September 21, 2020

Open Mic at the iMonk Cafe: High Ecclesiology/Low Church Planting?

open-mic.jpgI put forward the following DESCRIPTIVE and DIAGNOSTIC proposition, not to get up in someone’s face or assert superiority, but to understand things that are:

“It appears that the HIGHER the view of the church, the clergy and the administration of the sacraments (not the sacraments themselves, but the ADMINISTRATION of them), the LOWER the view and practice of church planting. Why is this? The great challenge to the mainline and Reformation churches is finding ways to understand and overcome this situation.”

I will administer assertively. I am NOT inviting a comparative sacramentalism debate. I am challenging churches whose ecclesiology is not “entrepreneurial” to assess and suggest how they can aggressively start new work that will become new church plants in the future. I will NOT post comments questioning the value of church plants. That is assumed.

I am particularly interested in how this situation is overcome in other contexts, such as in India or Africa.


  1. joel hunter says

    I think the proposition requires clarification in two ways: (1) “higher” is an ambiguous term–for example, there are ways in which Pentecostal practice could be considered “high” (but I will have to leave this at the level of assertion); (2) a concrete context in which to understand what form of “church planting” counts in your statement. Presently in the U.S., the number of Orthodox parishes is increasing; would they count as a “church planting” communion? I don’t think this term can be reified from history. For example, given the relative number of adherents, Lutherans and Anglicans were/are clearly “church planting” communions, but presumably count as “high” in the first half of your statement. If they are not now “church planting” movements, then it isn’t obvious that it has anything to do with their view of the church, clergy or sacraments. Can we take a snapshot at any given moment in history and measure whose numbers are growing versus whose are shrinking to deem them “church planting?” IOW, I think you are assuming a causal connection where none may exist.

    Furthermore, I would be more concerned with the quality of “church planting” than sheer quantity. If health-and-wealth congregations are getting planted like weeds, I would regard that as a Bad Thing. IOW, if someone showed me how great they are at church planting, suspend judgment until other considerations are taken into account. So “church planting” requires concrete cultural meaning in addition to concrete historical meaning. IMO.

    • I appreciate your clarifications on possible interpretations of the questions, but I’d still say this is a valid question per the Great Commission and the need for disciple making churches everywhere. “Quality control” didn’t seem to stop Paul. Without his mop ups of those messy churches most of our NT wouldn’t exist.

      • joel hunter says

        Fair enough, perhaps, but your appeal to the 1st century is exactly the kind of contextualization that is needed to make the terms and comparison work in a way that reveals how they’re actually related. There was no pattern or diversity of form from which Paul could analyze what “synagogues for Gentiles” should be like. To be a disciple of Jesus, one of the ekklesia, was a brand new thing. We, on the other hand, have 20 centuries of experience to draw upon, for better and for worse. That Temple veil has been torn a long time.

        I should also revise my early comment as follows: the experience of so-called “higher” communions with church planting is far from ideal. I mentioned above that we shouldn’t regard new H&W congregations as cause for celebration; but church planting as an extension of colonization is compromised by violence. Nevertheless, one has content that consists primarily of a cultural gospel of salvation by money whilst the other has the true gospel but must speak and act prophetically against its secular lord.

        I would agree that all churches are “messy,” but without further clarification of the meaning of “higher,” and the purported tension between institution/clergy/sacrament and disciple-making, I’ll continue to disagree that the question can be understood. There is a question of normativity–both in terms of form and history–that needs to be brought to the surface. As it stands, I think the proposition asserts its distinctions in a complex question, and therefore functions rhetorically but not substantively.

      • Chad Rushing says

        Without [Paul’s] mop ups of those messy churches most of our NT wouldn’t exist.

        That is one of those funny truths of Church history that has always delighted me. If there were not perfect churches from the get-go, why should anyone expect them now?

  2. Oddly, I just read an article about the lack of church planting among Reformed Baptists this morning.

  3. I am a liturgical, sacramental, James Jordan and Peter Leithart loving Anglican. I think that some of the problem may be with Great Commission fatigue and an almost idolatrous love of liturgy on the part of some folks. Why is it, for instance, that many folks who convert to EO or RCC feel the need to blog about patristics and liturgy ad nauseum for the next three years? Why aren’t they engaging Muslims or unbelievers?

    The AMiA, in theory anyway, is an attempt to break this mold and become a church planting movement that is also liturgical. There are similar movements within other communions, but not as much in the fore as we would want them to be.

    • Chris Zoephel says

      I agree with you. I am currently planting a few missional outposts here in the NW within the AMiA. We value mission over ecclesiology so that helps. However, my opinion is that within high church groups that are planting (and even low church groups) is the church growth/bus model issue. For low church denom types that have been planting for sometime the switch from church growth model focus’ to the more emerging missional focus’ is a tough one. But for denom types who are trying to get into the game more recently we have two issues to deal with that make it difficult.

      1) to change our own and the dna of our members to be missional in a church planting way. This is VERY difficult in and of itself. 2) to not buy into the church growth model stuff. This also is very difficult especially when you consider generational connectedness.

