the weblog of Alan Knox

Church planting…

Posted by on May 25, 2007 in community, definition | 11 comments

Recently, over at “Love Each Stone“, David posted a great article called “Watchman Nee, China, & Church Planting“. David quoted Watchman Nee on church planting. This is the first quotation:

When a servant of God reaches a new place his first business must be to found a local church, unless there is already one in existence, in which case his one concern must be to help the church. The one aim of the work in any place is the building up of the church in that place. All the fruit of a worker’s labours must go to the increase of the church. The work in any place exists for the church alone, not for itself. The apostle’s goal is to build up the church, not to build up his work or any group of people that may have sent him out. [Watchman Nee]

Take the time to read through David’s article, if you haven’t already.

In response to David’s article, and the great comments from several “missionaries”, that is Christian brothers and sisters living in another culture, I posted this comment:

As you can probably guess, I like the idea of believers working with other believers in an area – whether those believers are “nationals” or “missionaries” – they are, first of all, brothers and sisters. I appreciate the fact that many of the missionaries that commented here agreed with Nee on this. Could it be that those living in other cultures where the church is new and growing recognize the need to work together more than those in “mature churches” who are spending more time arguing over non-essentials? I don’t know if this is true or not, but it does make me wonder.

I don’t like the idea of dividing the church into organizations. Are there organizations? Sure. But we should not confuse these with the church. The question is, how does God view the church in a given area? Does he view it as splintered into various groups? If he does not, then we should attempt to live as he sees us.

David responded with this follow-up:

I would be very interested to hear, given the understanding of “church” and “organization” that you are proposing here (and about which we have dialogued quite extensively on your blog), how do you conceive, or how would you describe the ministry of “church planting”? More specifically, do you think it is correct to think in terms of “planting new churches” in a locality in which the “church” in the sense of the company of the redeemed in that locality already exists? In such a case, what are we planting? New “organizations”? Or something else?

In response, I commented:

While I know that Paul used the metaphor of “planting” and “watering” in 1 Corinthians, I’m not sure he used it in the same way that we use the term “church planting” now. It seems that Paul was saying something like: We each do the work that God has given us, but it is still God who builds the church.

So, I don’t think we can plant churches, per se. If the church is not present in a particular area, when believers (missionaries) move into an area, the church is then present. If the church is already present in an area, then believers who move into the area become part of the church in that area. Whether the church was or was not present before the believers moved into the area, the believers have the same responsibility: make disciples. I think this would include both evangelism and edification of existing believers.

Unfortunately, this was the end of that comment thread. So, I’m asking you, my readers: How should believers respond to other believers when they move into an area (whether that area is a new culture or not)? What about church planting? Do we plant churches? How does our understanding of “planting churches” correspond to Jesus’ statement that he would build the church? Does God view different church organizations as separate churches?


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 5-26-2007


    As I say on the follow-up post to the one you reference here: “I believe that our ecclesiology has significant implications for our missiology.”

    The questions you are asking (and that I too, have been asking) are not simple questions to deal with, in my opinion, especially for someone (like most of us) who has come from a background steeped in institutional church ideas and practices.

    Traditionally, for instance, as “Baptists,” it seems to me we have thought of the “local church” as an “organization.” Some, in my opinion, have had a rather weak ecclesiology of the “universal church,” and a practically non-existent one of the “city church.” Other denominations, and “ecclesiastic organizations,” if we can use that terminology, have other ideas that, in one way or another, do not seem to square completely with Scripture, either.

    It seems there are a lot of “dots” that we are left a bit on our own to “connect.” In one way or another, though, it seems we cannot avoid trying to “connect the dots” the best we are able. The problem, in my opinion, becomes when our particular way of “connecting the dots” becomes dogmatic and sacrosanct.

    Perhaps a practical question in all of this is: In the New Testament are “city-wide churches” made up of a conglomeration of different “house churches”? If so, to what degree are the individual “house churches” really “churches”? Or, if you take the position that the “house churches” are the “true churches,” to what degree are the conglomeration of different “house churches” (and other types of “church” meetings and/or organizations) in a particular locality, truly “church”? Biblically, and pragmatically, what is the relationship of the various “organizations” that call themselves “church,” as well as those that might answer to the term “para-church” to the true “church”?

