Planting New Churches in a Postmodern Age

Ed StetzerEd Stetzer wrote “Planting New Churches in a Postmodern Age”, in 2003, providing ‘an instruction book for planting biblically faithful and culturally relevant churches’.

Ed has planted churches in New York, Georgia and Pennsylvania. He serves as the Missiologist and Research Team Director at the North American Mission Board in Alpharetta, GA (Southern Baptist) and co-pastor of Lake Ridge Church in Cumming, GA. Ed has a useful web site, NewChurches, focusing on church planting.

The book, “Planting New Churches in a Postmodern Age”, has six parts.

Part 1 – Basics of Church Planting

Stetzer deals with common objections to church planting in a North AMerican environment. He provides answers to those caught in a large church mentality, parish church mindset, professional church syndrome, “rescue the perishing syndrome”, and those who believe the “already reached myth”.

Ed continues by making the connection between church planting and missional theology. He contends that two parallel problems keep many believers from engaging with unchurched culture: a focus on techniques that ignores the substance of faith, and a focus on tradition that ignores accessibility.

Contemporary approaches to church planting are grounded by Stetzer in the examples of church planting found in the commissionings of Jesus and the work of the early church founds in the Acts of the Apostles.

Ed provides a few models for church planting, giving Biblical and contemporary examples, analysing the paradigm, principles, pros and cons.

  1. Apostolic Harvest Church Planter
    starts churches, raises up leaders from the harvest and moves to new church
  2. Founding Pastor
    Starts a church, acts as a ‘church planter’ for short time, remains long term to pastor the new church
  3. Team Planting
    Group of planters relocates into an area to start a church. Often the team has a senior pastor.

Part 2 – Basics of New Church Life
Stetzer looks at what it takes to plant a church. He looks at the role of teams, individuals, lay people, agencies and denominations, and churches. He draws on Charles Ridley’s thirteen categories that indicate likely effectiveness.

Ed advises new churches to carefully choose a structure before starting and try and stick to it. Constantly changing approach saps morale, he says. Congregational purpose should shape the leadership structure.

There’s a chapter on the daily responsibilities and schedule for planters, placing priorities on evangelistic outreach, sermon and study preparation, administration and ‘ministry’ that focuses on people who are likely to become ‘reproducing leaders’. He provides a helpful warning about ‘cultural fatigue’ and advises planters to meet weekly with a supervisor.

Stetzer identifies five roles that need to be filled before a public worship service can be launched (based on Bob Logan’s advice). 1. Pastor – charismatic leader and vision caster. 2. Worship leader responsible for a worship team. 3. Preschool Children’s Minister. 4. Assimilation Coordinator – involves church members and guests more deeply in the life of the congregation. 5. Evangelism networker – promotes activities to reach unchurched and assists other leaders in evangelism through their networks. 5. Spiritual Gifts Mobilizer – coaches peopls in identifying gifts and using them. Stetzer also identifies the critical role played by a ‘welcome coordinator’ and ‘financial organizer’. He warns against appointing new leaders quickly – new church plants attract people from other churches with an agenda.

Planting New Churches in a Postmodern AgePart 3 – Understanding Cultures and Models

Stetzer begins this section by identifying the cultures associated with the Builder and Boomer generations. When it comes to the next generations he cautions against making generalisations based on age cohort, choosing instead to lump them all together as ‘Postmoderns’. I’m not convinced about his arguments. True – predictions about future trends are often shown to be inaccurate. However it is helpful to explore the shared experiences and values being developed by emerging cohorts.

When it comes to exploring modernism and postmodernism, Stetzer draws heavily on Millard Erickson. He summarises the movement in the church and wider culture by writing about a shift ‘from text to interpretations’, ‘from Meta-narratives to Mini-narratives’, and ‘from External to Internal Truth’.

Stetzer contends that postmodernism as a worldview is antithetical to the gospel. He qualifies this statement however by distinguishing between ‘soft’ or ‘pop’ postmodernism and ‘hard’ postmodernism. Stetzer is interested in developing churches that engage with postmodern culture while remaining true to Biblical truth, to reach people who are culturally postmodern.
Stetzer asserts that successful ‘postmodern churches’ will be unashamedly spiritual, promote incarnational ministry, engage in service, value experiential praise, preach narrative expository messages, appreciate and participate in ancient patterns, visualise worship, connect with technology, live community, and lead by transparency and team.

Ed includes a chapter on ethnic church planting models, pointing out that in most denominational settings in the United States the majority of church planting is African-American or ‘ethnic’. He also includes a chapter on house churches, noting that some of his book is not relevant to that setting.

Part 4 – Church Planting Nuts and Bolts

This section covers the practical matters of choosing a focus group for mission, developing a core group, running small groups, finding and handling finances, and choosing a name and logo. He includes a chapter on evangelism, combining insights from the Engel Scale and the Gray Matrix to present the Stetzer Evangelism Journey.

Part 5 – Starting Off Right

This section is designed for new churches that head off into ‘launch mode’ with a public worship service. Stetzer writes about finding a meeting place, getting the attention of the media, launching the new church, worship, preaching, assimilation of new members, growth and children.

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