      What I mean by this is that many of the church growth experts and veterans are the same age as many of our denominational leaders. Whereas many of our missional folks are a bit younger and may even communicate in more emerging (younger) ways? I say this as a broad brush statement not as a universal.

      Therefore, we are in a difficult situation. But this is good. As Gimlea puts it “small chance of success….certainty of death….well, what are we waiting for?!” With God all things are possible:)

  4. High Ecclesiology = Bureaucracy/red tape, in most cases. Makes it hard to start new churches. (That’s my guess)

  5. I’m not sure I even grasp the basis for your assertion. You don’t get a much higher view of the church than in Roman Catholicism, but not only do they remain very active establishing parishes, missions, and much more pretty much everywhere in the world, I’m hard-pressed to find a time in history when they weren’t. Lots of periods and places where I would question their methods, but certainly not the fact that they were doing it. My mother has been involved with Roman Catholic mission efforts in the Ozarks and right now is the principal of a mission school in Pine Bluff which primarily serves poor non Roman Catholic kids.

    The Orthodox also have a rich and deep and extremely active practice of mission work that’s pretty amazing and impressive when you study it. That ethos continues to the present. Now, in the US, you have to look to Alaska to see their intentional historical mission work in the US. The rest grew up as a patchwork serving large populations of immigrants. However, they are beginning to reestablish their patterns of intentional missions across the US. They are also active in many parts of the world. The 20th century was particularly brutal to them as many of the areas not already constrained under Islamic rule fell under communist persecution, but with the fall of communism it is recovering and, if anything, is revealing itself stronger than ever. Persecution and martyrdom seems to do that within the Christian church. And again, while their ecclesiology is different than Roman Catholicism, it’s definitely very high.

    Similarly, while it is struggling in the US, the Anglican Communion is thriving in the third world and second world, is establishing new churches, and is both large and growing. Once again, they have a pretty high ecclesiology.

    Taken together, the three traditions above encompass the majority of Christians in the world by a pretty wide margin. And they also account for much of the worldwide numerical growth in Christianity and in Christian churches. So while I don’t disagree that the US (and probably Western in general) “mainline and reformation” churches might have a problem growing and establishing new churches, I don’t see any correlation between that fact and their ecclesiology — not when the three traditions with the highest ecclesiology demonstrate a different reality.

    • Scott: historically, yes. But the RCC is closing churches in most of the west. Only in hispanic areas and a few underchurched suburbs are new churches happening. The RCC in the west is in church planting reversal, mostly because of losses to Pentecostals and lack of priests.

      • All that you say is true, Michael.

        But I think there has also been a difference of practice as regards “church planting” – for a start, this isn’t a term I ever heard as a Catholic. From a very cursory understanding of reading posts on here and other places, it seems to me as if a Protestant (please excuse the generic term, I’m not singling out any one denomination since I know hardly anything about any specific one) church hits a certain point and then decides to split off in a new church plant, e.g. once a church attract and retain something between two to four hundred members, it seems to me that they then decide the ‘excess’ number should set up as a ‘new’ church on its own.

        Whereas in Catholic practice, it’s incorporating new members into existing parishes or – if numbers warrant it – creating a new parish within the diocese, rather than a separate entity. I see from the USCCB website that the 2000 figures give the average parish size as 3,254 members, or 1,269 households. How that stacks up vis-a-vis church sizes, or megachurches, I don’t know (I rather imagine a megachurch would be equivalent to a diocese).

        • For example, I understand that there is massive growth in the South-west of America. The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston has a Catholic membership of 1,300,000 and it is still growing, yet if you check their website, they haven’t created any new parishes or missions; they’ve incorporated the new members into the existing structures.

          So if you looked at how many new ‘church plants’ were created, you’d say they were doing badly. But if you looked at increase in membership, that’s a different story.

          We may be comparing apples and oranges in some instances – but you are certainly correct about the decline in vocations, the decline in Mass attendance, the falling away from the church, the closing of schools, the closing of parishes…

          • I stated below that there is growth in hispanic areas and in hispanic numbers throughout America. This is, in my view, only marginally related to church planting on anyone’s part and is a response to immigration. I commend every church that has responded to that, wherever they are.

          • Just so those outside the US understand. And many in the US don’t get this either. Houston and Dallas are much closer to Chicago than any city on the west coast. By 500 miles or more. And Texas is much more of the mid west culturally than anything on the east coast. (Texas is really a different world but that’s another conversation.)

            The west coast, anything west of the Rocky mountains is very un-churched and getting more so all the time outside of immigration from south of the border. Texas on the other had has a long established and currently immigrating Hispanic community that’s very much both RCC and protestant plus a long history of SBC churches. Texas is so big and different from the rest of the US that generalizations drawn from it are hard to apply.

            And I have some relations in Texas who are RCC and church planting is not something that EVER comes up in conversation.

