Planting a church is one thing; reaching a community is another. What has God called us to do? Certainly, one way we can reach a community is to plant a church in its midst. But having planted a church, have we reached the community? I say not yet.
Unfortunately, we are often all too satisfied when we've planted a church. Planting a church is a lot of hard work. It takes time, energy, blood, sweat and tears. And there is always an on-going, never-ending stream of issues, problems and work that come with planting and running a church. So often we are left with this sub-conscious feeling, "Let me get this work done, first, then we'll think about doing something else."
When a church is planted a community may still be far from reached. A big factor is the size of the community. But it would be helpful to look at the community and ask ourselves, "How is this community different because the church is here?" Certainly we can talk about the difference the church has made in the lives of the individuals who are a part of it, and that is not to be diminished! But imagine someone from out of town who knew nothing of your church came to the community for a visit. Could they stay a week there without ever realizing there was a church there? A month? Longer? If they didn't meet with anyone in the church and didn't go to the place of worship, would they hear about the church from others? Would they see things in the community that are the result of the church, ask about them and then be told, "Oh, that church over there did this"?
We often sell ourselves short. Or, we sell God short. We think planting a big, vibrant and successful church in an unreached community is a big task. And it is. But transforming an entire community with the love of Christ and his good news--that is even bigger. If you find yourself remarking, "God is doing some amazing things in this church." Then ask yourself, "Is God doing some amazing things in the community because of the church?"
When we start out working in a new city (anywhere in the world) we should not strategize in a narrow fashion: What is it going to take to plant a church in this city? Instead, we should strategize in a broad fashion: What is it going to take to reach this entire city for Christ? I believe planting churches is part of that. But not all. It would be nice to see that planting a church is part of our plan for reaching a community, not the entire plan.
It is funny that when missionaries go overseas they tend to think in more missional terms of reaching villages, people groups, cities and countries for Christ. But when Christian church planters in America start out, they think more in terms of just planting a church. We need to bring this missional mindset to our communities. What is it going to take to reach the bulk of the people here, not just some of them? In a city of 400,000 a church of 1,000 is only 0.25%.
Two things typically happen when we just plant a church. First, we find the loose Christians that aren't a part of another church, or we gather in Christians who like our new church better than their old church. Secondly, we reach people on the fringe. We reach a number of people in the community who are "easy to pick off" so to speak. They aren't the standard kind of non-Christians in the community.
Now, let me affirm that reaching fringe people is a good thing to do! If we look at the life and ministry of Christ, we will see that he did the same thing! Many people on the fringes of society came to and were welcomed by Christ. The church should be a place where people who are not so welcomed in the larger community are welcomed in.
But let us ask ourselves this question: Why don't most people in this community believe and follow Jesus? What are the strongholds that are keeping them outside the kingdom? What are the ideas, thoughts, assumptions they hold that keep them from believing? And then, how do we change those ideas (on a community-wide basis)? How to we combat the power of those strongholds? What will these people have to see/experience to change their minds?
That is our mission. Yes, it's pretty big. But isn't it delightful to be a part of what God is doing in this world?