I oftentimes hear from aspiring church planters and the topic of location comes up in the conversation. They usually ask the question – ”where is the best place to plant a church?”
When I dig a bit deeper I understand the heart of the question. Almost without exception, “the best place to plant a church” equates to a “fast-growing” community where the time and money investment, the ROI if you will, can be quickly recovered. I understand the desire to reach the most people in a short period of time and start a discipleship movement within a region. Trust me I understand.
Here is the problem with this approach:
Go to any fast-growing suburban community and you will find a bunch of new church start-ups. I know of a place where every school is occupied by a church plant. The funky part of this fact is these new startups are within close proximity to one another and have the same “flavor.” They are all pursuing a similar strategy which consists of similar marketing, excellence in presentation, relevance in the message, cool branding, etc…When they came into the area they all said the same thing – “we see the need of a church plant in the county.” That may be true, but why plant next door to the church that is also just starting? While I haven’t done an official count, I’m willing to bet there around eight churches within a half-mile from each other. Many of these churches are geared toward the same demographic.
So… then what?
This results with a group of planters playing a game of “our church is better than the other churches.” And only the very best survive beyond the five-year mark. Research indicates that when the dust settles they’ve mostly succeeded in playing a good game of musical pews.
If your heart is service to the kingdom and obedience to the great commission, maybe a better question to guide our planting efforts is “where will I find the right place to plant a church?” The right place being where there isn’t a life-giving church already yet there are people who are far from Christ.
With that being said it’s apparent that God is not just calling church planters to the fastest growing suburbs.
He also cares about rural America, tough urban places and communities that aren’t fast-growing.
I have a feeling that God is calling people to the harder places, but His voice is being drowned out by the appeal of finding church planting success in the fast-growing suburbs.
It’s time to stop. And listen. Listen without distraction. Listen without the input of those who judge success by numbers rather than faithfulness.
Maybe He is calling you to a fast-growing place. We definitely need churches in the suburbs. (Try not to plant next door to another church start-up for crying out loud) I’m willing to bet however, it’s actually more likely He’s calling you to a place that’s not so picturesque or exotic. Rural areas seem to be forgotten in our church planting efforts. Please remember – God loves people there too.