Why We Need Anonymous, Plodding Church Planters

April 18, 2016
photo credit: array via photopin (license)

photo credit: array via photopin (license)

Our church sits in the most unchurched county in the state of Alabama. While “unchurched” and “Alabama” don’t seem like they should go in the same sentence, our churches have grown at half the rate of the population. Since 1990 the population has more than doubled and our churches have grown by only fifty percent.

We planted Chelsea Village Baptist Church almost seven years ago, and in that time I have had conversations with many men who want to plant churches. Because of the trends I have seen in church planting in our context in particular, and in the broader culture generally, the talk I have with potential church planters has changed significantly.

The Delusion of Church Planters

For the last decade church planting seems to have been in vogue. Aiding this phenomenon has been the success stories of men who started a church and saw explosive growth in a short amount of time. Enough people have heard these stories that it feels like the norm in church planting.

Many men have felt called into church planting thinking they will move to a town, put up a sign, and see hundreds fill the chairs on the first Sunday. They come convinced their preaching will be the most compelling people have ever heard and their “worship experiences” will wow people in a way they have never seen.

What many men don’t understand is that the “success stories” stand out because they are so rare. Many more men see their churches close than see the kind of growth in their churches that gets them invited to speak at conferences. Everyone who plants hears about the high body count, yet they somehow still think they will be the exception to the rule.

The Need for Church Planters

Millions of people in the United States do not know Jesus and millions more claim to know him but have no connection to a healthy local church. Many regions in our nation do not have enough churches to reach the large number of people who live there. Therefore, we need an influx of churches who will proclaim the Gospel to their communities, train disciples, and plant more churches who will do the same.

Unfortunately, for us to plant the kinds of churches we need to plant the men who feel called to planting must change their expectations and their definition of “success.” We cannot bear another generation of church planters who want to be the next big thing. Men hungry for acclaim will do nothing to make a dent in the number of people in our culture who do not know Jesus.

When numerical success becomes the primary benchmark for evaluating the success of a church, a man will sacrifice his principles and build his ministry on all the wrong things to achieve his goal. Churches built on hype, great music, and a charismatic personality may reach some people who do not know Jesus, but it will mainly pull Christians from other churches. We don’t need more churches characterized by this mentality; we need thousands less.

The Task of Church Planters

The task of planting churches who are faithful to share the Gospel, make disciples, and plant more church calls for an army of men who are content with no one knowing their names except the people in their community and those whom they shepherd. These men must be willing to move into communities and plant their lives there. This means they work, not just for their church to grow, but for the good of the whole community by being a good neighbor and a witness to the Gospel.

The task of planting churches demands we plant churches on a sound foundation so they will still be bearing fruit in fifty years if the Lord tarries. This involves consistent teaching from the Bible, discipling believers, developing godly leaders, helping believers connect their faith to their work, and building a good reputation in the community. Every ounce of this work must be fueled by fervent prayer, asking God to strengthen us for the task to which he has called us.

The man who plants this kind of church must be willing to do work that doesn’t make for interesting tweets. He must be a man who cultivates his relationship with Jesus, his wife, and children each and every day. He has to be willing to spend hours glued to his chair with his head in the Bible so he can faithfully teach it to others. This man will dedicate significant time each week to purposeful conversation with other Christians, helping them to understand how to follow Jesus.

We need the man willing to work in obscurity because the real task of church planting is not easy or glamorous. At the same time the task is worth every ounce of effort. What can compare with seeing men and women pass from darkness to light? How much joy does it bring to see young believers maturing and progressing in their faith? And how great a blessing is it to see people we knew as young Christians become faithful leaders who are called to plant churches as well?

I once heard Mark Dever say that men often overestimate what they can accomplish in five years and underestimate what they can do it ten. When our desire is immediate numerical success, we never stick around long enough to see the real glories of Gospel ministry. However, when we plant our lives in a place, doing the hard and anonymous work which must be done for the sake of the Gospel we have the opportunity to see great things happen.

The Challenge for Church Planters

When I talk to church planters who want to plant churches, the talk I have with them sounds something like this. “We need new churches because so many people need the Gospel, but we do not need any more churches that are going to try to be the next big thing. We don’t need any more big shows whose desire is to grow at all costs. If your plan is to build your church by luring as many people as possible from other churches, we have that already and don’t need more of it. However, if you are going to go and compassionately proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ, build a church on the Scriptures, plant your life in the community so you can be an effective witness in it, disciple the new Christians God sends your way, and plan to plant more churches that plant more churches so more people can know Jesus, then please go and plant because our culture needs the kind of church planter you will be.”

We don’t need more rock stars. We don’t need more men seeking the lime light. We need more anonymous, plodding church planters who labor faithfully for the spread of the Gospel and the glory of King Jesus.

(This post is a revised and expanded version of a post I wrote in 2014.)

Related Posts:
What I Wish I Had Known about Church Planting Before I Started
Six Foolish Things I Used to Believe about the Ministry

For Further Reading:
Nine Marks of a Healthy Church by Mark Dever
Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome by R. Kent Hughes

Scott Slayton

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Scott Slayton is the Lead Pastor at Chelsea Village Baptist Church in Chelsea, AL. He and Beth have been married since 2003 and have four children.

