

  8. J. Michael Matkin says

    As a former resident of Tulsa and current resident of Bellingham, WA (a couple of hours north of Seattle), I think Grant has absolutely nailed it.

  9. Ken,

    I do, sometimes see church planting as just moving active Christians from one body to another. That is not the plan, nor should it be. (I’m not talking about a core of believers to act as a base.)

    But, one of the reasons for church planting in areas where there are a lot of small dying churches vs revitalizing them is the people involved in the existing ones. They may be stuck more in the “My Church, My Pew, My parking space” and don’t you dare disturb me. I find this most sad, but unfortunately common in Christianity. (and frequently in businesses, etc.)

  10. If a church has four million dollars- what is good stewardship? Have a four million dollar building project? Or plant churches next to the half-way houses and where the homeless can walk to? And how can our hearts not break when we look at the ten million children who die every year of preventable diseases and hunger before they are even six years old? There must be a strategy change.

  11. Since Tulsa is coming up a lot in this discussion – I will mention the fact that in OK the BGCO SBS’s of OK are pushing bigtime church planting. While it does seem there are churches on every corner, most of them are plateaued or declining. So comes the hard questions we have to face. Can those churches be revitalized? Most of the time the answer is, unfortunately, no. Most of these churches will have too hard a time changing and adapting methods that will create growth. I’m not advocating for or against these methods, but just looking at the facts of what seems to work for growing churches today. The BGCO (Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma) sees this also and therefore their emphasis is on new church plants. Only time will tell if this is the right strategy. Personally, I’m leaning toward thinking the house church/cell church is the way to go. Flexible, low overhead, easier to reproduce quickly…

  12. Grant – I grew up in Seattle and your analysis that there are not enough churches in the city is spot on but knowing Seattle, I would also say the last thing the people of Seattle need or want would be more worship service centers in dense urban areas.

    Seattle needs to see the redeemed community – people living life together and making disciples. Buildings that house worship service with weekly impersonal preaching may attract audiences in Tulsa where its ingrained in the culture but planting hundreds of traditional churches in Seattle and in most urban areas on both coasts seems a recipe for frustration and failure.

  13. But, one of the reasons for church planting in areas where there are a lot of small dying churches vs revitalizing them is the people involved in the existing ones. They may be stuck more in the “My Church, My Pew, My parking space” and don’t you dare disturb me. I find this most sad, but unfortunately common in Christianity. (and frequently in businesses, etc.) — Anna A

    In which case, you wait for a critical mass to die off and then generate a new critical mass. Sometimes this does get to church planting — that is, if the church dies completely, leaving only their physical building and grounds.

    And the “My Church, My Pew, My Parking Space” mentality is one of the reasons my writing partner is a wanna-be EX-pastor. (Trying to head off total burnout; his congregation has told him flat-out they “don’t want to learn any more big words” and that his only function is to keep them comfortable on the way to the graveyard.)

  14. The “My Church, My Pew, My Parking Space” tragedy is an execrable tragedy in the Church, and is (IMO) the main reason for church planting.

    There are a number of very large, old church buildings in my area which were filled years ago, but are now limping along with only 30 or 40 attendees. If people look at the number of churches in this area, it would appear that there are plenty. The problem is that the churches aren’t reaching out. Church plants usually aren’t necessary in America to reach places where there aren’t any churches, but rather where the existing churches aren’t doing anything.

    Re-vitalizing these churches is usually MUCH harder and slower than starting a new church. Churches should be re-vitalized, but until they are, we still need to be reaching out. Even if the overarching organization of a particular church decided to encourage a revitalization (a huge if!) it is impossible to budge many of these churches without first ejecting the current members.

    As a funny/sad story, there’s a church in town with 12 members and no pastor with a big building. There are two church plants (one is mine) by the same denomination sort-of close around which have no permanent building. Both of them have talked with the church and regional church govt about joining together with each other and the group that is in the building. At the beginning of the process I visited them wearing slacks and a button-up shirt, no tie. My pastor got a call letting him know that I hadn’t worn a jacket and tie to church, and if that was the way we dressed in our church they wouldn’t even discuss a join. The group in the building has flat-out refused to join with us or anyone else.

    Ken, should we wait five years for the current church to die off? No! Plant the church! I realize there can be church plants for wrong reasons, but there is a vital need for church plants in many areas (not all!) where there might be plenty of existing, dead churches.

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