Organizing Principles for Selecting a Church Planting Community

Sure, everyone wants to hear from God about where or among whom He is calling them to plant, but people seem to hear Him through various lenses. In recent years, this seems to be shifting.

Affinity

For most of the 30+ years I have worked in church starting settings, planters have gravitated towards affinity. They look for people and places to plant based on commonalities–same language, interests, life stage, or common need. They have been attracted to geographies based on homogenous affinity groups.

Some of the places perceived ideal places to plant churches have been large, new growth suburban communities that appeal to people from the same socioeconomic background who all want to send their children to fabulous suburban schools. They started cowboy, biker, and surfer churches plus Spanish, Chinese, and Filipino language churches.

Least Reached

Other planters determine where they start churches out of a kingdom calling to reach the least reached. This has become more common in the last decade with the recovery of kingdom orientation and the advent of missional church thinking.

Prospective planters read articles about least evangelized areas, and are up for the hard work of planting in the tough places, either in North America or around the globe. This is sometimes paired with affinity based planting in as much as an unreached people group is a particular kind of affinity group.

Geographic

More recently, younger planters sometimes long for a kind of parish model based on geography. They have discovered that geography can help bring about community, so they choose places with walkable downtowns, bike friendly streets and excellent transportation systems.

Millennials are moving to urban areas to recover community, and some of them are church planters. At the same time, a subset of this group has a preference for diversity. This includes ethnic, racial, socio-economic and generational diversity. This is a radical shift in the church planting scenery.

Relational

Finally, some younger planters are drawn to relationally based church planting. House church multiplication is one indicator of this, but so is the growing tendency of planters to “bloom where they are planted”.

Church planters are going back home, wherever home is, to reconnect relationally with family and friends, and to start churches among people with whom they already have strong ties. They are not necessarily trying to start indigenous churches, but certainly this is the result.

So what’s your lens? How will you determine where and among whom God wants you to plant?

Discover more organizing principles in a V3 Learning Cohort

Photo credit Pink Moose

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Linda Bergquist

Linda Bergquist

Linda is a church planting catalyst and coach, and teacher in the greater San Francisco Bay Area. She teaches church planting, urban immersion and cross cultural ministry classes as an adjunct at various seminaries. Linda is the co-author of Church Turned Inside Out, The Wholehearted Church Planter and author of the Exponential eBook The Great Commission and the Rest of Creation.
Linda Bergquist

2 Comments

  1. brad/futuristguy May 9, 2014 Reply

    NOTE: I got to know Linda 20 years ago, working with her on a South Bay church plant. She was also my
    professor for Theological Field Education in church planting, 2000-2001. I read her post on “organizing principles” with great interest, and it sparked a lot of thought. I think through writing, so my comment turned out quite lengthy. So, I asked Linda for permission first before posting it. She said okay, so here it
    is, FWIW.

    * * * * * * *

    This is a very helpful summary, Linda. And I appreciate that you’ve been involved in all of those approaches as a mentor-consultant-catalyst yourself, so it captures both theory and practice. And it seems to me that each of those approaches will find a host culture where it best fits, and will attract people that fit with it.

    Since, as a futurist, part of what I do involves identifying global trends and culture shifts that are driving long-term social change, I thought your readers might find it of interest to hear what I think may become one of the next approaches to emerge. It’s a model that fuses together at least three significant shifts in culture and identity trends that are changing the trajectory of where things are headed long term:

    * Generational demographics – Millennials and beyond have higher overall “cultural fluidity” and intercultural aptitude.

    * Increased social and geographical mobility, and higher ability to function in both virtual and IRL (In Real Life) settings.

    * A more populist and holistic approach for humanitarian endeavors by informal networks, non-profit agencies, and for-benefit businesses.

    I’d suggest that what we may see as an emerging trend related to ways to organize church planting involves TRANSCULTURAL TEAMS using SOCIAL ENTERPRISE METHODS AND MODELS of for-benefit projects and existing as a more fluid or even VIRTUAL COMMUNITY, and MEASURING the impact of social transformation efforts in part by QUADRUPLE BOTTOM LINE metrics of doing good plus doing no harm in the community, ecology, economy, and spirituality.

