Where do church planters come from? This morning, I was on the phone with a friend who is a denominational church planting leader. We both agreed that one of the major obstacles to planting more churches is the lack of identifiable pipelines for church planters. Most church planting networks and denominations are struggling to find qualified planters. Where do we find sufficient numbers of men and women with the calling, gifts, and training to plant all the gospel-centered churches needed to reach our post-Christian culture?
The answer, I believe, is simple—but not easy: missional leaders must prayerfully take responsibility for the development of younger leaders. As Paul famously wrote to Timothy, “What you have heard from me through many witnesses entrust to faithful people who will be able to teach others as well.” So, to raise up many more church planters, here are three potential solutions.
1. Plant while Pregnant
One short-term church planter pipeline strategy is simply to embed the next church plant within every new plant. Moses had Joshua, Paul had Timothy, Priscilla and Aquila had Apollos. Each planter can partner with an apprentice planter with the intention of giving birth to a daughter church under the apprentice.
When your network or denomination plants a church, it pairs the lead planter with an apprentice planter in whom the lead planter will invest so that the apprentice is equipped to plant his or her own church in a year or two.
It is learning by doing. A crucial added benefit to this strategy is that it helps the initial church plant recognize that its own survival or thriving is not the end goal; the planting of another church is. I am blessed that embedded within the church plant I’m leading is a gifted young woman who wants to plant a church.
2. Identify and Develop Younger Leaders
A more substantive solution to the issue of building a church planter pipeline is to go much farther upstream in the leadership development process. If we want to see multiple generations of church planters raised up, we must invest in the development of younger leaders with apostolic and evangelistic gifts today so that they are equipped to plant many years from now.
Every church planter experiences a “gestation period”—the time between the moment she or he senses a stirring from God to plant a church and the time when s/he is actually called to start the church. For me, that gestation period was about seven years (from age 28 to 35). This means that we must encourage and train leaders in our existing congregations to begin…
(a) planting the idea in the hearts of promising high school students, college ministry leaders, and young adults that starting new worshipping communities is normative,
(b) tapping on the shoulders of those leaders with apostolic and evangelistic gifts to say that we believe in God’s call on them,
(c) giving these young leaders guidance and opportunities to start new ministries in their spheres of influence, and
(d) coaching them as they gain the experience and education to plant new churches.
3. Cultivate Farm Systems
The third, and most systematic, way to build a church planter pipeline is for church planting organizations to partner strategically with university churches, youth ministry organizations, and college ministries (such as InterVarsity, Cru, RUF, etc.) to identify emerging leaders with apostolic gifts.
There tends to be a handful of churches (oftentimes located near universities or colleges) that disproportionately generate the most future pastors. These are the same churches that ultimately will generate many church planters as well. Similarly, college ministries tend to help identify and promote their best leaders—some of whom will join that ministry’s staff, and others of whom will feel called to church planting.
In professional baseball, there are multiple minor league teams (called farm teams) that enable promising players to get experience and sharpen their skills before making the jump to the majors. By analogy, partnering strategically with university churches, youth ministry organizations, and college ministries could help planters build long-range pipelines that God uses to provide years of mentorship and formation for future church planters.
Moreover, multi-year church planting residencies and apprenticeships based in church planting churches are an increasingly popular and effective means of training, and they function as effective farm systems.
The reality of building church planting pipelines may depend upon our willingness to pray for future generations, and to relinquish some of the territorialism that causes some of us to focus only on recruiting planters for our own tribe. Take a minute to pause right now to pray that God would raise up future planters who are not from your own tradition.
If we could embrace a kingdom mentality of producing healthy pipelines that every tribe would benefit from, who knows what could happen. Maybe multiple seminaries, church planting networks, and denominations would collaboratively build pipelines and let God direct the planters to various affiliations as he sees fit.
What are some ways you think we can all partner to prepare planters for church plants in 2025 and beyond?
Learn to Coach Young Church Planters Through V3 Coaching