          • Ah, but, Ross, culturally, Texas is much more Latino than the Irish and African American ethnic groups centered around Chicago. Heck, I’d even say that the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston’s size might be related to their proximity to the Mexican border. 🙂

      • I assure you that neither the Ozarks nor Pine Bluff are either a hispanic area or an underchurched suburb. The statistics I seem to remember reading here (or maybe it was on Jesus Creed) a while back even indicated that the place where the RCC is losing ground in the US is primarily in the NorthEast. But frankly, none of the Western Christian traditions are doing particularly well there right now. Both globally and in the US, the RCC is constantly starting new missions. They do have a problem getting enough priests in the Western industrialized nations these days. But that hasn’t stopped their mission work. They don’t spend most of their time establishing nice, comfortable middle-class suburban “church plants” to compete for some segment of the evangelical crowd and call that “mission work”, which is a lot of what I see among evangelicals in Texas. If they open a new parish to serve a growing suburb with an established Catholic population (which also happens pretty frequently here), they don’t call it a “mission” they just call it a new parish. Missions tend to be things like what my Mom has been involved with and is still doing today. Whether it’s establishing mission churches in a region dominated by a different, but similar flavor of the “mountain religion” you’ve described or running a school in an economically depressed, predominantly african-american, crime and poverty ridden, largely non-Roman Catholic city like Pine Bluff, “missions” tend to really be “missions”. And they don’t get a lot of publicity. They don’t get a lot of attention. And they typically are there for the long haul not for as long as they can generate exciting numbers.

        • And the historical fact is also relevant. The ecclesiology of the three traditions I outlined has not changed over the centuries. (The Orthodox tradition and ecclesiology may be the oldest continuous one, but neither of the other two are spring chickens.) So even if they were not really planting new churches in the US at the present time (something that is only somewhat true really of the Anglican tradition and that’s mostly because of its confused state right now in our country), that clearly couldn’t be tied to their ecclesiology. It would have to be due to other factors.

        • I would agree with what you say, again, within the Catholic model which is not as much about evangelism as about access to existing RCs. And I’d disagree very much that Arkansas is not a growing hispanic area. I’d wager it is, like Ky, seeing dramatic increases of hispanics.

          I totally agree with your critique of evangelicals and the suburbs and I have written a post here criticizing that strongly.

          • Just to clarify, I wasn’t saying there weren’t rapidly growing hispanic populations in Arkansas. I believe there are if you go to places like Little Rock or parts of south Arkansas, though I don’t have much connection to those parts of the state. But that’s not the case in the Ozarks, or at least not the parts where I have family and friends (and which tend to be the mostly deeply depressed with a strong “mountain” culture) and about which I was speaking. And Pine Bluff isn’t growing at all. It’s still pretty big, but has been steadily shrinking since the major industry left years ago.

          • Okay, so maybe we need some clarification.

            Are we talking about evangelism, or are we talking about buildings?

            Because I do get what you’re saying about increased immigration from existing Catholic countries bumping up the numbers in parts of the country.

            But on the other hand, I’m also getting the impression that the Baptist(?) or should I say Evangelical? way of doing things would be “Okay, there’s a new immigrant population in the town. Send somebody in to get a church plant going.” And that would be a completely separate structure from leadership to building.

            Whereas the Catholic approach would be to link them up with the local parish. Maybe we need to have Masses in Polish (to take an example from my own parish) at a certain time every Sunday. The approach would not be to set up a ‘mission to the Poles’ and get them going in their own little separate group.

            And the same applies to evangelising new members, whether the unchurched or non-Catholics or non-Christians or whomever. It wouldn’t be “Let’s get this group off the ground and give them their own pastor and they can meet in the school gym or the parish hall until they get their own building”, it would be to incorporate them into the parish, which is the fundamental unit of the Church structure.

            The only way I can see church planting as it seems to me that you describe it would be going into a part of the country where there was never a Catholic church before or a parish or anything and starting from scratch, from quite literally the ground up – and even there, you’d be under the authority of the bishop of the nearest diocese.

          • After the 2000 census, Arkansas was ranked the 3rd fastest-growing Hispanic population percentage-wise (comparing 2000 Hispanic population to 1990).

            My wife and I attend a predominantly-Hispanic congregation that was planted in 1997 (that’s actually where we met — I had been on Latin America missions trips in college, and when I found out about this new church plant, I started attending to help out and keep my Spanish in form, in addition to services at the church where I grew up). Just in the A/G, I know we have Spanish-language churches in Fort Smith, Van Buren, Rogers, Springdale, Russellville, Dardanelle, Danville, Batesville, El Dorado, Siloam Springs, Hot Springs, and a couple more cities that I’m forgetting.

          • Just about the easiest church plant for any Baptist church in Ky these days is to start a Hispanic service. Even here in Appalachia, they are in every community big enough to have a restaurant or need ag labor.

          • Brian, that actually illustrates my point. Pine Bluff isn’t growing at all in any population. And drive up Hwy 65 into Searcy County (or better yet turn off it onto the state highways and dirt roads) and find the growing hispanic population. 😉

            And Martha, of course any Roman Catholic mission is under the supervision of a Bishop. The missions I was describing in that part of the Ozarks were/are working to establish Roman Catholic churches in places where they never really existed before. The school in Pine Bluff is called a mission school because it serves a severely economically disadvantaged area and because the vast majority of the children who attend it are not Roman Catholic. It is, of course, attached to a parish Church, as is any Catholic school that I know of.

