Why planting new churches matters
Stanley E. Granberg is a church planter at heart. Granberg…
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — With membership shrinking, churches closing and preachers in short supply, how do Churches of Christ grow again?
It’s not a new question, but Kairos’ answer is one it believes many Christians haven’t considered: Instead of focusing entirely on maintaining or revitalizing existing churches, put efforts into planting new ones.
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That’s why the Oregon-based church-planting organization is co-sponsoring a day of awareness — National Church Planting Sunday on May 21 — with the University Church of Christ in Tuscaloosa.
That Sunday, Kairos is asking churches across the nation to pray, witness — which includes teaching, preaching and sharing information about church planting — and take up a special collection to support the organization’s efforts, Executive Director Ron Clark said.
“We believe church planting has to be part of the Great Commission for us to be able to be evangelistic as a movement,” Clark told The Christian Chronicle.
Since 2005, Kairos — whose name is an ancient Greek word meaning “the right time” — has been involved in planting more than 40 churches and rebooting several more.
Those church plants range across the U.S., but many of them are in college towns or populous cities that may be considered difficult to evangelize — emblematic of Kairos’ efforts to reach younger generations with the Gospel.
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Caleb Borchers is the lead church planter for The Feast Church of Christ in Providence, R.I., which launched in 2015. The church now has about 50 members.
Borchers met Kairos founder Stan Granberg as a graduate student at Harding School of Theology in Memphis, Tenn. Borchers and his wife, Fran, had been interested in mission work, and Granberg introduced them to a mission field at home: church planting.
Borchers went through Kairos’ apprenticeship program and eventually moved to Providence in 2012 to begin the church planting process.
“It was a lot about connecting and building,” he told the Chronicle, “and so it was about meeting as many people in the community as possible, telling as many people as we could about what we were trying to do, what was sort of the vision around the community we were trying to create.”
Now that The Feast church is more settled, Borchers’ role is mostly that of a lead minister, albeit an outreach-focused one.
“Compared to my friends who do preaching in established churches, we probably spend a lot more time at community events and a lot more time in the neighborhood and a lot more time with non-Christians,” he said, “just really trying to build a reputation and a relationship with everybody in the community.”
On the opposite end of the country, Jared King is the lead church planter at Missio Church in Seattle, which launched in 2018.
King — who holds an undergraduate Bible degree from Harding University in Searcy, Ark., and a master’s degree in ministry from Harding School of Theology — was a youth minister for the Renovatus church plant in Vancouver, Wash., and also worked with the Ethos church plant in Nashville before beginning his work in Seattle in 2015. The church has a membership of about 60.
He said he appreciates Kairos’ flexible approach, particularly in cities like Seattle, where other church planting organizations have struggled.
“Kairos provided that ability to look and assess our area and develop a strategy from that rather than vice versa — of just trying to implement a vision without knowing fully well who you’re reaching and why,” King said. “Kairos has given me the ability to create something that is unique for our people here that we feel like has been really beneficial for the city.”
In Tucson, Ariz., Brendin Williamson is in the team-building phase for a new church plant, partnering with an existing campus ministry at the University of Arizona and benefiting from funds left behind by the closed Mountain Avenue Church of Christ.
He previously was the youth minister for the Hilltop Community Church of Christ in El Segundo, Calif., and is working on a Master of Divinity degree at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, Calif.
Williamson’s team of about 20 college students and adults meets weekly as they work on building the church.
“We’re walking through just core DNA stuff for the church that will hopefully come to be one day, so things like personal time spent with God, intentional relationships developed with people who aren’t Christian,” he told the Chronicle. “We’re implementing service and having some fun community times.”
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The last step, after growing that team consistently over the next several months, will be launching a public worship service.
“That’s the thing that people tend to think of when they think of church planting is, ‘Oh you’re just going to start a worship service,” Williamson said. “That’s actually the last piece that comes in the chain, and it’s actually kind of the least important because if you’ve done the groundwork well where you’ve laid that DNA and that discipleship is happening and there are healthy systems of growth and spiritual development, then the worship service is just kind of a symptom.”
Kairos takes Christians like Borchers, King and Williamson through its Discovery Lab to determine if they will be a good fit for church planting and then its Strategy Lab for training and planning before sending them off to plant a church.
The most important qualities a church planter should have, Clark said, are being people oriented and highly missional and having a strong leadership ability, spiritual maturity and an entrepreneurial spirit.
But the people Kairos is looking for aren’t necessarily those with Bible degrees.
“We’re actually looking for individuals who are called and are missional and are wanting to get out into the community and work. …I think you can teach people academics, but it’s difficult to teach people practical ministry skills.”
“We’re not looking for the ones who’ve gone to school and graduated, although those individuals are always welcome,” Clark added. “We’re actually looking for individuals who are called and are missional and are wanting to get out into the community and work. … I think you can teach people academics, but it’s difficult to teach people practical ministry skills.”
He believes that’s part of the reason why Kairos’ labs have been full of potential church planters despite the minister shortage plaguing many established Churches of Christ.
Neil Reynolds, senior minister for the University church in Tuscaloosa and Kairos’ pathways director, stressed that starting new churches doesn’t mean neglecting or abandoning existing churches.
As he prepares his sermon for Church Planting Sunday, he plans to emphasize that church planting, at its core, is simply an evangelistic strategy to reach new people with the Gospel — one that has been critical from the church’s founding.
It’s also a strategy that Borchers, the Providence planter, believes is being better implemented by other Christian movements.
“Most of our denominational cousins, they know what church planting is,” he said. “They know it’s important, and they put money into it, and they’re planting more churches, and they’re doing what they can to try to continue on their story.”
Reynolds added that for Churches of Christ to become truly effective in church planting, they need not just awareness and financial support but also collaboration and cooperation.
“Maybe the church in America is not where we want it to be, yet the Spirit is still moving here.”
“National Church Planting Sunday is one way that we’re sounding the alarm to our movement that it’s time to come together to start new churches that reach the lost,” he said.
For Williamson, the Tucson planter, May 21 will be about spreading optimism that what is happening in places like Tucson, Seattle and Providence can — and should — be happening elsewhere.
“Maybe the church in America is not where we want it to be,” he said, “yet the Spirit is still moving here.”
For more about National Church Planting Sunday, visit kairoschurchplanting.org.
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