Randy Bloom, then Director of Church Multiplication Ministries for Grace Communion International, interviewed Ed Stetzer, President of LifeWay Research. An experienced church planter, Ed trains church planters and pastors around the world.
RB: Tell us about your experience as a church planter.
ES: I have a great love for church planting. I planted my first church in Buffalo, New York. I was 21 years old, and God was calling my wife and me to move into the city among the urban poor. We started knocking on doors, and we started our first church there. That was 22 years ago.
Depending on how you count, I’ve had the privilege of planting five churches. The last church I planted was about three or four years ago. I’ve written some books on the subject. The newest is Viral Churches: How Church Planters Can Become Movement Makers. It is focused on how we can move from church planting by addition to exponential multiplication.
I love your title as “director of church multiplication.” I think that’s better than just “church planting director.” We need churches planting churches. Every church, I think, needs to be involved in church planting in some way. It’s just a natural extension of what God is doing in the world through the work of Christ and his church.
RB: What is church planting?
ES: Really, it’s not planting a church—it’s planting the gospel and making disciples. Then a church flows from that. Any movement that’s going to be serious about reaching the lost world is going to be involved in church planting. Just to maintain status quo in terms of membership, a movement needs to plant new churches every year at the rate of three percent, that is, about three new churches for every 100 existing churches. Church planting is essential to the growth of the kingdom, the work of Christ through his church.
RB: What is the first step for a church planter?
ES: To pursue it with wisdom and discernment. Experiencing the prompting of the Holy Spirit and being obedient to the leadership of the Holy Spirit is key. In Grace Communion you have an assessment process. I think it would be essential for people to go through that assessment process. Not everyone can plant a church. You could be a very effective pastor but not have the wiring to be a church planter. That’s why you go through an assessment process.
You begin to look into church planting. You go to the website, you read some information there about church planting, you read books on church planting. If you’re going to throw your life into the establishment of a new congregation, you really want to have thought through and prayed through this. You’d consult with some people who know and love you and would speak into your life and say, what do you think about me being a church planter?
Assessment, preparation, getting more knowledge and getting more advice are good steps in the process.
RB: What are some of the major pitfalls?
ES: I think a lot of times people start churches for the wrong reasons. If you’re starting a church because you’re mad at the leadership of your old church or they wouldn’t let you preach, or you’ve got something to prove, I think those are wrong reasons to plant a church. So I’d be really cautious with those.
The other thing is, church planters tend to be self-starters and mavericks, go-getters and entrepreneurs. I would say that a Spirit-filled church planter who is walking in humility before God and before others is a lot more powerful than just the entrepreneurial “I know what I’m doing” church planter. I think one of the common mistakes is not listening to advice and counsel. That’s one of the reasons I say, “Read the books and listen to the people who are already doing it.” But don’t just listen to their success stories. Listen to what they did wrong and learn from their mistakes along the way.
RB: Any parting words of advice?
ES: I would encourage the churches and the leaders not to grow weary, but to be faithful with what God has called them to do and to trust him for the results. It isn’t our work—it’s his work, and he’s called us to join him in it.
GCI Church Multiplication Ministries (CMM) trains and supports individuals and congregations as they start new faith communities in various geographic locations, cultural contexts and social networks. CMM helps pastoral leaders develop and implement plans for church multiplication. For information on CMM training events and resources, visit the CMM website at cmm.gci.org.