    I don’t have all the answers to these questions. But I do think they are important. That’s one reason I write a good bit about related issues on my own blog, and also comment on yours (since you write a lot about related issues as well).

  2. 5-26-2007

    My own attempt to deal with some of the questions you and David ask were addressed in a post I did last year entitled Church as a movement rather than an institution.

    When we understand the church in light of a movement of God rather than an institution, things begin to make more sense when talking about the “city church.”

    Probably THE most difficult paradigm shift for me personally over the past seven or so years has been to understand the church as a movement, rather than an institution.

    Hirsch and Frost deal with this subject in their “The Shaping Of Things To Come.” The end purpose of church is not to leave established an institution complete with buildings, staff, and ministry programs. Rather, church is part of an “…ongoing process, not an end in itself…strategic parts of an organic rhythm of witness…Some might exist for only a season, others might stay as an entity for generations, BUT THE GOAL WILL BE TO REPRODUCE, NOT JUST TO SUSTAIN ITSELF…[Churches exist to] send-gather-disciple-reproduce [and then repeat the process.]

    The days when churches would build monolithic church buildings and proudly proclaim that they’ve been here since 1861 (or whenever) are ending…thinking about church as a movement, rather than as an institution, will require a complete paradigm shift for current church leaders.”

  3. 5-26-2007

    Interesting post and follow-ups.

    A. There is one church (universal).
    B. Local churches (assemblies, bodies, gatherings) make up the universal church.

    Whether you call them churches, bodies, assemblies or gatherings, the result is about the same. We plant something. And yes, we should plant them, whatever we choose to call them. Church is a fine word.

    If our city (pop. 200,000) had one “city church,” it would have about 20,000 members. (Think Saddleback). Instead, we have dozens of churches.

    Your post seems to indicate that the church will form so organically that it does not require any organization, leadership, or formal order. This is an unbiblical assumption. Read Titus. Read Acts.

    I’m not saying that every church has to be planted by a specific denomination. I’m not saying that the church is not present without a building, a budget, and a potluck committee.

    But if you really want what I think you’re looking for, be Catholic. Because that’s how they work it. But you get everything else that goes along with it.

  4. 5-26-2007

    David Rogers,

    I appreciate that you are asking these same questions. I think these are important questions, and I’m glad to see that many believers are asking them and seeking answers.


    I’ll have to think through some of the implications of the church being a movement or process. I haven’t ready your article yet, but I will. I think Scripture always shows the church as being people. I’ll have to think (and read what you’ve written) about how people fit into the church as a movement or process.


    Thank you for the comment. I’ve read Acts and Titus. I don’t remember Paul saying that he started or planted any of the churches. But, I’ll be glad to consider a passage that I may have missed.

    As to being Catholic, I think my ecclesiology differs from standard Catholic ecclesiology, at least what I’ve read about it. I know that my soteriology and my view of Scripture differs quite a bit from standard Catholic doctrine. So, I don’t think I’m Catholic.

    Your city does have a church of 20,000. Perhaps no one recognizes it as such. But, that doesn’t necessarily mean that God sees it as many churches. What if God does see all the believers in your city as one church?


  5. 5-27-2007

    How does the concept of Kingdom of God play into these questions? If we expand on our notion of being a part of a Kingdom, all united under One King, will that impact how we think of Church? Church planting?

  6. 5-27-2007

    I guess I didn’t make my point quite clear enough.

    One church, comprised of many gatherings. People planted the gatherings. We generally call the gatherings churches.

    Is there something wrong with this? Why are we questioning the nomenclature?

    Another option with the whole “city church” thing is the Boston Church of Christ. Once again, you get all the baggage that goes with it.

  7. 5-27-2007


    I know that you’ve studied alot about the kingdom of God. How do you think the kingdom of God plays into (or should play into) our understanding of the church?


    I appreciate the continued interaction. Usually, I could care less what terminology people use. However, there are certain terms that seem to have new and different meanings from the way they were used by the authors of Scripture. Problems occur when people read Scripture using the new and different meanings.

    Case in point… you said: “We generally call the gatherings churches”. I would add, we also generally consider these churches to be completely separate from other churches that might gather in the same city block. Why should we question this understaning of the church? Because I don’t think we can find Scripture using the term for church in the same way.

