The Future of Church Planting in the SBC? (part 1)

church-plantingIn all of the talk about the Great Commission Resurgence (GCR), part of the conversation usually drifts to what will help energize the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). Many believe that the denomination is at defcon4 (though a small minority sees no issues with declining baptisms, membership, giving, and other ominous factors). What will help revitalize the churches that make up the SBC and their mission efforts at home and abroad? What will energize younger pastor’s participation in and hope for the SBC? We do not propose to have all the answers, but we, along with many others, do think one thing is vital to the future of the SBC and the continued participation of young pastors. We must have a vital North American Church Planting Network, and right now we just do not seem to have one. The North American Mission Board (NAMB) appears to be in upheaval with leadership uncertainty, frustrations with planting, and a lack of a unified approach. This is not to say that the North American Mission Board does not do some effective and good things. NAMB has been used of God to plant many healthy churches. But can we do better? Can we develop a church planting strategy that has a higher success rate and is more directly tied to the local church? We think the answer is “Yes!”

We want to propose what a vital church planting network might look like and be characterized by. Since the SBC has an existing home Mission Board this proposal will of necessity offer suggestions that call for some change in that existing board. However, we are not naïve enough to think that the vision we propose will be easily implemented when there is an existing structure in place. Much of this discussion will focus on what such a church planting network might look like built from the ground up. We also understand that much more than what we will lay out here goes into this kind of network.

The Primacy of the local church – this network must be characterized and driven by the primacy of the local church as the body created by King Jesus to plant other churches. Ultimately, local churches rather than mission boards “run point” on planting churches. Why? The church is the one commissioned to do this. Not a home mission board. Acts 13 shows us that the Church at Antioch under the power of the Holy Spirit recognized, commissioned, and sent Paul and Barnabas for the purpose of church planting. So what is the role of the church planting network? Ultimately, the network or the board is to be a servant to the churches of the SBC. Our local, state and national entities were NOT created to DO the work of the local church. National church planting networks are merely to serve the church. The New Testament gives the mandate to churches to multiply and not to mission boards. J.D. Greear, of the Summit Church and the Great Commission Task force, has written several articles about “parachurchism.” He writes, “Parachurch ministries (and, denominations and networks) exist to facilitate the ministry of the local church…denominational networks are simply functional tools that churches can use to accomplish the mission given to them… Good parachurch ministries facilitate the ministry of the church. Bad parachurch takes ministry from a local church and does it for her. Bad parachurch says, ‘Give us money and people and we’ll do ministry for you.’” We believe, unfortunately, that our North American church planting network has operated under the bad parachurch category in the past, supplanting the church as the vehicle that plants churches.

The Primacy of the Local Church in planting would mean a better selection process – In the New Testament and throughout most of Baptist life, the church has been the one that confirmed the call of the pastor. We must recover this in Baptist life; not every “Billy Baptist” that says he thinks it is time to go into vocational ministry is called out. The person’s internal calling must be confirmed by the external calling of his local church setting him apart for ministry. God calls people to ministry through the church. This, again, is the pattern we see when the Church at Antioch recognized the calling of Paul and Barnabas to mission and sent them out (Acts 13:1-3). If the churches will do this, then they can mark out the ones they think are fit to be Planters (based on elder qualifications in the NT). They will have the advantage of seeing these men on a day in day out basis and so will know them even more intimately than a board or a network can. They will know how these men love their wives and their children. The Church will know and see their ministry gifts as they are exercised in the fire of local church ministry. And the Church will then be responsible to send them out, this is great because the onus will be on that church and most churches would not waste time and resources on one that is not called and competent. This process would avoid sending isolated individuals disconnected from local church ministry. It would also weed out disgruntled planters who want to start something new because they do not see anyone else “doing it right.” Church planting pastors need to first follow the godly leadership of an older pastor before they plant. They must be able to submit to authority before they can be in authority.

Jon and Nathan Akin

In part 2, we will continue to examine the primacy of the local church and how it should impact our church planting.

Comments 0

  1. Great post guys! May the Lord use us as His vessels to bring His glory and renown to the world. Do you think there has been a marked increase in “good” church planting because of groups like A29 and what is stopping us as Southern Baptists from partnering with other groups like them for the purpose of the Kingdom?

  2. Why can’t a denomination plant churches? It would seem that if you take that argument to it’s fullest extent than you would say that the local church is the one entity to send out missionaries or do anything that the SBC does right now. Aren’t you turning every church in the SBC to an independent Baptist church? I think what we need is more resources to the church planter. More money, more hands on training, more unity between our churches that comes from Associational leaders and state,yea even National leaders.

  3. Post


    Thank you for your kind words. I do think the role Acts29 has played in church planting has played a part in a passion for church planting, and even in seeing church planting done well.