            Of course, you’re also right in that there simply aren’t many areas left in the US like the rural heart of the Arkansas Ozark mountains where the Roman Catholic Church does not have established parishes. Thus there aren’t a whole lot of places where the work they are doing would look like “church planting” rather than working within already existing parish structures. They might decide to split a parish and technically start a “new” church or combine parishes here and there, but none of that looks like the wave of missions they had for many years across our country.

      • cermak_rd says

        But it makes no sense to keep a church building open for an increasingly smaller number of people, especially if via consolidation with another church building, you can still serve those people. Take a case I know of in Ft. Madison, IA (diocese of Davenport) it had 3 Catholic churches back in 1985. This in a town with 15000 people (probably 90% are Catholic). Today it has closed and sold one of the churches, the other two are still open but acting as one parish with one priest who shuttles back and forth. A combination of demographics (like many small town, the town’s young have been moving out for a long time) and the rise of a spirit of non-affiliation have led to a state where the church is only filled to capacity once or twice a year.

        Or take Chicago. Chicago had neighborhoods with churches that were sparsely attended, due to demographic changes. So they closed them. At the same time, Catholic churches were being built out in suburbia where there were Catholics.

        It just makes sense given the cost of maintaining churches, especially the fancy shmancy gothic type structures that Catholics were so fond of building back in the day.

        • Call me hopelessly cynical, but the Catholic part of this conversation will almost certainly go toward the following position:

          If you Protestants only understood what we mean by the church, you’d see that we are the only ones really doing any church planting and the only ones who know how to do it.

          And given the unique way Catholics participate in these conversations- we’re here to explain ourselves to you- that’s fine.

          If some Catholic says “You’re right. We need to plant more churches,” I’ll get Catholic email telling me I need to have a bishop on here to answer these questions.

          No disrespect. This is just how it goes.

          • cermak_rd says

            I’m not Catholic (former one though), I’m simply a person who understands the money angle of this process. Catholics like fancy church structures. Granted, in extremis, they’re perfectly happy to meet in a tent if that’s what’s necessary while they raise money for a building, but the goal is to have a nice church structure. To build that and maintain that requires a certain number of Catholics, probably a good 1000 is ideal. If the number drops below that for long enough, it makes little sense to keep a church structure open particularly if another is close enough to soak up the folks from the closed church. But if the number jumps considerably, there is usually little reason to build a new church structure and so split the church because masses can always be added to the schedule (assuming there’s enough priests). Granted, once a certain threshold is crossed, they probably will split the parish, I’m just not sure what the threshold is.

          • No, I hope that’s not how it’s going to go. I’m certainly not saying “Well, WE do it right and you lot have no idea.”

            I’m just noting that we have different ways of doing things. Group A may say “We’re flourishing because we started three new plants!” Group B may say “We’re flourishing because we have fifty new members!”

            If both Group A and Group B have two hundred members, who is the more flourishing? 🙂

          • From the point of view of a Protestant who has known more than a few Catholics and other “higher” church attenders over the years.

            What the above RCC planting talks in the above posts seem to be more about dealing with population movements and not about attracting new members. At least from the view of the congregants.

            And with the people I personally know in what MS was calling “higher” practicing churches, bringing in new members never enters their thought process. In fact many consider their churches a private club run by the priest. I also know that generalizations are problematic and there are certainly exceptions to this but this is what I’ve personally seen. To the extent that when people have moved into neighborhoods from another city who don’t match the ethnic mix of the church are told sternly but politely that they should really attend a church in another part of town where they’d fit in better.

            On the other hand non “higher” churches seem to have a membership that’s much more (but no where near all and maybe not even most members) are into growing the church. Either their specific church or the universal church. And if you’re growing members you are either becoming a mega or at least a mini-mega church or are planting.

            And AMiA seems to be a somewhat “high” church that’s into planting. The one in my neighborhood has specifically stated they are looking to grow members but never get above 500 without splitting into a new church.

            This is my opinion of what is happening.

          • cermak_rd says

            To an extent, I think Ross may be onto something. It sounds as though iMonk considers church planting to be a means of evangelization, “build it and they will come.” I think the Catholic church tends to go with another view, “they have come, so build it.”

          • I think it’s more of a case of looking at things through another lens entirely, not that we “do it better”. We’re playing another game entirely, as the US is already mostly covered with geographic parishes. Martha seems to be trying to understand the concept of Church planting, due to her lack of experience with American Evangelical culture.

          • We need to plant more churches.

            The fact is, there hasn’t been much space in the diocesan system for the leadership contributions of enthusiastic and educated “full-time” believers, and I think its shaped Catholic culture towards being too comfortable with the status quo.

