5 Ways to Develop a Church Planting DNABy Bradley Bell
January 20, 2021
Bradley Bell is a staff writer at the Upstream Collective where he produces blog and social media content. He’s author of The Sending Church Defined and Receiving Sent Ones During Reentry: The Challenges of Returning “Home” and How Churches Can Help. He serves as a board member of Upstream Collective and is also the lead pastor at Antioch Church.
The coolest thing about 1984 wasn’t just that I was born. It was the year of the greatest comedy/horror film ever made: Gremlins. If you haven’t seen it, the story begins with a man who buys a mogwai, a strange creature that he names Gizmo. Along with the purchase comes important rules: never let Gizmo come in contact with water and never feed Gizmo after midnight. Of course, Gizmo eventually does get wet and spawns five more mogwai. Then those mogwai are given a bucket of leftover KFC. Thus, the blockbuster-worthy little monsters called Gremlins.
What could this possibly have to do with church planting? In short, blockbuster-worthy events don’t just happen. Just as the mogwai had to be given certain things in order to multiply into something memorable, churches must cultivate a particular DNA in order to multiply themselves. If a church is to become a sending church, it must intentionally nourish itself with the right “water” and “food”. The question is, what exactly is that water and food? Five things come to mind.
Develop a Priority Rather Than a Forecast
This may not make sense, but the most likely church to develop a church planting DNA is… a church plant. That’s not simply because it is giving birth to every part of its DNA, but because it can decide early on to make church planting a priority. The mentality of many churches is to forecast church planting—“We can do that when we have a certain number of members, or a certain amount of budget, or a certain medley of staff.” Even though that may be true, and even appear to be wise management of resources, it makes the priority of the church growing itself rather than multiplying itself. The churches I know of that have the richest church-planting DNA are church plants that have already planted a church within the first several years.
Develop a Hermeneutic Rather Than a Preference
The lens through which we see the Christian life is our “hermeneutic,” how we interpret the Christian life. In order to foster healthy church planting, the proper hermeneutic must be in place and inform all aspects of the church. You might expect me to suggest that the proper hermeneutic is evangelism and mission—that preference would naturally lead to church planting, right? However, I would argue that the most biblical hermeneutic is actually union with Christ. The reason why is not simply from the cause of biblical theology, but also from the effect of such a hermeneutic. If union with Christ is chief, then it holds our ecclesiology and missiology in tension rather than puts them in competition with one another. Healthy church planting requires a high view of God’s church and a high view of God’s mission. The only way to achieve that is to have a high view of Christ.
Develop an Identity Rather Than an Activity
One of my favorite exercises to do with church leaders is to look at popular missional passages of Scripture (such as the Great Commission) and ask, “Is this about identity or activity?” Inevitably there are hearty shouts of “Activity!” Mission, after all, is about getting out of the pew and into the neighborhood. However, consider how the Great Commission both begins and ends: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore…and behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Apart from the mantle of Christ’s authority that is placed upon us—apart from the promise of his ongoing presence—we have no right or hope in his mission. That speaks to our identity in Christ. Teaching the church about their role in making disciples and planting churches should always begin with their unique identity in Christ. That means every single member of the church can see their part to play in church planting, rather than just core team members.
Develop an Antioch Rather Than a Babel
The church in the New Testament that gives us the clearest sense of a sending church is that of Antioch. Acts 11-15 describes (not necessarily prescribes) how a small, Spirit-filled church can multiply and change the world. Antioch stands in stark contrast to Babel, written about in Genesis 11. There the people are concerned with building a tower that reaches the heavens and making a name for themselves. To what end? To resist God’s command to be fruitful and multiply throughout the earth. When a church is compelled to make a name for itself, it is unlikely to plant healthy churches. Launching more services, building bigger buildings, and increasing the budget will be the concerns at hand. This is not to say that churches should remain small. Only this: church planting should be its sacrificial offering, in the same way it was for Antioch to send their best leaders.
Develop a Culture Rather Than a Ministry
One of my favorite analogies for developing a church planting DNA comes from my coffee-loving friend, Larry McCrary. In his article “Slow-Brew Missions” he says that focusing only on building a missional ministry is like drinking expresso—it’s quick, automated, and packs only a short-lasting punch. But instead, seeking to build a missional culture is like drinking slow-brew pour-over coffee. It takes time. It draws out the full flavor. It has a long-lasting effect. Practically, this looks like “dripping” God’s mission into every facet of the church. Prayer and casting vision. Vision trips and vetting partners. Instilling a theology of vocation as mission. Teaching missiology and offering local “mission trips” for every age group in the church. Taking small groups through Tradecraft: For the Church on Mission. In other words, drip, drip, drip.
After all, nothing this good just happens.