church planting

How Church Planting Changed My Family

My family is above average. No, we are not a family of amazing athletes, and we are not going to solve all the world’s humanitarian crises; but we are a family of six, which puts us above the average size of an American family. If you were to meet me, my wife Page, any of our four daughters, our dog, or our cat, you may think we are similar to any other family in your neighborhood.  Our home needs some repairs, our girls squabble, and we cannot seem to return library books on time. So how are we different?   

In 2003, Page and I, along with our 18 month-old daughter, moved to the Middle East as IMB church planters. While we did our due diligence praying, studying, and preparing to move overseas and start this new venture, we were not prepared for the lifelong impact it would have on us. Church planting changed our family in significant ways, and the following lessons are some that continue to shape us. 

Lessons from the field

1. Ministry is a whole family endeavor. 

There are times when ministering in any context, especially with your family, can be difficult if not overwhelming. However, from the beginning we made a commitment to minister as a family and not separate our home life from ministry life. From day one, we wanted to communicate to our girls that this is our family’s ministry, not just mom’s or dad’s. Any type of ministry, even church planting, is a family endeavor. To be clear, there may be seasons of life that require more or less involvement from certain family members.

2. Flexibility in family life.  

Since ministry is more about people than schedules or comfort, we built flexibility into our family routines. In our specific context, that meant going to the park at 10:00 pm at night if that’s what other families were doing, which was, in fact, a regular occurrence due to the extreme desert heat where we lived. Now, we were sensitive to our children’s needs, but we wanted to be able to minister in a variety of seasons which required flexibility in our daily, weekly, and monthly family routines. 

3. Parenting out of trust and not fear.  

From the early days of our marriage, we determined to make it a priority to trust God. That might seem trivial, but sometimes when it comes to our family, it can be hard to fully entrust them to God. Even now, having two daughters in high school, one in middle school, and the other one in elementary school, our trust muscle is stretched on a regular basis. Living overseas as church planters, we continuously asked the Lord to help us not shrink back from engagement in our community just because it involved trusting Him with our girls in difficult or uncertain places. 

**A word of caution here about family life and ministry. No matter how ‘bought in’ your children are to your ministry, no matter how good of a kid you have, they definitely will not understand all of the sacrifices that ministry requires. However, they should never have to understand a lack of care and love within the home due to ministry busyness. Make sure to spend time as a family enjoying each other, celebrating milestones, discussing real life, and constantly communicating why you are ministering as a family. 

4. An unwavering commitment to prayer and a family life focused on evangelism.  

The dinner table is central in our home. It is our hub for family meals as well as a hub for all kinds of conversation. Page and I talk openly about people we are sharing with and gospel conversations we’ve had with neighbors. We have our girls share prayer requests for their friends, and we challenge them to share their faith regularly and encourage those friends that are believers.  

Beyond the dinner table, we spend time in our neighborhood and community. We know that we have to be around lost people in order to impact them with the Gospel. In all of this we pray. Our family prays for little things, big things, and future things. We want our family to see that prayer changes hearts and opens doors. 

5. Curiosity about other cultures.  

We want our daughters to be exposed to different cultures, places, and peoples. Now, some of this is simply for fun, but beyond that we build expectations for our children to take part in an overseas mission trip once they turn 12. We hope that other simple things like engaging our servers at ethnic restaurants or inviting internationals and missionaries into our home will encourage our girls to go live and minister among the nations one day. We want to provide our family with a missional lens through which to see the world.

6. A posture of listening and learning.  

We lived as minorities in a majority culture for a number of years. While there, we had to learn the basics of a new lifestyle, a new language, and a new culture. All of these things instilled in us an understanding of the need to constantly be listening and learning. Page and I have tried to teach our family to ask questions and listen to peoples’ stories so that they might connect with others and ultimately, have opportunities to build bridges to the Gospel. 

STILL MUCH to learn

Sometimes when we tell people that we lived overseas as church planters they think we must have deep wells of wisdom or that we have mastered the art of marriage, family life, and ministry. Honestly, though , we often feel just the opposite. We still have so much to learn. The impact of our time overseas continues to this day as we continue trying to live in light of these lessons. 

Finally, I hope you will see that the things God drove deeply into our family DNA are no different than what He wants for you and your family. Our time living cross-culturally allowed us an extended season to begin learning these family lessons, but you do not necessarily need to spend years somewhere else as church planters to learn what we have. No matter where you live or what stage of family life you currently find yourself in, God desires to use your family to impact your neighbors and the nations for Christ, too.

Feature image by IMB.


Trends in North American Missions Today that Excite Me

I first shared the trends in this article a couple of years ago, and I thought it would be interesting to revisit these trends today. I’m encouraged to say all three seem to have continued to develop, and I am encouraged by the growth of the North American church in these areas. There is still much room to grow, but I am hopeful.

The first three trends I shared previously, and they all concern the shifting face of the North American population. Increasingly, North American churches are realizing that North America is a mission field but many different mission fields. The staggering growth of the foreign born population in recent decades brought some of the least reached people in the world within arms reach of local churches. Furthermore, cities are increasingly diverse, and that means many cultures on top of each other that all need contextualized expressions of the gospel. Needless to say, churches must realize that no cultural expression of the gospel is “one size fits all.” Each of these first three trends take this new reality in North America seriously.

