Planting a church is hard. I don’t think anyone will argue that point. Personally, I think it may be the most difficult task in all of ministry (other than maybe starting a movement of churches). There is just so much forethought, planning, praying, waiting, brainstorming, unmet expectations, and trusting God that goes into starting something new. But, from what I can tell, there is something that appears to be more difficult – growing the church by conversion.
There are three things that most church planters will never admit:
- “I don’t have a plan to grow by conversion.”
- “I don’t know how to grow by conversion.”
- “I don’t care to grow by conversion.”
Despite the fact that we’d never admit these things out loud it seems to be the story many church planters around the world are telling. Let’s be honest, it’s just easier and quicker to let the church grow by transferal growth – those believers who come to the church because they know the lead pastor, they know the name/brand of the mother church, they don’t like the worship at their current church, or the church plant is in a more convenient location for them.
Part of this, I believe, is based on the fact that it is difficult and trying to grow by conversion. We don’t like getting in other people’s spaces. We don’t like starting up conversations with strangers. We’ve never really been taught how to tell anyone about our faith or even how to ask to pray for them so it’s awkward for us. Not to mention the fear of how we might be labeled from then on out. Plus, conversion growth can take a long, long time and we’re not that patient. After all, we’re results driven.
It’s interesting to see church plants in certain parts of Africa where there is no choice but to grow by conversion. In those parts of cities or parts of countries where there are a handful of believers at best. Where pastors are dedicating their life to converting the entire community. Their job description (if they had an official job description) looks very, very different from pastors from other places in the world. They spend most of their time with people. They’re rarely concerned with planning Sunday service or hiring more staff or meeting their budget because what they’re interested in is people coming to know Jesus. Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not beating down the Western model of doing church. I’m all for planning, budgeting, specifying work roles, etc. Those are GREAT things. And I completely understand that I’m referring to two totally different contexts that most likely wouldn’t work if they tried to switch places. Don’t hear what I’m not saying. What I am saying is this: What if we, as church planters, in every setting across the globe went into each and every day thinking that conversion growth was literally the only option? What if we made that our priority? How much different would our days look? What would need to change about how we think and operate?
It’s a simply question but one that I believe is worth pondering.