    This Transcultural/Social Enterprise approach has elements that may look like a combination of the four approaches you’ve summarized, Linda, but I think it represents a different underlying paradigm. For instance, the transcultural approach depends on compositing a team whose members are more bicultural and intercultural than not (which Millennials and beyond are far more likely to have as their native cultural perspective). Transcultural people don’t merely tolerate cultural differences, they embrace “the other” as providing complementary viewpoints that strengthen each individual and believe that, without those differences to stretch us, none of us become the people we were designed to be. (Sidenote: A lot of Third Culture Kids turn out transcultural.) That’s the essence of the description I use for *transcultural* – so it isn’t really the affinity approach that emphasizes homogeneity – other than the team holding to common goals, or sub-groups coming together for a common project of interest.

    Such teams or communities may create projects or pieces or partnerships that fit into a sustainable mosaic of activities for a people group. As pieces to that puzzle, they are not necessarily geared to long-term residency in that locale or among that people group. That aspect is common among some social enterprises these days, and may fit with an increasingly more mobile society. I see this as a logical progression in a more populist approach to humanitarianism that’s been at least 30 years in the making. If we go back to the Live Aid concert and related charity efforts of the mid-1980s, I think we’ll find the widespread planting of a meme that is, “Do at least something instead of doing nothing” in making a difference in dire situations. Would we have charity: water or Kiva or Kickstarter now, if there hadn’t been Live Aid in 1985?

    Just because it isn’t a rest-of-our-lives commitment to being in one locale, that doesn’t make this small-scale or temporary work a hit-and-run ministry. Because of the now more typical organic emphasis on sustainability, it’s about working with local people, respecting their context and needs, assisting them with resources, and turning over power and responsibility for sustaining the project to them. It’s far more holistic, which is why the quadruple bottom line (QBL) approach makes sense as fitting in with it.

    The concept of a triple bottom line has been around for 20 years now. (The term *triple bottom line* was coined by John Elkington in 1994.) This approach links the impacts of change on people/community, planet/ecology, and profits/economy. A key idea is to engage in business, cultural, and political activities that “do good PLUS do no harm,” a sort of secular version of The Golden Rule of “do unto others as you’d have them do unto you.” The fourth bottom line of personal and social transformation/spirituality started appearing about 10 years ago, stating that the spiritual element was essential to this configuration.

    This creates a helpful framework for “missional metrics” – measuring what matters in social transformation. And in fact, triple or quadruple bottom line concepts have increasingly been used for evaluating businesses, non-profits, social change endeavors, etc., for certifying them as having a legitimate social conscience. It also is used to call out phonies, such as with the term *greenwashing* where a company masquerades as being eco-friendly, when in fact their record demonstrates otherwise.

    From how I’m reading the non-profit and for-benefit horizon, related *qualitative* metrics of impact will become more important to legitimizing social endeavors. At best, all our *quantitative* measures of money spent and hours worked and people connected with only give us a profile of countable investments in creating opportunities for impact that changes the quality of people’s lives. That’s not the same as whether the actual impact made a positive difference. The qualitative and QBL issues in transformation help us be more conscientious of potential “unintended consequences” of our actions, especially as we cross cultural borders and boundaries, as we do so much more these days in a multiple-culture world.

    So there it is, for what it’s worth. Part of the reason I see this as where things may be going is that I’ve been in the midst of seeing it unfold. This fusion of global trends is the model I’ve been functioning in for the last 10 years, as part of a multigenerational, multicultural, international team of women and men.

    A key feature is that this network is decentralized. People from multiple countries and continents come together in person and/or through online means to join in efforts for specific projects. Over the last 10 years, this network has catalyzed a series of different projects for personal and social transformation – many of which involve some committed Christians and others who fit in the “none” category of no religious affiliation, but who consider themselves “spiritual.” Project examples:

    * An intergenerational summit to dialog about culture shifts and the church.

    * An art exhibit that challenged people’s perspectives of Jesus.

    * A campaign with social and political components to confront the demand side of human trafficking as a long-term strategy to reduce prostitution.

    * An organization that empowers and trains women survivors of trafficking and other life-threatening situations, helping them to establish a new life.

    * Mentoring entrepreneurs in creativity and networking skills, and incubating new projects that benefit the common good.

    But we’ve always kept in mind the development of sustainable processes that can be adapted elsewhere to the local needs and context. Some may not see this as “church planting” because its decentralized, mobile, and short-term qualities. But certainly it has many elements of an apostolic-type team that IS church to/with each other, and also catalyzes points of view and projects that localized church planters could certainly adapt.

    Actually, I can visualize Roland Allen dong things like this if he’d been born 35 years ago and was a Millennial instead of 135 years ago in the last millennium …

    • Tim Catchim
      Tim Catchim Jun 22, 2014 Reply

      Agreed, Linda has laid out some really good stuff here. Linda is a goldmine, for sure.

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