    As to the second part of your question,there are many SBC’ers who are deciding to partner with Acts29 and other organizations, while at the same time being committed to the SBC. So, as far as those who would not partner with networks like Acts29, I know some of the reasons swirl around the alcohol issue. Some have even argued, poorly in my opinion, that being a part of Acts29 is a violation of baptist identity. So those are a couple of the reasons that I have heard as to why some in the SBC will not partner with networks like Acts29. Not sure if that fully answers your questions, but that’s all I got. Thanks for taking part in the conversation.


  4. Post


    I do not believe the mandate to plant churches is given to a denomination in scripture, for one good reason, you do not see denominations in the NT. And let me add one side note here, it is very important that we remember that the SBC is not a denomination, but is a convention of locally autonomous churches.

    So, I do not think that denominations should plant churches for a variety of reasons. Some of these we will get to in the future post and I do not want to lay out a biblical/theological argument for this in the comments section. I will say briefly that the Church is what Christ died for, not a denomination. The mission of Christ is given to churches, not a denomination. In addition, the pattern in the NT (Acts13) is that churches send out church planters and missionaries. So yes, I would say that churches should send out missionaries, not a mission’s agency. I also think that wisdom dictates churches plant churches for reasons such as, accountability and personal investment, which we will address in later parts.

    All of the convention structures are in place to help local churches cooperate together to send missionaries, plant churches, and train pastors. So we are not turning the churches into independent Baptist churches, we are proposing the conventions help the churches do these things, as was originally mandated of a convention of cooperating, locally autonomous churches. The convention is to serve the churches, not vice-versa.

    I agree with you that we need more resources, more hands on training (which we will argue in the future parts is best done at the local church level, because it is more intimate there), and more cooperation. But cooperation does not mean that the convention does the work of the local church for them, it means they simply assist them in doing the job and we will talk more about how we think that should happen in part 2 or 3. Thanks for asking these questions, I think they are very important and I think they get at the heart of what some people would like to see change in SBC life. I apologize if this is unclear, I probably should not have responded at 11.


  5. If I am a member of a small church without the resources to start a church (and I recognize that finances are only one very small part of “resources”), am I not functioning biblically if I view my cooperative program giving as joining hundreds of other small churches to start churches through the North American Mission Board and the International Mission Board? It’s great that large churches can do that on their own, but my understanding of the beauty of “cooperation” is that we do better together what we can’t do alone.

  6. You say, “I would say that churches should send out missionaries, not a mission’s agency” thus denying the legitimacy of both the NAMB and the IMB?

    Is this what you mean to say?

  7. Nathan, it did answer the question. I have wrestled with a desire to plant a church and would probably seek partnership with a group like A29 while still maintaining a distinct Baptist identity that allows for churches to have multiple elders and Reformed doctrine.

    The mandate for sending and going is directed to the local church. The church is the agency of God’s worldwide redemptive movement to reconcile men to Himself. Brother Jeff I would certainly say amen to your church’s support and partnership through the CP. That is the beauty of the CP, that small churches are able to have global missions impact by joining together and pooling resources and personnel.

    William, it does not deny the legitimacy of NAMB or the IMB. Those two work for the local churches, not the other way around. The men and women they send on the mission field come from local bodies who have given their stamp of approval for those who feel called to serve the Lord in that capacity. The church makes pastors, not seminaries. The church makes and sends missionaries, not the IMB or NAMB. They are the sending agencies, working on behalf of the churches.

  8. Great post, guys! And I say, “Start now!” One Southern Baptist researcher has estimated only 3-5% of Baptist churches are directly involved with planting a church. Don’t wait for NAMB, your State Convention or your local Association to change. I believe change is coming, but there is nothing keeping us from being directly involved in church planting NOW. I would like to challenge every church planter to set reproduction in their church’s DNA by putting church planting in their strategy and budget at the beginning. The amount you give may not be a large amount, but it should be enough that it is a sacrifice. Ask God to lay somewhere on your heart, maybe a major city in North America, to help plant a church. Even if your church is not the “lead” sponsor of the church plant, you can still partner with other churches. Form a cluster of friends and plant together. Ask a larger church that is already involved in church planting if you can partner with them in planting a church and learn from them how to be a good partner. Plan and take a mission trip within your first year to help plant a church. Don’t wait till you get “big enough” (whatever that means) to plant. Do it NOW! Imagine what would happen if every pastor/planter who read this blog prayerfully began to contact a half a dozen friends and said, “Let’s start praying about where God might have us plant a church together.” You don’t have to wait for anyone’s permission, except the Holy Spirit.

