From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Church planters weigh systems plan

From George Conklin <>
Date 24 May 1996 19:23:28

May 23, 1996
Mennonite Board of Missions
Contact: Tom Price, director of information
Phone: (219) 294-7523

Church planters consider systems for success

 CORAOPOLIS, Pa. (MBM) s As he shared experiences from his life's calling   
with about 50 church planters and others April 14 at the annual Mission   
Leaders meeting here, Tom Nebel paused for a moment of self-assessment.
 "It is a funny business we are in. Sometimes it is a rotten calling. You   
are always trying to turn the work of the Spirit into a science,"   
confessed Nebel, co-author of Empowering Leaders Through Coaching and   
director of church-planting movements for the Great Lakes district of the   
Baptist General Conference.
 In his tenure, Nebel has planted churches and coached others as his   
district has begun 40 new churches in the last decade. The knowledge   
Nebel has gained in that process points to the need for using   
reproducible strategies in planting churches s an insight that dates back   
to the different experiences of John Wesley and George Whitefield in the   
Great Awakening.
 "Whitefield preached. Wesley organized," said Nebel, noting that   
Wesley's influence still continues today through thousands of churches   
that were brought into being through his methodical approach. "George   
Whitefield led thousands of people to Christ. But the thing that made   
Wesley go was this institution called the Holy Club. 4 In the generation   
following John Wesley's life, more people came to Christ than in his   
personal lifetime."
 Nebel identified five "primary systems" church planters and coaches   
should set up if they want to create a movement of churches committed to   
church planting:
Intercessory prayer groups supporting the church planter.
Recruitment strategies for finding church planters, coaches and   
Ways to assess whether someone is cut out for church planting.
Ongoing coaching and support for church planters.
A plan for generating funding for new church starts.
 For each of these systems to be effective, Nebel said, they must be   
reproducible, reliable and able to outlive their originator. A system   
also ensures that the work is less dependent upon individual   
idiosyncrasies. "In this business, you can't let your vision shrink to   
the level of your reality," he said. "I'm not going to let my vision be   
held hostage by what currently is the real situation."
 Nebel served as the keynote speaker at the annual Mission Leaders   
meeting at the Gilmary Diocesan Center near Pittsburgh. The event was   
organized by Mennonite Board of Missions of the Mennonite Church, the   
Commission on Home Ministries of the General Conference Mennonite Church   
and the Conference of Mennonites in Canada.
 In addition to Nebel's daylong workshop, the mission leaders   
participated in two clinics on coaching church planters, led by Glen   
Yoder and Dick Landis of Eastern Mennonite Missions, as well as a   
workshop, "Creative Ways to Grow a Church," by Bob Kettering, director of   
new church development for the Church of the Brethren.
 "We so often reap a limited harvest because we sow a limited vision. We   
need to sow a larger vision," said Kettering, who also serves as interim   
coordinator of networking and training for The Andrew Center, an   
Anabaptist resource agency. "Too often, I find Christians in the church   
are not running the race, they are running in place."
 In his work with The Andrew Center, Kettering helps churches receive   
training for evangelism and congregational vitality.
 "Many churches have lost their focus and forgotten their first love," he   
said, quoting a story from Max Lucado of a childhood fishing trip ruined   
by foul weather. "When those who are called to fish don't fish, they   
fight. But when those who are called to fish do fish, they flourish."
 Just as not everyone enjoys fly fishing, not all pastors are cut out for   
church planting, according to Nebel, who emphasized the importance of   
assessing all potential church planters. In assessment centers now being   
operated by many denominations, potential church planters and their   
spouses go through a rigorous series of interviews to test their ability   
to do this special kind of ministry. About 40 percent are not   
recommended, while only 30 percent receive unconditional approval,   
according to Nebel. Assessment centers will give "conditional approval"   
to another 30 percent, who usually are instructed to get additional   
training in a specific area.
 "There are some people who want to church plant who should not church   
plant, and there are some people who don't want to church plant that   
should," Nebel said. "You learn over time you are really doing people   
favors by telling them no if they should (not be church planters)."
 The church-planting movement, itself, is entering a period of   
responsibility in which church leaders are becoming more conscientious   
about supporting church planters, according to Nebel.
 "Here is how denominations typically support church planters on the   
field: You drop them in behind enemy lines," he said. "If it goes OK and   
(the church plant) survives, we put a '1' in the win column. If it   
doesn't survive, we don't say we messed up."
 Increasingly, however, church leaders are re-examining practices that   
devalue people in favor of fast growth. "We want to be careful we aren't   
chewing people up. 4 We are not going to slow the movement, but we are   
going to come up with ways that we do not have to constantly be crazily   
creative (to get the job done)," Nebel said.  "You have to have some
minimum standards as to what we would say is a successful church plant."
  Successful church plants according to Nebel:  Do not begin "preparatory
worship" until they have at least 40 adults.  There generally is a 2:1
ratio of adults to children.  "A church afte a grand opening will be two-
to-three times the size of the launch team one year after its launch, "
Nebel said.
  A church should be able to support itself in two years.
  In addition, Mebel sees small towns as good soil for more church plants.
"A lot of people are just ignoring that market," he said. "If you get
inexperienced church planters, I would encourage them to look at the
small-town environent.
Tom Price   Photo Available

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