5 Church Planting Models to ConsiderBy Dave Harvey
May 12, 2021
The way was blocked. While these were guys accustomed to hard work, transporting a paralytic across the city to see Jesus strained every sinew. But desperate love inspires deep faith. They huddled up to problem-solve, “how can we get access to Jesus when the door is blocked?” Faith saw an answer, “We open a door in the roof!”
Power came and the paralytic walked home. That day the disciples learned a vital lesson: Faith sees options and finds a way.
When it comes to church planting, our imaginations are often limited to one particular method and one kind of person who should plant. We’re tempted to hone in on a single model to the exclusion of all others. It’s the entrepreneurial visionary who bets everything on the startup risk of launching a market-proven product—a fully-orbed self-governing, self-supporting, and self-propagating church accompanied by a contemplatively-hip worship leader. Sure, it plays well in suburban settings, but it also risks “turn(ing) spirituality into a product, church growth into a race, leadership into a business and members into consumers”. And if that’s the stereotype dominating our imagination or range of options, then we don’t know how to respond when the door is blocked.
But, my friends, faith sees options and finds a way.
In today’s church-planting landscape, we are seeing a myriad of creative models to the scriptural task of church planting. Here are five of them.
1. The independent planter who starts in a home, store-front, or local park with a handful of friends and family.
Ed Stetzer describes this as “the organic house church model.” Here the church planter is usually focused more on relational discipleship than structure, organization, programs, and dogma. This is possible in part because the core group, if there even is one, is smaller and the planter is not tethered to a tradition or model that determines how the plant must happen. Proponents of this model usually take their cue from the “house to house” emphasis of Acts 2. Notable leaders in this approach include Neil Cole, Felicity Dale, David Garrison, and Francis Chan.
2. A planter (full- or part-time) who is sent by a church without denominational support.
In this approach the church planter leans heavily on the “mother church” (or “sending church” or “sponsoring church”) rather than seeking partnership with a denomination. J.D. Payne describes a mother church as one that takes more than a passing interest in multiplying itself—it intentionally embraces the primary responsibility for planting the church and supporting the planter. Of course, not every church has the resources to do this well. And thus, church planting candidates won’t easily find such churches, nor quickly develop relationships with them.
3. A full-time planter with both church and denominational support.
Some mother churches require church planters to also partner with a denomination while some denominations urge partnership with a mother church. This can provide the planter a greater amount of both financial and relational support. For example, John Turner planted The Hill Church in partnership with his denominational convention, but says what made it possible was his mentoring relationship with the pastor of his sponsoring church. This is often the model sought by planters who desire to be immediately full-time.
4. A covocational planter who intends to keep a non-ministry job rather than adding a full-time pastoral salary to the church-plant’s budget.
This becomes a more innovative option for church planting, though it certainly is not new to church history. A “covocational” planter “has a primary calling that he will never leave [i.e. a vocation], but at the same time, God is calling him to start something new.” Bill Foss, a Great Commission Collective co-vocational pastor in Westbrook, Maine, became pastor of his church 24 years ago while choosing to work in construction as a strategy for remaining credible to and connected in his community.
This is different from a “bivocational” planter who “may be working at a local Starbucks or Lowes, or driving for Uber, all the while hoping that one day he’ll be able to gain the support to leave the job.” The covocational planter, in contrast, may feel limited in the time he is able to devote to the church, but he relates well to the work routine of church members and does not excessively burden the budget with his salary needs (Paul in 1 Thessalonians 2:9).
5. A planter (full- or part-time or covocational) sent by their local church which is part of a church planting network.
Perhaps the most significant development in church planting models over the past decade has been the explosion of church planting networks. In A Vision for Church Planting Networks, we defined networks as “a group of churches joyfully partnering to multiply churches, train leaders, facilitate relationships, and supplement the care of pastors and elders.” This borrows on the idea of denominational partnership, but is spared some ecclesiological trappings that can slow the planting process. Healthy networks are more flexible, dynamic, and nimble drawing hard lines around a few irreducible minimums and soft lines around non-essentials to avoid unnecessary hierarchical restrictions. Becoming more common is the planter who partners with a denomination and a network, benefiting from the seminaries, history and creedal commitments of the denomination while enjoying the brotherhood and planting emphases of the network. (Such planters might also serve in a residency.)
Looking over the landscape, one discovers church planting is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor. The mission demands we contextualize without compromise, which should result in models that adapt wisely to the people they are called to reach. Why? Because sometimes connecting people to Jesus requires looking at a roof but seeing a door.
As we endeavor to plant churches for the glory of God, let’s remember: Faith sees options and finds a way.
I appreciate Bradley Bell’s contributions in writing this article.
If you are an aspiring church planter, find out if GCC is your right network partner.
 JR Rozco, “Subverting Church Planting Stereotypes,” http://thev3movement.org/2017/01/09/subverting-church-planting-stereotypes/
 Ed Stetzer, “Finding the Right Church Planting Model Part 5: The Organic House Church Approach,” https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2015/august/finding-right-church-planting-model-part-5-organic-house-ch.html
 J.D. Payne, “The Mother Church and Church Planting,” http://northamericanmissions.org/files/Mother-Church-JASCG.pdf
 Tobin Perry, “A Win-Win: Church Plants & Sponsoring Churches,” https://www.baptistpress.com/resource-library/news/a-win-win-church-plants-sponsoring-churches/
 Sharon Mager, “Bi/Co-Vocational Church Planting—A Paradigm Shift,” https://bcmd.org/2018/01/bi-co-vocational-church-planting-a-paradigm-shift/