When it comes to church leadership conferences there are two major seasons, Fall (Oct/Nov) and Spring (April/May). And it seems like whenever that season arrives familiar conversations around church planting seem to flair up once again. Consequently, I’m always disappointed by the fact that the polarization around the conversation hasn’t dissipated.
Just like conservatives and liberals, republicans and democrats, for some reason there is a demonization that tends to go on around church planting. Either church planters are characterized as church destroyers whose only aim in life is to destroy someone else’s church or the traditional church is demonized as the ineffective enemy of all things that are truly of Jesus.
I’ve seen situations that have gone each of those directions. I’ve seen people who have spitefully and intentionally split churches in order to start their new one. It is ugly and messy and destructive. It’s definitely not God honoring. But, I’ve also seen the other side as well. I’ve seen established churches bribe, manipulate, and dash people’s dreams all because they were defending their established church. In these situations the fact that we should all be working toward the same goal has been lost. Both are looking out for their own private kingdom. This happened in the bible too. When Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead the pharisees decide they have to kill him because everyone might begin to follow him which would be a threat to their little kingdom.
I’ve also seen deeply dysfunctional established churches that were hell-bent on not being faithful to what a church should be and pastors feeling like the only way to be faithful was to start a new one. I have seen this happen quietly and peacefully and I have seen it happen loud and destructively despite pastors’ best efforts to minimize the damage. (The thing that bothers me most is when a pastor is demonized even though it was the established church that actually caused the damage. The opposite happens as well, but then there’s a community of people to deal with the issue as opposed to a single person. Always realize there are two sides to every coin and every story.)
However, in meeting countless church planters what I have found is that the spiteful intentional destruction of established churches in order to build a new church, while occurring far too often, is not the norm. Most of these guys have a real heart for God and don’t want to see any church damaged. On the flip side there are many churches who welcome new churches to their area, even help them get started with financial assistance and man power.
In the end, we need established churches to reach the people who are being reached. At the same time we need new churches that are doing things differently to help those who aren’t being reached by the already existing churches.
I just really hate that we keep falling into the tendency to polarize and demonize. Why can’t we just answer Jesus’ prayer (John 17:11).
There are five stages to group process forming, storming, norming, performing, and adjourning. This means that in the end, churches split in various ways, shapes, and forms. Either we can embrace that, guide it, and let it be constructive and healthy or we can deny it, fight it, and let it be destructive and messy. There are churches that have begun to recognize this, the first for me was Northpoint in Alpharetta and it is something I have always admired about that church. They realized this tendency to split and so they decided they would break up intentionally. As the Sunday morning auditorium begins to fill they decide to start a new campus so that they can reach more people. It’s really a beautiful way to reach more people without the whole thing going down the destructive path of the ugly mess that tends to characterize the church plant conversations that come about twice a year.
In the end, I think we need to realize that the defensiveness or offensiveness from “both sides” really comes from a place of fear, anxiety, or hurt. At the same time, living out of that by demonizing the other only tends to make us feel self-righteous. It doesn’t actually make anything better, only worse. There are existing churches and church plants who are doing great things. There are some that are doing great things together. We can choose to be cynical because we know of some instances where things have gone wrong, or we can choose not to judge, we can cling to hope paying attention to the times it’s gone right. And in so doing we can celebrate and encourage something beautiful.
Because when it becomes about “my thing versus your thing” then my thing is no longer accomplishing anything.