29 responses to Why We Need Anonymous, Plodding Church Planters

  1. Good word. Thank you for writing this brother.

  2. Great article. We church planted 17 yrs. ago and it was the hardest thing we have ever done. My husband is still lead pastor. Lots of sweat, tears, and work as gone into this church. We have seen many church planters come and go, but having a mindset of long-term ministry, and God’s grace, of course, had sustained us.

    • So glad to hear of churches enduring through the tough early years and the tough middle years. Praying the Lord continues give you grace as you both minister.

  3. Thanks for a balanced view of church planting. So often we see signs for new church plants put up and they often can be degrading to other churches who have been working hard in that area. Signs like “worship in a new way,” and “worship like you have never experienced” don’t give us the warm fuzzies toward them. I think if you haven’t lived in our area for a while and understand what is going on in our community then don’t promote your new church plant at other churches expense. A lot of those plants fail by the way, not that I wish them any ill. I also have notice that a lot of their leaders have that megachurch mentality which I think can lead to numbers but not necessarily community.

    • You’re right about the attitude with which many planters enter a community. I’ll never forget seeing a plant asking, “are you tired of church as usual?” This told me they wanted to poach from other churches instead of reaching people.

  4. Love it! As a replanter who has worked and sweated and cried and whose main accomplishment is seeing the church become a church again, I say amen! Also, everything you say about planting is true of replanting. Especially where I am in New England.

  5. As the plodding wife of a faithfully plodding (new england) church planter…thank you! Thank you so much for validating that faithfulness is meaningful.

  6. As a church planter I found this to be refreshing, encouraging, and a great reminder of the work and faithful plodding ahead of us.

    Loved this paragraph: “The task of planting churches demands we plant churches on a sound foundation so they will still be bearing fruit in fifty years if the Lord tarries. This involves consistent teaching from the Bible, discipling believers, developing godly leaders, helping believers connect their faith to their work, and building a good reputation in the community. Every ounce of this work must be fueled by fervent prayer, asking God to strengthen us for the task to which he has called us.”

  7. I really appreciate this post Scott. If our definition of success were being faithful and fruitful and “doing the hard and anonymous work which must be done for the sake of the Gospel”, we would find great satisfaction and contentment in our arduous labor and celebrate the gospel’s deep work in a community. I am sharing this post with other church planters. Thanks!

    • Thank you Dan. I find the knowledge that God is always working in ways I don’t see to be one of the greatest comforts in ministry.

  8. I am Pastoring my third church plant. I have to say this because you all have never heard of me. 🙂 I will make this required reading for the many who ask me about planting in the future.

    This was so tremendous. Keep after it men!

  9. As a Frenchman working as a missionary in my homeland, thank you for this post.

    One of the problems with being an anonymous, plodding missionary is that it isn’t glamorous and therefore doesn’t attract much support from many christians who are attracted to more visible ministries.

  10. Well put. Thanks for describing what real church planting is about. This describes my husband and the church God has called us to plant well. It’s helped me reflect on our “successes” a bit rather than be so aware of our many “failures”. Thank you!

  11. Scott – I got sent an email from a brother in my former church Idlewild Baptist in Tampa – I am planting churches now in the Northeast and he was sending me a note telling me he was praying for me and sent me a link to this blog that he had read which prompted him to pray for me and he sent it to me to read and be encouraged. I laughed at how small a world it is when I open it and see your mug shot as the author!!!! Great word my friend and love it! Hope you are doing well and the family is growing! Who would have thunk that a couple boys from clarke county would be steady plodding for the kingdom! Blessings

    • Great to hear from you Buff. The first time you met me when I was in 9th grade the last thing I ever thought I would be was a church planter. Praying you and your family are doing great.

  12. Really appreciated your article. God bless you, brother!

  13. Thank you! This article has encouraged me so much! We are a 5 year old church plant and we had the same mentality on how to “effectively grow your church” so we tried to do all the “cool” things that we hip church planters do, lol. Anyway, our pastor resigned last summer after struggling ever since we planted. We weren’t exactly sure what to do but after a few months we sought advice from several different pastors who do church the way you have described here. After much prayer we decided to completely restructure the church to an elder driven model. No more hype and “awesome worship experiences.” But loving each other, making disciples and legitimately reaching our community. Needless to say, we lost some people and half the staff, its been a few months now and things have never been better! God bless you!

  14. So many wise comments in your article. Thanks for writing it.

  15. Peter Yeoman May 2, 2016 at 1:27 PM

    Forty years ago we planted our first church. This year I heard that a lady had given her life to Jesus whom we had testified to on many occasions during this period (she was 20 years old at the time and is now 60). Planting churches is indeed long term work, but amazingly worth it!

  16. As one of the leaders in a new church plant in the Kansas City area, I’m encouraged by this article. I think that Revelation 3:2 is a good text for church planters: “Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die.” That is what church planting here in America is doing: strengthening a church that – in some respects – appears to be dying.

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