As I have discussed in the Pastoral Seminars concerning The Shift in this season, there
is also Church Planting Shifts that must take place. We must acknowledge that
Christianity in the West is competing more with a secular worldview than it has in the
past, when Christendom reigned.
The question among missionaries, pastors and church leaders today arises around the issues of timing: When will this reality exert significant pressure on the present church planting approach, thus requiring immediate change to the predominant approach—reaching nominal Christians?
Below, I look at some possible implications this evident Shift may have for the support structures of most church planting initiatives.
New and Emerging Philosophies
With the rising tide of secularism and the ultimate decline of Christian nominalism, we
may need to rethink our denominational and traditional church planting support
mechanisms. There’s no doubt that no nominalism has provided us with a ready base
to plant and launch churches. We could plant faster with a Christian base and nominal
Christians to reach. But that is changing.
This, in turn, has led to a fiscal reality that the way we fund church planting must line
up with the new and emerging philosophies of church planting.
As we look to the future, we’re going to find it more challenging to fund church plants
the traditional way, primarily because the sending context will be vastly dissimilar to
our current context. That’s already true in places like Boston or Madison, Wisconsin,
but it is becoming more evident in places like Columbus, Ohio, as well.
In order for churches to be planted in a more secular society, we need different skills
as church planters and we need to take more time to establish credible and significant
roots in a secular community that may not be antagonistic to the Christian faith, yet
question its overarching importance to life.
A Missionary Model
Planting churches in secular contexts is different from planting churches in nominal
Christian contexts. Even though the difference may seem obvious to most people, the
implications are more complex as it relates to the emotions of current support
infrastructure and denominational marketing endeavors.
It would not make sense from a financial perspective to say, “Well then, we’ll fund you
for 10 years,” unless we change the church planting model to a missionary model. It is
unrealistic to sustain the support for 10 years around planting a new church among
those who support church plants today and see almost instant results.
If, however, we change the church planting model to a missionary model, then we will
fund people as missionaries for multiple years as they plant churches with appropriate
means and metrics, thus moving away from the traditional church planting model.
Secular contexts are more complex and require a completely different set of skills,
personnel, support, infrastructure, models and funding. Traditionally, these funding
models have depended largely on particular denominations; however, they typically
state that funding will be around 75 percent in year one, 50% percent in year two, 25
percent in year three, and by year four, the church is (ideally) fully supported and self-
sufficient. This funding model makes a lot of assumptions about culture and planting
First, the fundamental assumption that self-sufficiency can be attained in three to four
years is unrealistic and, second, the assumption that pastoral motivation for self-
sufficiency is a primary driver toward attaining the goal is faulty. Neither motivation
that exists in our current climate will singlehandedly conquer church planting in
The missionary-funding model is when you are an employee of a mission agency and
you plant churches, but typically you don’t stay at that church, but instead plant
another church. This is not always easy or realistic, and this is where it gets
We currently don’t have the kind of model that I think our new cultural reality needs.
However, bivocational ministry is a good option to both exert influence from within
secular society and create a context within which the people of God can live out the
implications of the gospel and the love of Christ.
Secularism may indeed even be seen as God’s answer to a complacent and complicit
church by providing an unfamiliar and somewhat tainted environment within which the
Christian stands out as a shining example of a life to be lived empowered by the Spirit
This, in many senses, will return the church to its earlier mission history of bringing
the gospel where cultural assumptions were worlds apart. Perhaps the church has
learned lessons from the past that will empower witness and mission in secular
contexts where the gospel is yet to take root and transform lives from the inside out.