  6. I only know my ow church body where this is concerned, the LCMS. I rack my mind at night trying to figure out how effective church planting can be done, especially here in Utah, with a little less hassle. Historically, we have been effective at church planting. My Dad alone is responsible for 3 or 4 congregational starts, not to mention his mission work in Africa.
    Doing mission work in Utah is a bit different. I marvel at times how the Church of Christ and other Baptists seem to just start churches in a lot of different towns. Back in the first half of the century, LCMS did that too. We were able to start a bible study in another town, and from that grow to a congregation fairly rapidly. Our circuit just planted a new church and it seemed like the red tape we had to go through was purposely put there to discourage church planting. I know that is not the case, but it seems church planting has become a much more difficult matter than starting a Bible Study. Though I think that is the only way to get anything started. Canvass a town, start a bible study, and get the laity involved, call a pastor and hopefully he has enough energy to get the church off the ground.
    That is one of the things. Paying a full time pastor is not easy, yet church planting is a full time job. I don’t like the idea of the worker priest. Seems like you are asking the plant to fail. It can work though, and is maybe at times necessary.

  7. bill McLellan says

    There are liturgical church planting movements among urban professionals in some of the Reformed traditions like redeemer in manhattan and city church in san francisco.

  8. I think the previous commenters have made a number of good points, some of which I would have highlighted as well, mostly based around the uniquely American context in which your statement seems to be descriptive (I think it is coincidental and is not a causal connection). I think the bigger issue is one that has more to do with social and class acceptability. It is something that is seen again and again in American religion that a movement that starts on the periphery as a revivalistic or evangelistic movemnt becomes embarassed by their past as they become more “mainstream.” This is certainly what happened with the Methodists. In the case of Episcopalians and some Presbyterians etc… they were always a bit embarrassed by the revivalists and the camp meetings and so didn’t participate. Because of this, the South east became predominantly Baptist. The Episcopal Church did plant a large number of churches in the 19th century, but that period along with a slight increase after WWII, have been the only significant periods of growth–and of course the decline since the 60’s is well documented.

    Personally I think the mainline (most of whom are “higher” than free churches) lost their evangelistic vigor as a result of cozying up to the establishment, which in America has always been pluralistic to some extent. It’s hard to evangelize or work up a desire to plant churches when you only practice civil religion in the public square.

  9. It’s hard to plant a church that administers the sacraments when it takes 7 or 10 years for a new pastor to become ordained (speaking specifically of Methodists).

    The catholic church got along fine for a good long time (and grew a lot) without requiring the Lord’s Supper to only be served by people with a Rev. in front of their name.

  10. I’m a Baptist, so we have our own set of problems. I certainly don’t mean to tear anyone down. However, it might seem to me that because the sacraments are such a process in some of the “higher” churches that it honestly takes too long to learn how it works in some of the developing areas, like your India and Africa context. It’s honestly easier to be a non-denominational or something along those lines. So maybe it’s an issue of training people out in the field?

    • Dan,

      If you want to see the long term effects (centuries) of training people out in the field, look at Roman Catholicism in Latin America. It’s not a pretty sight.

      • In all fairness, the problems of the Roman Catholic Church in Latin America are the result of an over-dependence on the mother Churches in the colonizing countries rather than a too-vigorous program of indigenization.

        “Benign neglect” rather than “training people out in the field” would be a better phrase to use. I am kind of a minority report here; i am actually impressed with Rome’s achievements in South America, especially comparing them to the seething mass of heresy that has been fermenting down there under the heirs of the Radical Reformers

  11. The Orthodox Church in Africa is growing rapidly. It is under the omphorion of the Patriarch of Alexandria.

    As far as I have been told, generally people just come, sometimes entire communities. The hierarchs on the ground often ordain men without seminary, and then fill up the gaps as they go.

    There is a lot of Orthodoxy in the services themselves. Anybody who could learn the cycle of services and still prays from the heart has enough knowledge to become a priest. Orthodoxy is a peasant’s religion anyway.

  12. Bill Mc: I would could Redeemer in the “low” ecclesiology half of evangelicalism, and would not that many of the churches they start are not in their denomination, but are both higher and lower on the “sacramentalism” scale.

    I’m not, by the way, denying that church plants happen with anyone. Obviously some churches do so. I’m more interested in the why and how as compared to other churches of their type.

  13. >the hierarchs on the ground often ordain men without seminary,

    Isn’t this a HUGE part of it?

    • The ideal for Orthodoxy is not the seminary, but the monastery.

      The academic seminary is a relatively new phenomenon among the Orthodox, again, not speaking as an expert, but as a recent interloper. The Catholics have a thousand schools, I think the Greeks have one post-secondary institution. Brainiac-ery is not our strong suit. We have Gregory Palamas instead of an Thomas Aquinas.

      The adventures of Orthodoxy among the schoolmen has not been an unmixed blessing. I had no idea that Schmemann and Lossky had their detractors, but they do, and usually among the monks. Progress in Orthodoxy is made in the monasteries and on the mission field, and our best theologians (Zizoulas, etc) are the ones who are capable of translating the monastic insights into “bookspeak”.

    • I know of a church-planting movement in Brazil that emphasizes planting the church first, then going to school. I also know of a mission there whose policy used to be that you could not go to seminary until you had planted a church. They apparently wanted people hungry to learn with a hunger that far supercedes the academic.

  14. You don’t in any sense imply this, but it’s worth observing that a low view does not automatically lead to loving church plants. My (Baptist) church is getting to the size where planting should be on the table as a real point of discussion, but the pastor is not so keen.

