Risking for God: Starting New Churches
by Jeff Ritchie
This week something big is happening in Brazil. The Olympics were big, but they ended two weeks ago. The impeachment trial of the current President of Brazil is big, but that is not what I am talking about.
As I write this blog, almost two thousand people from several countries are attending a conference on church growth and church revitalization in Campinas, Brazil. Our Outreach staff for Portuguese-Language Ministries, José Carlos Pezini, is leading one of the many workshops that will be offered, and he is spotlighted in one of the 10-minute presentations that are scattered throughout the plenary sessions.
Why is this big? God is on a mission, and that mission starts with gathering a people to himself. God’s people have continued that mission through the forming of communities of believers—churches—who worship God and in his name serve other people. The annual conference of CTPI, the Center for Training Church Planters, testifies to this primary way that God carries out his mission.
Last year I attended the CTPI conference and met many new church developers. One thing they had in common was their passion for Jesus and a concomitant love for people whom they wanted to introduce to Jesus. Another thing they had in common was that they knew they were taking a risk.
• If we start a church, will anyone come?
• Will there be enough support?
• Will this new enterprise last, or like many a start-up company, will it fail after a few years?
One of the people at the 2015 conference, Eugenio, had a great vision for a new church and a core of people ready to form it. He did not have the requisite funding, however, and he had to move on to something else.
I met another pastor, Evandro, along with the core group he had gathered to start “a church for those who do not like church.” His new church had been in its “incubation stage” for nine months and was getting ready to launch its first public worship in a few months. One year later they have a thriving church that is marked by a simple love of God and people and whose way of life is one of intentional outreach and gracious hospitality. They also have had such challenges as having had to move locations three times in less than a year.
New church development is risky. But statistics prove that the best way to reach people outside the church is to start new ones, not simply add members to existing churches.* All over the U.S. there are risky experiments for the kingdom going on. They may be called “new worshiping communities,” “missional communities,” or simply “new church developments.” There is a special entrepreneurial spirit about these “start-ups for the kingdom.”
If you know one of these new churches, pray for it. Visit it or one of its members and encourage them. Best of all, learn from its faith and practice how you and the church of which you are a part can be “simple, missional, and hospitable” as our friends in Brazil are “to those who don’t like church.” And may the Holy Spirit inspire and guide you.
*Existing churches reach one person/year for every 100 members. New churches reach one person/year for every 12/members. (From “Church Planting Initiative,” a publication of the Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians)
Associate Director for Mission