What is a church planter? A simple definition of a church planter is one who plants (or starts) a new local church. Of course that begs the question, “What is a good definition for church?” The word “church” originally comes from the Greek word ekklesia, which is defined as “an assembly” or “called-out ones.” The root meaning of “church” is not that of a building but of a people.
Beyond just a Greek definition of the word, the New Testament model of the local church is a group of people who confess Jesus as Lord and live out the Great Commission. So, to combine these ideas, a church planter would be one called by God to start a new movement of people who commonly confess Jesus as Savior and are faithful disciples of Him. However, a church planter is much more than a definition.
We’re still left with the question, “Who is this kind of person that in the process of church planting often leaves a steady salary and an established ministry for the complete unknown? Is he brave, naïve or just dumb enough to try it?” Even for church planters, these are sometimes hard questions to answer.
While not an exhaustive list, here are a few characteristics of church planters that are helpful to know as you pray for and support them in their work:
1. Planters are not trying to steal people from your church (at least not most of them). Church planters start new churches to reach a segment of people not hearing and/or responding to the Gospel in a particular location. They are focused primarily on those people, not on wooing members of other churches.
2. Church plants could benefit from you sending people from your church. Like green plants need air and water, every new ministry needs two basic things: resources and people. What a blessing it can be when established churches prayerfully support the work God is doing by intentionally challenging some of their members to go out as laborers into the harvest, to live like missionaries.
3. Planters have put everything on the line: finances, families, pride, fears, everything. One of the most amazing things you can do for a church planter is commit to walk with him through this process. Commit to six months, a year or a lifetime. For a planter to know that someone else has his best interest in mind instills courage to dream God-sized dreams.
4. Planters desperately need faith and wisdom. When starting a church, there are literally hundreds of decisions that need to be made. Church planters need prayer and counsel to help them make wise decisions and maintain strong faith in God. In the face of risk, great challenges, and at times internal opposition, being encouraged to have faith in God to do the work he has called them to is incredibly important.
5. Planters fear failure but know it’s a very real possibility. Many church planters struggle with coming to grips with failure. Some studies have shown that 80 percent of all church plants do not survive past their third year. A key spiritual battle is for the planter to fully and daily give the future and the work to God so that he is free to minister with joy and confidence rather than worry. Even the Apostle Paul suffered with these kinds of fearful thoughts when he wrote, “And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches (2 Corinthians 11:28).”
6. Planters need a pastor, too. They desperately need your help, and they know that. While they don’t necessarily want to be constantly critiqued and prodded, they often appreciate fresh eyes, outside perspective and wisdom that comes from experience. Sometimes they’ll ask. Sometimes they won’t. But if you’ll listen well and ask insightful, caring questions, they will be glad to listen when you offer advice and thank you for it.
7. Planters have a wife and a family. The pioneering nature of church planting can be extremely hard on a church planter’s spouse and children. Often, planters are bi-vocational, meaning they’re also working a job on top of pastoring. Pray for them and challenge them not to sacrifice their families on the altar of ministry. At the beginning, planters are preachers, greeters, chair-stackers, toilet-cleaners and much more. As a result, their families can suffer. Help them to value their wives, pastor their children and repent when the work becomes a mistress.
So, who is this man called to plant a church? Likely, he is nothing more than a follower of Jesus, called by God to “go” with nothing more than a vision that can only come from God. But when it comes down to it, he is just someone being obedient to the will of God, and really, that is all that matters.