    On the other hand, I’m at the ‘top end’ of Reformed ecclesiology, and think that the Church is so great I want to see local churches everywhere. So I share your bemusement at the lack of planting among the ecclesiologically higher denominations. Some of it is probably historico-theological: I think that Protestant denominations with a higher ecclesiology have been associated with theological weakening, and that theological weakening is then correlated with a lack of evangelistic fervour. Then there’s the point of view which the Fearsome Comrade has described of church pastors thinking that simply doing the liturgy every week is ‘mission’, which you can see flowing from a high view of the church’s Sunday meetings, which in turn is linked to a high ecclesiology.

    (UK perspective, so this may not entirely resonate.)

  15. John Inman says

    The mainlines/higher church denoms want their pastors to have medical/retirement benefits and they don’t have the money to pay for them w/out money coming from the pastor’s church. A church plant doesn’t have the money so they don’t plant. And they aren’t attractive enough to steal sheep and they don’t do evangelism very well.

    Baptists pentecostals don’t mind letting pastors risk their families health and long term financial stability to plant a church. God will provide. No hangups about sheep stealing. Are able to recruit church dropouts by emphasizing we’re not churchy. Sacramental churches can’t really use the non-churchy marketing technique.

    • cermak_rd says

      This may be too broad of a brush.

      I would be interested if anyone had done statistical analysis showing how many people who start to attend a church plant are new to church-going and how many are church-movers. Not that attracting church movers is bad if it keeps them from becoming church dropouts, that’s a net gain for the church too.

      I’m guessing some place like Mars Hill will have attracted mainly non-goers, just based on the fact of where it’s located. I’d be more skeptical of church plants in Chicago where churches are pretty well thick on the ground (yes, some are being closed, I think for everyone that closes, 5 pop up in theatres, old malls, store fronts, etc.)

  16. I am a Catholic – and we need to find a way to plant new churches. 🙂

    There, you can get your mail and get some Bishops in here to clarify or whatever.

    And I don’t mean new big, expensive parishes with multi-million dollar facilities. And I really don’t need another Catholic to explain to me the importance of the Eucharist here and the philosophy behind the Real Presence, etc., etc. Trust me, that thought will pop up. I mean smaller communities – and if they’re aren’t enough Priests, and there aren’t, then they shouldn’t be run by Priests. There is something about planting new things. And I’m pretty sure Michael is talking about reaching unchurched and non-Christian people, not converting other Christians to your team. Less hassle, less red tape, fewer rules, open this thing up.

    My Methodist brother up there said something about 7-10 years to train a Seminarian to ordination – tell me about it – same in the Catholic world (it’s 5 even for a Permanent Deacon!). “Do you want dumb Priests??” Seriously – just don’t. Were all the Priests before basically the middle ages dumb?? The present academic seminary system is not some kind of infallible doctrinal dealio. It’s relatively new, as time goes, and yes there are reasons for it, but perhaps it has gone a little far.

    Aaaa, no point – throwing words to the wind. It’s OK to criticize things like this in your own faith tradition. It doesn’t mean you’re throwing it under the bus. It means you would love to see certain things improve where they need to improve – and of course, that’s my opinion and you can “fire me” or whatever. I suppose I couldn’t keep my pen shut this time. Peace.

    • I think Ross above got it right – we don’t seem to think about attracting a mass of non-believers. We’re okay with individuals, but the notion of heading out with a plan to get X backsides plonked down in the pews seems to give us the heebie-jeebies.

      Also, I think we’re concentrating a lot on retaining the membership we already have, and getting the ‘dropped-out’ back, rather than going to non- Catholics/non-Christians.

      So yeah, we need to get serious about evangelisation. And that means us laity, who are too much inclined to leave it up to the priests/religious.

      Well, the vocations slump means that there ain’t no nuns/brothers/priests to do the work. I have no idea why organisations like the Legion of Mary – a lay evangelisation movement – fell away so much (unless I go for the ever-popular ‘blame the aftermath of Vatican II!’ excuse, which is part of it, but not all).

      We need something like that to kick us in the backside and get us going again, that’s for sure.

  17. I don’t mean buildings. Half of all churches don’t need them at all, ever.

    Alan: I’m calling a bishop now. Good grief….

    Seriously, monasticism please? John Michael Talbot? Alternative sites for mass for goodness sake. JPII would go out to the workers. I realize we all don’t do the same thing, but the idea is to start new to reach new.

  18. Our denomination (LCMS) is torn. Those who are planting churches often think the only way to do it is with contemporary worship. I had one Lutheran church planter tell me that the liturgy was a hindrance to planting a church.

    This is compounded by the fear of the confessional side of the church towards “lay ministry”non ordained ministers) and ‘Conventicles.” (uber spiritual cliques in the church resulting from small home groups)

    Also, we lack a solid blueprint for planting liturgical churches that can be used by prospective church planters as a starting point to get things going. Some of us are working on that aspect of the problem, and I’ll be blogging on it in the near future.

    In the mean time here is what Luther had to say about house Churches.

  19. AMiA is the church to watch in this regard. If they can take the energy of this recent leaving TEC, and turn it into plants that have evangelistic growth, then I think Lutherans, etc would all be greatly encouraged, and the cause of true evangelicalism greatly helped.

