Why Church Planting and Disciple-Making Belong Together

There is much confusion today about Church Planting and its connection with the command of Jesus to “Go and make disciples.” I have often heard the phrase, “Jesus didn’t command us to plant churches but to make disciples.”

In the industrialized West, this is often used as an objection to planting more churches. It also reflects a concern that some church planting is simply transplanting people who are already disciples of Jesus from one church to a different kind of church.

I want to suggest some ways of thinking about this that may be helpful…

First, I think we need to make the distinction between Church Multiplication Planting and Missionary/Apostolic Planting.

In Church Multiplication Planting, a Pastor/Evangelist takes a group of people from a parent church and plants a church in a very similar culture.

In Missionary/Apostolic Planting, an Apostle/Missionary starts a church in a completely different culture, usually in an area where people are unreached and/or under-served.

Both types of plants are necessary in a “reached” area like North America; blurring the distinction between the two types leads to all kinds of confusion and delay.

Second, I generally find statements like, “Jesus never commanded us to plant churches but only to make disciples” to be confusing and inaccurate.

There is an implicit command within the whole of the great commission to plant new churches and nurture new disciples in a community of believers. If one of the signs of the true church is sacramental, then there can be no disciple-making without the sacraments.

“Go…make…baptize…teach” points to the sacraments, and there are no sacraments if there is no church.

A more accurate way to make a similar statement might be, “Jesus never commanded us to create venues where people who want a cooler worship service that is closer to their house can go.”

Essentially, He DID command us to plant “disciple making churches that make more disciple making churches.”

I hope this helps to create more discussion about church planting and its crucial role in making disciples of people in all of the cultures gathered in North America and beyond!

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  • Jon Sherrill
    Reply

    Doug – I couldn’t agree with you more. It seems to me that if we (churches that is) are truly organized for mission, we will focus on disciple-making and church planting. Neither excludes the other. They are two sides of the same coin. If we focus on one, and assume the other will “just happen” I think we’re in trouble. As we (in the RCA) have worked to develop best practice and greater intentionality around church planting, I think we would do well to develop best practice and greater intentionality around disciple-making (the practice of making disciples who then make more disciples). And my opinion is that we should not plant another church unless the New Congregation Plan includes a very clear approach to disciple-making, i.e. what reproducible discipling framework will be used and how it will be implemented. It seems to me that only this kind of intentional approach will lead to disciple-making churches planting more disciple-making churches.

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