Should we still be church planting in 2023?

In a world of YouTube sermons and discipleship podcasts, are traditional church planting strategies still the most effective way of spreading the message of Jesus? Is there still value in establishing physical gatherings of believers in line with the first century context of Acts and the Epistles?

In our recent Serve Asia Podcast series on church planting, we discussed these questions with Adam* and John, OMF (UK) workers involved in church planting in two different contexts. Their insightful answers shed light on the timeless value of church planting, while acknowledging the need for flexibility and adaptation in a changing cultural landscape.

Faithful flexibility

Adam highlighted the need for both faithfulness and flexibility in responding to a changing world. He was keen to point out that God’s unchanging nature provides a solid foundation for the Church’s mission. Adam drew inspiration from theologian Kevin Vanhoozer’s metaphor of improvisation in drama or music to illustrate the concept of faithful and fitting responses in different settings within the overarching story of God’s plan.

Adam explained:

‘We don’t exactly replicate what was done in the first century, nor do we replicate what was done in the 1800s. Nor even what was done 15 years ago. And yet, we are still in the same story. We still have the same God, we know where the story started, we have the scenes of creation, fall, and redemption, we’re still waiting for the final scene of consummation, we know where it’s going.’

As well as knowing where we are headed, Adam shared how we can draw on what has come before. In church planting, ‘we can’t do whatever we want’. ‘The Bible is our script’, he explained. Yet there is freedom in faithful improvisation. ‘Wherever you are, there is the whole history of the church before us. That gives us our cue; that shows us what faithful discipleship looks like,’ Adam said. ‘And yet it’s over to us, under the guidance of the Spirit, to improvise faithfully at this moment in time, what is fitting for the kingdom of God, here and now.’

Discipleship in a digital age?

‘I think certainly there are faster ways’ of sharing the gospel, John reflected, but ‘I don’t think there are better or more effective ways of reaching a community’. Drawing on references in both Old and New Testaments, he emphasised the biblical mandate for God’s people to gather together. These gatherings provide a nurturing environment for believers to grow, support one another, and demonstrate the love of Christ. The importance of physical presence in fostering genuine connections and witness is also key, as Jesus himself stated that people would recognise his disciples by their love for one another. John shared ‘we have non-Christians turn up at church, and their reflection at the end of a service is “Wow, I’ve never been somewhere like this where everyone clearly really cares for each other. It’s like a family.”’ This tangible expression of love can deeply impact people and draw them closer to Christ.

Addressing the potential of doing evangelism online, John pointed out that while this offers various advantages, it may not be as effective in reaching those who are not actively seeking information about Jesus. Mostly you only come across content related to what you’re already consuming or what you enter in a search bar. Additionally, John has found that in his context, the internet is flooded with content from a wide range of sources, making it challenging for individuals to discern genuine Christian content.

However, he also wanted to be clear that the choice between church planting and digital outreach should not be an either-or proposition. Throughout the ages, the Church has used new technology, such as the printing press during the Protestant Reformation. Both approaches can complement one another. John shared that his church understood the value of being present on social media, such as YouTube and Facebook. Additionally, he has seen excellent ministries using radio, television, and informative websites to supplement church planting efforts and reach those who lack access to physical churches.

As we head into 2024, the world continues to change rapidly, but the timeless principles of Scripture provide a firm foundation for faithful discipleship and mission. Church planting, with its emphasis on the physical gathering of believers embodying Christ’s love, remains a powerful strategy for sharing the good news of Jesus. We can also make the most of digital platforms that offer additional avenues to reach individuals who may not have access to physical church communities. By combining the strengths of both approaches, the Church can effectively navigate the complexities of the modern world and continue to share the message of Jesus across East Asia and beyond.

Chris Watts  OMF (UK) Communications Manager  

Listen to the full conversations with Adam and John on the Serve Asia Podcast. Head to omf.org/uk/podcast or search for ‘The Serve Asia Podcast’ in your podcast app.

Written by Chris Watts

OMF (UK) Communications Manager

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