  20. “I had one Lutheran church planter tell me that the liturgy was a hindrance to planting a church.”

    I’d say they were right. The high liturgy came about in a time of kings and emperors. They all had similar trappings in terms of dress and ritual. Now a high liturgy seems like a quaint costume pageant to many people not in the faith. If not downright lunacy. Not the meaning. But the trappings. But the trappings affect the perception that communion requires this pageant to be “real”.

  21. You all might be interested in this paper, “Planting Churches in Urban Soil” by Rev. Dan Claire (AMiA) of Washington DC.

  22. Steve in Toronto says

    Here’s my Canadian Anglican takes on the situation. In most instances the more high Church / Sacramental denominations are “built out” there is not a small town or neighbourhood in Canada that does not have its own Anglican Church. The sad reality is however that most of these churches are dieing due to a combination of elderly insular congregations and leftward theological drift. As a result the hierarchy won’t plant a new church for fear of cannibalizing existing congregations. There is a way out of this mess however once a church is no longer viable it can be rebooted (moving in new dynamic clergy with or without the approval of its existing congregation) or “Grafting “(moving a dynamic assistant priest and a portion of his existing parishioners from a nearby congregation in) both option risk alienating existing parishioner but can and do work if handled delicately. Sadly in an environment of economic scarcity the temptation is to concentrate resources on exiting infrastructue at the expense of “risky new ventures”

    God Bless
    Steve in Toronto

  23. Ross,

    “I had one Lutheran church planter tell me that the liturgy was a hindrance to planting a church.”

    I’d say they were right.”

    Tell that to the Orthodox or the Anglicans. They seem to be having great success.

    To many people not in the faith, any type of Christian worship at all seems ridiculous.

  24. I believe if someone wants to focus on liturgy as the primary way to reach people, they need their head examined. Create a community of real relationships. Love the people in the neighborhood. Serve them in Jesus name. Stand by them in their struggles. Allow them to be themselves and to come with their problems. If you do that, the liturgical form of your worship will be secondary, and they will allow you to teach them the meaning of what you are doing.

  25. Imonk,

    Wise words, sir.

    I brought up the liturgy because it is a real sticking point in our tradition, and the resulting disagreement among the brethren is a bottleneck that has hampered us in the recent past.

  26. I would say that this is one of the rare times when I have seen you get it wrong. You are citing a temporary historical issue in one section of the world as though it were true of all sections and times.

    It was in the 20th century that the East African Revival spread Christianity through many parts of Africa, turning Christianity from a minority to a majority religion in those countries. The largest growth was among Anglicans and Roman Catholics. Many of the current Anglican leaders opposing the progressives of The Episcopal Chuch are African.

    It was in the 20th century, from 1960 through the 1980’s that South Koren Christianity exploded to be just under 1/3 of the population. The largest Presbyterian denomination in the world is found there (not to mention the largest Presbyterian congregation), the Roman Catholics number about 10% of the Korean population (or just over 1/3 of the Christians), and the South Koreans send out the second largest number of missionaries in the world.

    It was from the 18th through the 19th century that Russian Orthodoxy crossed all of what is now northern Russia to Alaska, establishing a Christianity so strong that it was able to survive 70 years of Russian persecution, and produce authors and believers who braved death itself to remain faithful.

    I should note that after the fall of the Soviet Union, the resurgence of the visible Orthodox Church among the Russians, Ukrainians, and Slavs has been huge. Do a search in The New York Times, and you will see the huge number of articles relating to the return of a visible strong Orthodoxy in Russia, with adult baptisms, new churches, etc.

    Nineteenth and 20th century growth in Singapore turned that city-state into a 1/3 Christian population, with the majority belonging to liturgical churches. They are also sending out missionaries.

    Now, that is just four citations during my lifetime. This is not exactly very old history!

    I would thoroughly agree with your statement provided you limit it to the Western European First World countries and to the 20th century. There is a serious problem in the First World among liturgical churches, but it is not related to their being “high.” However, if your statement is a general statement, I have just offered evidences to the contrary.

  27. Fr. Ernesto, I suppose that I should have given all the historical and non-western background to my question, but you’re just going to have to get used to my hillbilly ways 🙂 I know that the growth of “high” ecclesiologies in non-western countries is part of the record (an interesting record that ought to be discussed on its own btw, esp the treatment of various traditions by other traditions), and I believe I suggested in one comment that this is part of what we need to explain in the west.

    I have really no ability to presuppose the world situation and all of church history before most of my questions. They generally betray my parochial mindset and location.

    My apologies.



  28. The Guy from Knoxville says


    Don’t know if it’s this way in Kentucky, though I suspect it is being a southern state and rural for the most part just like here, but one of the barriers to church planting here amongst SBC churches is that most don’t want one anywhere near them and anywhere near can mean we don’t want it 50 or 100 miles from us – they all fear loss of their folk to the new plant which seems odd given that the new plant is usually about reaching people in an area not otherwise influenced by christianity or at least the SBC version of it. As you know a lot of SBC church plants like to have sponsors to help with the start up etc but you can hardly get one to sponsor a new plant unless it’s on the other side of the state, in another state or in another country – heaven forbid we have a new one anywhere “near us”. No, most are hoping that they get a few sheep from some other congregation while trying to mend the fence at their own place to keep the ones they already have from getting out.

