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Why Start a New Church?



Does Smyrna really need another church?


The short answer is no, Smyrna doesn't need one more church. Smyrna needs dozens of new churches.

 

Here's why.

Whenever I'm asked the question, “Why a new church? Why not pastor an existing church?”, my internal thought is, “Well, why have a baby? Why not just love the people who have already been born?” It’s our honor and privilege to love everyone, but do we stop having babies because there’s already “enough” people? Of course not!

 

The question often comes from a good place; people see the number of church buildings that exist (which is a lot in the south!) and assume each one is a healthy, vibrant, multicultural and intergenerational worshiping community of between 200 and 500 people. But the sad reality is more often than not, that’s not the case. Just this week I heard of a church in Smyrna whose pastor retired and the congregation decided they weren’t going to hire another pastor, they were going to gracefully (and, sadly, literally) wait to die.

 

Occasionally the question comes from a place of misunderstanding the role of the Church. It’s common and, let’s be honest, natural in a consumerist country like America to primarily view the church as a place for me, or to have a “consumer” mentality toward the church. In many beautiful ways the church is for its members; after all, a healthy church will care for its members' spiritual, physical, and emotional needs. Unfortunately, that’s often where someone with a consumerist mindset stops. It’s easy to hear about the mission of God and think that’s for other people, not us. Or, if we’re honest, many of us would admit that we only view church as a place for others to the extent it’s meeting our needs first, and as a lay person our role isn’t to consider those who aren’t here and create a place for them.

 

So what is the Church? I’ve often heard it described as a "Country Club for Saints" or a "Hospital for Sinners" (one an attempt to tear down, the other an attempt to lift up). But we believe that no matter where the church is located, whether in Pakistan, Kenya, or the United States, it's a sent community, “sent into the world as the rightful and faithful continuation of Jesus’ own sending by God” (Guder, Walking Worthily). In fact, “It’s not so much that God has a mission for His church in the world, but that God has a church for His mission in the world” (Wright, The Mission of God). The emphasis in Wright’s statement is on God’s mission, not the church, therefore our emphasis must be on God’s mission, not ourselves. In other words, if I can be blunt, fundamentally church isn’t about us. It’s about Jesus. And that’s a good thing! 

 

But let’s return to the original question, “Why start a new church?”, and my actual answer when I’m asked simply draws from Dr. Tim Keller’s famous article, Why Plant Churches. Those reasons are, broadly, Mobilization, Renewal and, now, Post-Covid

 

Mobilization and Renewal

While Keller delineates between the 2, I’m combining them because I believe the path to renewal in any church or community is mobilization. Why? Because new churches act as springboards for missional engagement as well as personal and corporate renewal in the communities they enter. Says Keller, “It is a great mistake to think that we have to choose between church planting and church renewal. Strange as it may seem, the planting of new churches in a city is one of the very best ways to revitalize older churches in the vicinity and renew the whole body of Christ.”

 

How so?

 

New churches are inherently fragile and must diligently learn about their communities and innovate to reach them in fresh ways. New churches don’t have the same natural gravity large institutional churches have, thus it’s easier for them to take risks and try new things. New churches often use the language of “experiment”, and it’s easy if something doesn’t work to quickly pivot and try something else. At an established church if something doesn’t work, what happens? Meetings. Lots and lots of meetings. That’s not to frown on established churches, it’s just the reality of being pulled in different directions needing to care for and shepherd a large congregation with diverse needs. It’s a little counter-intuitive, but the reality is new churches can’t start without established churches, and many established churches will not survive without starting new churches. Why? Because a new church’s fragility and agility are both blessings to established churches. As Keller says, new churches are the “Research and Development Department” for the entire Church in a city. 

 

Secondarily, the best evangelists are undoubtedly new Christians. Their faith is new and fresh, they still have a ton of non-Christian friends, and sshhh, no one’s told them yet that talking about Jesus with their non-Christian friends is optional. As a result, says Keller, “This means the average new congregation will bring six to eight times more new people into the life of the body of Christ than an older congregation of the same size.”

 

Lastly, new churches are also a testing grounds for all Christians to discern their gifts and calling to serve the Church. A personal story. I was part of a church plant in the early 2010s and it was at that church plant that I, a recent seminary graduate, was blessed with the opportunity to discern whether I had the gift of preaching and teaching. If I had gone to a large established church it’s unlikely that would have happened, at least so quickly. Now, years later, many of the same people from that church plant who first discerned and practiced gifts for leadership are now leading as elders, deacons, and even pastors in churches across the city. It’s actually quite beautiful. 

 

Perhaps the best way I can summarize how a new church can bless existing churches is that before we moved to Smyrna I told the pastor of an existing church in the area, “If all that happens through our church planting efforts is the existing churches experience a gospel renewal, but Water Stone fails, it will be worth it.”

 

Post-Covid

Church planting in a post-Covid world is more difficult than ever before, yet also more necessary than ever before. Covid (and George Floyd) tore the mask off our nation’s perceived post-Civil Rights Era glory days and revealed not as much has changed as we thought, and the institutions we trusted to ensure our safety, our growth, and our care were often the most culpable abusers of power. We’re now living in an era of distrust of institutions, distrust of religion, and distrust of power. Sadly, many of our minority brothers and sisters have never known another reality.

 

Distrust de-motivates. Comfort also de-motivates. Covid forced us to stay home, forced us to “worship” online, provided alternative digital avenues to connect with people, and gave people permission not to go to church buildings on Sundays. And now, ~3 years later, a significant percentage of Christians haven’t returned to church yet. Many have legitimate reasons not to return to their old church, they need a new church and preferably a new church where everyone is new. 

 

As a result, church planting is even more necessary post-Covid. New churches have fresh visions and innovative ways to engage with communities in the midst of a shifting culture. They have opportunities to leverage what we’ve all learned since 2016 (and continue to learn) in developing healthy leadership structures. They provide opportunities for scattered Christians to regather and know and be known, together with Jesus.

 

Lastly, in his book Culture Making Andy Crouch says the best way to change culture is to create new culture, and in this sense he means systems, consumables, rhythms of life, habits, etc. Returning to the baby metaphor, just like a new baby creates new culture in a family, a new church creates new culture in families and communities. New babies give people new names, such as mom and dad, grandpa and grandma, require new rhythms of life and engagement with the world, elicit new conversations, etc. Similarly a new church provides new roles and responsibilities for people to fill, creates new weekly rhythms and places of emphasis, and stretches us into conversations we may not be accustomed to having, but which are ultimately good for us and others. 

 

Maya Angelou said, “You are the sum total of everything you’ve ever seen, heard, eaten, smelled, been told, forgot…etc”, and we would summarize this by saying the community we surround ourselves with determines who we are. We’d love for you to join us and this new community God is creating as we pursue a community for all Smyrna to belong and become together, and together in Jesus.

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