Churches must realize that no cultural expression of the gospel is “one size fits all.”
— Keelan Cook

The final trend is one that I am adding this time. For a long time, church planting has been a priority conversation in North American missions. For some, the traditional planter-pastor model of church planting is roughly equivalent to North American missions. However, the priority is changing as a renewal movement swells concerning the large number of unhealthy and declining churches across America. 

Diaspora Missions as a Church-based Missions Strategy

Diaspora missions is the fancy term for working with people groups when they migrate somewhere other than their home. For example, engaging unreached people groups in America would be considered “diaspora missions.” Of course, I am biased on this one, because it is what we do with the Peoples Next Door Project. In fact, it is what this website is all about!

Nevertheless, the rise of both awareness and activity concerning unreached peoples in the United States is one of the most exciting trends in missions today. Only a few years ago, it was common for the reality of unreached peoples in North America to never cross the mind of an average church member. That is a far smaller number today. In fact, it seems as though more and more missions agencies and local churches are talking about the changing face of America and the need to reach the growing number of international and unreached peoples.

Of course, various strategies are being developed, but I think local church-based strategies stand out among them as the most important. The old “find a guy and resource him” strategy is not the leading edge of this work. Instead, training and equipping local churches to discover and engage people groups around them with simple, reproducible church planting strategies seems to be the better road. Of course, there will always be places for that missions specialist or resourced pastor/planter. However, that model simply does not scale to the size of the problem. It usually leads to addition rather than multiplication. 

Moving forward, my hope is that we see a focus on local church equipping that (a) gives them a heart for the nations in their own community, (b) empowers them to actually go out and meet these people in a way where they can do cultural acquisition, and (c) gives them simple tools for leading Bible studies that can become church plants.

The Rise of “Apostolic” Church Planting Methods in North America

Alongside the above trend is the gaining momentum of “apostolic” methods of church planting in North America. In this model, the planter usually does not become the pastor of the church. Instead, they plant a church, help it move toward health and reproducibility, and then move on to start another. It is called “apostolic” because it is more akin to Paul’s model in the New Testament. This is, of course, different than the planter-pastor model where one or more guys move somewhere to start a church and eventually pastor it. I do believe there is a place for the more traditional North American Church Planting model, and I am excited about the uptick in that as well.

With that said, there are some important convictions I believe the apostolic approach brings to the table. First off, the model focuses on reproducibility and multiplication. In other words, this model is not about planting only one church but initiates conversations about reproduction from the very beginning. Second, the emphasis is on growth through conversion, not transfer. In other words, this model most often starts with a group of unbelievers in an evangelistic Bible study that can become a church. Comparatively, the more traditional church plants tend to grow primarily through transfer growth, or existing Christians who switch churches or move into the area. Finally, it shifts the paradigm of mission from a “come and see” model to a “go and tell” model.

Of course, apostolic models will have some hurdles in our context, and that needs to be stated. In the days ahead, I would love to see some good dialogue between advocates of both models so best practices can develop. If you want to know more about this, JD Payne wrote a helpful book on the issue fittingly titled, Apostolic Church Planting.

No Longer “The West to the Rest”

The third one is nothing new, but it sure does excite me. I have written before about how missions is changing, and this may be the most important way. Since the beginning of the modern missions movement some two hundred years ago, missions has largely been seen as a Western enterprise. In other words, developed nations in the West would send missionaries to developing, unreached nations in the East and South. However, this is no longer the case. Missions is from everywhere to everywhere now.

The US is being supplanted as the number one sender of missionaries, as countries like Brazil, China, and South Korea become missionary sending forces around the globe. Missions is no longer “the West to the rest.” When I served in West Africa, I worked with a whole team of Brazilian missionaries. They often made better missionaries than we Americans, too. They took a fraction of the money we used and did more imbedded missions work.

In addition, many of the international peoples that are coming to the US come evangelized. Much to most of the church planting in North America right now is not being done by us. It is being done by groups moving in from the Global South and starting churches for their own people. The question this raises for us is, how do we partner with them, both as they send overseas and as they come here and establish churches? How do we help equip and fan the flame without trying to control or manipulate their work?

The Rise of Replanting

In the past two years since I first named the above trends, a focus on replanting dying churches has emerged, and that is worth noting. Certainly, revitalization has been a topic for a while, but as the generational turnover and rapid cultural shifts in our nation are occurring, there is a resulting wave of declining churches. Among SBC churches, we regularly celebrate the fact that we are planting somewhere just over 1,000 churches per year, but many do not know that we are closing just under a 1,000 a year as well. Church planting is necessary and needed, but if we’re ever going to multiply, we have to close the back door. 

The process of replanting steps into that gap. Replanting is often a more radical process than traditional revitalization. Essentially, it’s the process of relaunching a church with a different identity and structure after a period of intense assessment and reconfiguration. Recently, Mark Clifton of the North American Mission Board noted that over 200 churches have been replanted through cooperative efforts by local associations and conventions.

Instead of just waiting for these churches to die out while trying to plant a new one next door, this concept of replanting and revitalizing existing congregations is gaining momentum. For me, that is an encouraging sign. It reveals that the care of existing congregations and the desire to see them once again involved in the Great Commission should, at least in some instances, take priority over expediency.