  29. Mike McConville says

    I haven’t read the other comments so I may be repeating what someone has already said—-but in light of your mention of Wesley in a recent thread, I would say that this has always been a problem. What provoked the Wesleyan revival in England was Wesley’s desire to take the gospel to the masses instead of expecting them to travel to “four consecrated walls.” The resistence he faced from the Anglicanism of his day was huge. I think due to the fact that well established denominations that have been around a long time tend to rest on their laurels, content with where they are and what they have.

  30. As others above have pointed out, the worlwide reality is that high church groups also have been spreading, particularly in non-Western countries. I think there’s a perception in the US that low church groups are more into church planting because US low church groups tend to be more consumer and marketing oriented…more of a man-centered theology which emphasizes getting the most people possible to just pray that one prayer of salvation and be saved. This means having worship styles which use secular music to attract people into the church, emphasizing emotional, high pressure altar calls and getting a Christian message, even if watered down, out there as urgently as possible (often the urgency is because of a belief that Christians are going to be “raptured” away at any moment). High church groups tend to have a more long term view at building the Kingdom and promote a more rational approach to Christianity, with emphasis on continuity of heritage and a more “thought out” conversion process. There is less urgency to blanket the world with a watered down message and more emphasis on getting out the full message in a slow, reasoned way.

  31. Interesting that you post this now, as I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about the general concept of “planting.”

    Historically, Christians have planted missions, they’ve planted schools, they’ve planted hospitals, they’ve planted seniors’ homes, they’ve planted Christian camps, and also, they’ve planted churches.

    But that spirit doesn’t seem to be as strong today in areas other than church planting, which as you point out, is a variable agenda depending on the ecclesiology of the group concerned. In the part of the world were I live, the province of Ontario, it’s been more than 30 years since anyone started a Christian camp from scratch. We have churches that are missional, and we’ve rediscovered the poor, but haven’t seen the type of inner city missions that characterized Christian witness 100 years ago. The parish nurse concept has raised the profile of health care, but we see nothing compared to the building of hospitals in the past. The only creative energies in the Christian education sector are being spent on recruiting students.

    So I would say that this is more about the lack of the entrepreneurial spirit; brought about by the lack of empowerment of the laity. We tend to leave these matters to “the pros,” and right now, they’re all busy.

  32. +Alan said, “It’s OK to criticize things like this in your own faith tradition. It doesn’t mean you’re throwing it under the bus. It means you would love to see certain things improve where they need to improve – and of course, that’s my opinion and you can “fire me” or whatever. I suppose I couldn’t keep my pen shut this time. Peace.”

    Peace to you, too, Alan. I was just talking to my husband today about lack of Catholic priests and the things that could be leading to that. I have my ideas how some of that could be resolved, but I don’t know that I will see those things put in place in my lifetime.

    I was having a “fantasy,” of sorts, about what will happen as there are less Catholic priests. So here is what will happen: if you are Catholic, you get your hand scanned by some kind of electronic do-hickey and then you go to a building (doesn’t need to be a church) and stick your hand over the do-hickey which scans your hand. When it recognizes you as one of the Catholics, out pops a consecrated Host! Ta-da!

    Or…you sign up to have the consecrated Hosts mailed to you. If one gets delivered to someone else by mistake, well, hey, maybe they will read what this is all about and become Christian or Catholics themselves. Evangelism by mail and failed delivery. Wow! Or, if if the Host was delivered to the wrong address, there could be a note inside telling the receiver where to drop the envelope with the Host in a safe place or how to mail it back to the original sender.

    (Please know that all of the above is done “tongue in cheek.”)

    I started thinking crazy things like this because I remember one commenter here some time ago saying he doesn’t really care if the priest give good homilies (sermons) or not because he goes to Mass for the Eucharist. I am not making fun of what he said, because I actually can agree with what he said. It does make it sound like the Eucharist is kind of like a “God pill,” but you know, the more I thought about it being like a “God pill” the more I actually liked the thought. I don’t know about you, but I need all the God pills I can get. I know, I know….that is not the only way we become sanctified. We still need prayer, confession, loving our neighbors, and more. We need it ALL.

    As Michael keeps telling us, the truth is that we need each other to help us grow in love. As our local church structures change, how we “do” church will change and only God knows how that will look in a hundred years.

    OK….returning to my “serious” self now.

  33. Thanks for that, Joanie – I laughed out loud, literally. 🙂 Somebody’s ‘gonna see this and put that scan the hand thing in a movie or something. ha. But you’re right – “God-pills”, Scripture, prayer, community, teaching, etc. – sooo many ways God pours His Life into us. Peace again.

    • Glad it made you laugh, Alan. I was hoping someone would get a kick out of it. And yes, I can see the hand scan thing getting into a movie too. Hey, you read it here first. If I happens, I am going to sue for royalties from the movie! 😉