    So far, you’ve suggested that I should consider Catholic beliefs or Church of Christ beliefs. I understand what you are saying, but I think you may be missing my point. I am interested in studying what Scripture says about the church, not what a particular denomination may say in their doctrines – even my own denomination. I recognize that believers (myself included) often believe and live in ways that are consistent with Scriptures, and they also believe and live in other ways that are contradictory to Scripture.


  8. 5-27-2007


    All except the last twenty functioning years in “the church” were in the Baptist denomination and I was a firm believer in planting “churches”. I’m not any more, because I don’t believe we can “plant churches”.

    Over a period of thirty years I have been involved in “church plants” which were the long considered, planned and prayed about work of godly men. Nothing permanent came of them!

    For eight years before my health forced us to retire we ministered in a church which was planted by God. We retired four years ago and that work is continuing. We moved 250 kilometres away.

    We realized that only God plants local assemblies/congregations, and that whenever two or three Christians live in a given location, such a congregation (“church” if we must) already exists, whether man recognizes it or not.

    God grew that congregation without any effort on our part, except in prayer and teaching in an informal setting, much like your Saturday evening gatherings, in which people came to know their Saviour and to grow in grace and the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.

    Their testimony and witness drew more to attend.

    The very public baptisms in the local river, with day tripper families and fishermen looking on were a witness to what was happening and caused much interest.

  9. 5-27-2007

    Aussie John,

    Thank you for sharing this testimony. I pray that we see God building his church even more.


  10. 5-28-2007

    David Regier,

    From what I can pick up, in my study of Scripture, there are at least 3 levels of “church”: 1) universal church; 2) city church; and 3) local, congregational, or house church.

    We see the last 2 in Romans 16. In v. 5, for instance, we see a reference to the “church” that meets in the house of Priscilla and Aquila. It is quite likely, given the context, that this was one of several, or many, different “house churches” in Rome. Though not certain, it is also probable, from what I can make out, that the various other groups of believers mentioned in ch. 16 were representative of different “house fellowships.”

    At the same time, v. 23 makes reference to the “whole church here,” which I take to mean the “city church” of Corinth, quite likely composed of various different “house fellowships” as well.

    As I mention in my comment to Alan, we have to “connect the dots,” but it seems to me that the various “house fellowships” were not completely “autonomous” in the sense that most Baptist ecclesiologies consider “local churches” to be. It does seem, however, that the “city church” perhaps had this level of autonomy.

    Historically, as you correctly point out, various groups, such as the Roman Catholic Church, the Local Church movement of Witness Lee, and the Boston Church of Christ movement, seem to have taken this inter-connectedness of the “house fellowships” at a local level to a degree of institutional hierarchy that has led to abusive control.

    However, traditional “Baptist” ecclesiology seems to me to overlook the “city church” level present in the New Testament.

    I tend to think there may be some other alternative. I do not want to be naïve, however, regarding the pitfalls you point out.

    As I allude to on the post on my blog referenced by Alan here, I think the current church situation in China may shed some light on a possible alternative. I also think the “city church” concept being experimented on in various places in the world, as referenced on this post and several others on my blog, is a step in the right direction.

    I would love to continue to explore the “pros” and “cons” of all of this with you further, though. It seems you have given some thought to this, and, perhaps could help me see some things I may have perhaps overlooked.

  11. 1-17-2012

    Greetings to you in the name of Jesus Christ. We hope that you are okay and fine in the Lord.Am happy to introduce to you our ministry called Horn of salvation ministries which does which does a lot of things in advancing the kingdom of God. We are situated in Naminya- Jinja Uganda(East Africa)

    We do preach the Gospel door to door, organize crusades where by we have seen hundreds of souls giving their lives to Christ Jesus. We prepare conferences and seminars. We visit prisons, schools of law and higher levels and preach to them the Gospel.

    Our main areas of interest are villages in rural bushes where many poor people are living and need to be given the word of hope and encouragement especially in the hospitals, prison where nobody is showing them love.

    The purpose of this letter is to ask you to kindly work together with us for instance, we could invite at your convenient time to come and participate in advancing the kingdom of God or likely we could also visit you and share the testimonies of what God is doing in our country.

    We shall be very happy if you show interest and let us know if you want us to know more about our ministry.

    God Bless You