CRC church plants are on the front lines of bringing and being the gospel of Jesus Christ in their communities—but many church plants don’t look or function the same way as established CRC churches.
“There is a disconnect between church plants and [established] churches,” said Beth Fellinger, a church planter and a regional mission leader for Resonate Global Mission. “When we work together, pray together, and aim for kingdom perspective, it can change much of that division.”
What should we know about church plants so the CRC can work better together to spread the gospel and disciple believers in our communities? Church planters shared these 10 insights.
1. We’re not interested in taking people from your church.
When there’s talk of a new church plant in the neighborhood, some leaders and members of established churches fear that their own attendance numbers will dwindle—but church planters don’t want to take people away from church communities they’re already invested in.
“Most church plants and church planters are not starting something new simply to give church-goers a new option,” said Jana Koh, who served as a church planter in Ontario. “Church plants exist to connect with the ever-growing demographic of people who have left the church, aren’t sure about church, or who have never interacted with church before.”
In fact, Koh adds, church plants are healthy for established churches. “Research shows that when a new church plant begins in a neighborhood, other churches nearby actually benefit from the new life and fresh expression of church it brings.”
2. Just because we feel called to try something new, doesn’t mean we think everything from the past is wrong.
Many church planters experiment with new models of churches that look different from established churches—but it’s not because they think the “old” models are bad. New models are strategies for reaching people.
“The church has lost its privileged voice in many parts of our society,” said Joe Paravisini, pastor of The Neighborhood CRC in Rhode Island. “The traditional pattern of planting—gathering a core team, securing a physical location, planning a big launch event, creating and promoting a collection of programs and events at a centralized place—is becoming less effective for reaching the unchurched.”
Church plants may have a dozen members, rather than a couple hundred. They may meet in livings rooms on couches, rather than in a sanctuary on pews. They may have discipleship groups with people of all ages, rather than specific ministries for youth, men, women, and senior citizens.
“Embrace this!” said Paravisini. “Different is not inherently good or bad … it’s just different.”
What’s important is that more people are coming to faith and growing in relationship with Jesus.
3. We need to be flexible.
“It seems that we have really bought into the idea that we are responsible for vision today. God is the one who gives vision and often, it seems to me, he gives it in stride,” said Jeff Heerspink who planted F Street Community Church in Nebraska.
When Heerspink and his team originally set out to plant F Street, they had no idea how important the concept of being a good neighbor would be to the community. They had to be flexible with their plan and follow the Holy Spirit’s leading in responding to the community’s need. In their urban neighborhood where many people struggle with broken relationships and financial hardship, F Street teaches biblical principles on being a good neighbor.
“We find that our vision always has to stay consistent with the word of God, and yet as flexible with the people we are called to reach,” said Heerspink. “It is a constant challenge but it leaves us ever in connection with God for his direction in our lives.”
4. We have our own context and culture.
“People confuse Reformed theology with Reformed culture,” said Jevon Washington, pastor of the church plant Flourish Church Rainier Valley in Seattle. “Every context is different and every culture is different.”
Reformed theology resonates with people from many different walks of life. How people worship and express their faith isn’t cookie cutter.
As Resonate and the CRC work with church planters to plant and support more ethnic minority and multiethnic church plants, the denomination is going to start to look more and more like the portrait of Revelation 7:9—people of every nation and tongue worshiping the Lord.
5. We're committed to equipping leaders.
“At our church, we talk about the priesthood of believers as opposed to the main guy. We want people to see that men and women both are serving together and they’re leading together. That it’s not necessarily one person leading things,” said Washington.
Washington is bivocational. He works a full-time job in addition to planting Flourish. He needs people in his church plant to use their gifts and step into leadership—he simply can’t do it all. He’s trained and equipped people in his congregation to preach, lead liturgy, administer the sacraments, and more.
“People are stepping into their giftings and their callings,” said Washington.
6. We send people out.
Equipping and discipling believers in church plants to be leaders isn’t just about supporting the church plant.
“We are ruthless about people understanding that we are an equipping and a sending church,” said Washington. “We train people, we send people out, and we support them for gospel ministry,” said Washington.
Washington doesn’t earn a salary from his church plant, but Flourish recently committed to support and send missionaries to Cambodia.
7. We don’t know if we’ll ever be financially stable.
“We don’t have an existing congregation with an existing track record of support,” said Kevin Schutte, who planted Pathway Community Church in Kansas and leads Resonate’s church planting initiative. “Your church planter is probably wondering where his or her next paycheck is coming from.”
Because many church plants seek to reach people who are unchurched or seek to serve people from lower-income neighborhoods, there is no guarantee that the people who find a home in a church plant will financially support it. It often takes a long time to disciple someone to a place where they tithe.
Many church planters must regularly raise funds to support themselves, or they need additional work. For many church planters, the financial support they receive from Resonate, classes, and other congregations isn’t enough to support the church and provide for them and their families. They have to work another job (or multiple jobs) in addition to pastoring—especially church planters from ethnic minorities. Research shows that it’s more difficult for ethnic minorities, particularly Latinos and African Americans, to raise financial support for church planting in North America.
8. We’re deeply invested in our work and crave your encouragement.
“If you ask the pastor of your church, he or she would almost certainly say that their ministry is more than a job or a career—it’s their calling from God,” said Koh. “This calling is often deeply felt and incredibly important to a pastor’s life. Church planters are no different.”
Koh said church planters need a strong support network. They don’t just need your financial support—they need prayer and encouragement. “Let them know you’re with them, even if you’re not looking to join their team,” said Koh. “It would mean the world to him or her to know that brothers and sisters nearby and far away are supporting and encouraging the ministry that is so important to them.”
9. We have a lot to contribute to the denomination.
Church planters need support and encouragement in order to succeed—but they also have a lot to offer the CRC. Schutte said that because church planters are experimenting with new models of churches to reach new people, they can serve as an “entrepreneurial, research and development, experimental arm of the denomination.”
“Church plants tend to be a little closer to the edge of culture because of the newness,” said Fellinger. “Listen carefully to what they are learning and make room to accommodate the differences.”
10. We’re in this together.
Both church plants and established churches are essential for connecting people to Christ and discipling believers. We all exist to glorify God.
Church plants need more than a check in the mail, said Schutte. They need local co-laborers. Worship with them, connect people in the community with the church plant, volunteer during worship services and other gatherings.
Church plants and established CRC congregations can work together to proclaim the good news of Jesus and live out the gospel for spiritual and social transformation in their communities and around the world.