Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Why church plants won't grow

“People come by my house all the time interested in the Scriptures and asking questions about the church…” my friend said, shaking his head. “So, why aren't we growing?”

Caunia lives in the village of Nkunama where we helped plant a church 5 or 6 years ago.  His family has really caught the vision of what the Kingdom is all about and they are a force for good to those around them.  But, even though my friend and his wife have experienced life transformation because of the gospel, their immediate family makes up most of the church.

My friend had come into town to spend the night at our house before attending a church leadership meeting the next day.  And we spent most of that Saturday sitting under our thatched alependre talking about our families, the weather and mostly… the church.  We continued a discussion we’d been having over the last couple years about how to help them grow. 

During these conversations, I laid out for him what I understand to be the four main reasons that church plants stagnate.  Now I don’t know if these are the main barriers in all cultures.  I’ve just seen that here in our part of Africa, it is usually one or more of these factors that keep young communities of faith from growing.

1.      A sin problem – Weeds in the soil will choke out the church plant and keep it from developing.  Oh how I wish I had difficulties coming up with examples for this…  There’s Mwanya in Namwaciko whose drunkenness destroyed the church in that village.  There’s Albisto and the way that his infidelity is keeping the promise of church growth in Ncororo at bay.  As seen in the famous story of Achan, sin has disastrous consequences for the community of God (Joshua 7).

2.      A vision problem – Some churches lack a passion for sharing good news with their neighbors.  Like wet firewood, their potential for growth is trapped inside and difficult to light.  The church in Nekwaia has had seasons of stability where they seem primed for expansion, but unfortunately they have often focused on other things.  A church without a vision to grow, will not grow.

3.      A lack of good leadership – Other communities of faith are stagnant for lack of a leader that they can rally around.  The church in Cambir has a solid group of people, but they lack a healthy leader.  Finding a good leader is probably the most difficult part of church planting.   It can be easy to confuse maturity or capacity with leadership skill – and that mistake will severely limit the church’s potential.  Aubrey Malphurs warns us not to “fall prey to the M-myth… Simply stated, the M-myth is the belief that certain kinds of believers… the mature, the mobilized, and the ministry masters” will necessarily be leaders.  Malphurs goes onto say that, “Nothing will repel other leaders more than a nonleader in a leadership role.  Therefore, if the church believes the M-myth, construction of their leadership-development process will never begin.”  (Building Leaders, p. 173)

4.      A difficult context – Some churches potential for growth is limited by the rocky soil they find themselves in.  I tried to encourage Caunia that I think this is his church’s main challenge. Muslim leaders in his village have been particularly hostile and the church has faced a number of barriers.  So, we talked about how the best response in their case is patience and prayer, trusting that the God who created that soil will till it, as well. 

May God help us truly see the state of church plants and help them reach their potential in Christ!

Grace and Peace,

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