  9. Jeff,

    Thank you for taking time to read and interact with this post. We are wanting to get a conversation going that will sharpen us on the issue of church planting. Southern Baptists LOVE missions, and church planting is a HUGE part of that, the most important piece, so we want to dialogue and learn from one another and challenge each other to see if we can learn to do it better!

    Let me answer your question. First, I want to say AMEN to two of your comments: 1) finances are only a small part of the resources and 2) we can do far more together than we can apart! We LOVE cooperation and are calling for GREATER cooperation not less. Randy addresses above some ways we can cooperate at greater levels.

    Second, we need to re-define what it means to plant a church. The problem with the idea that “small churches can’t plant churches,” is that they are all over the world. If what we mean by church planting is a building, stage production, state-of-the-art sound and media capabilities, full-service staff that is paid full-time, a certain attendance, etc. then maybe “small” churches can’t plant churches, but that is ONLY because of the way we define church planting in America.”Small” churches all over the world are planting churches. There is a book called “Total Church” that is one of the most popular books on the church out right now. This group in England is planting churches and the original church had only 100 people…The church in China is multiplying rapidly. We need to re-define planting. Planting is NOT re-creating a certain model that we call church in America, but rather gospel-centered communities that conform to the biblical picture of the church. We need to open up discussions about what is and what is NOT a church.

    Third, see Randy’s post about networking with buddies and planting together.

    Fourth, we LOVE the CP and are grateful for it and how it allows planting. We just want the money to help churches plant not having parachurch entities doing it for the churches.

    Randy and Scott,



  10. Jon,
    Thanks for that reply. Actually, I’m a missionary and agree 100% with your comments on the meaning of church starting. We must start churches that are simple in structure and straightforward in ministry and vision. I am also formerly a pastor of a small church (not really by SBC standards, but most would consider it small) in an association made up mostly (85% probably) of churches 75 or less. The biggest issue is getting those churches to catch a vision of CP, but there remains the issue that the majority of SBC pastors and churches are not equipped to start churches and, while they often give upwards of 15-20% to CP, they do not have the mindset that they need to do it on their own or even in a small network. Where I take issue with your initial post, and even with Randy’s response, is that many of these churches see their CP giving as partnering with other churches to plant churches. I think we’re throwing the baby out with the bathwater when we say that’s not a valid way to accomplish the great commission. Many pastors (possibly even including myself) will say that arguments like yours gut the CP in favor of resourced churches who have the knowledge, expertise, and resources to plant other churches. They still trust IMB and NAMB and consider their giving to be the best way to partner with thousands of SBC churches to start churches. They would rather give there than hand over money to a large church. They support the GCR, recognize that we need to streamline our missions “machine,” and long to see their communities and the nations reached.

    It’s quite possible that what you are suggesting is only a subtle shift in terminology and emphasis: instead of saying that we give to CP and let IMB and NAMB start churches, we (and those agencies) must recognize that they are a ministry of SBC churches partnered together. If that’s the case, then I add my hearty amen. But if what you’re saying is that IMB/NAMB should reduce their ministries and shift to teaching/training/supporting local churches to do church planting, I think that’s problematic. The fact is that state conventions have been trying to do that (or at least my own, which is still solid in those areas) but have had difficulty findng churches who are interested.

    I think that we’re generally on the same page, but your post raises flags. Thanks for the dialog.

  11. Under primacy of the local church you wrote:

    “not every “Billy Baptist” that says he thinks it is time to go into vocational ministry is called out. The person’s internal calling must be confirmed by the external calling of his local church setting him apart for ministry. God calls people to ministry through the church.”

    Does this primacy of the local church effect how resource the training of every “Billy Baptist”? Currently, any “Billy” who goes to our seminaries is funded based on an on campus credit process. Could this processed be narrowed to only applying to “Billies” who are confirmed by their local churches and have a specific call to ministry?

    I think the funding process of the educational level could be pruned to bear better results. What do you think?

  12. Jeff,

    I think I should have been more specific. According to the Fourth Report of the SBC Funding Committee in 2006

    there are some struggles with the aged Seminary Funding Formula used for funding the training of our North American missionaries and ministers. The concept of the primacy of the local church maybe a solution to this problem.

    Here is the scenario, we spend CP$ on people who do not cooperate with the SBC. And we spend CP$ on “Billy” who may not feel a calling to anything but seminary. The current Seminary Funding Formula bases the amount of money granted to each seminary based on the amount of credit hours taken on campus by students. This funding formula requires agencies to spend their energy in time and resources in as many “Billies” as possible, vs. focusing on the Billy who is called to ministry. Therefore, the seminary enrollment process is made more open to Billies who want to use mission funds/CP$ to just waste a few years while they try to figure out what they want to be when they grow up. (Many of which do not grow up to do ministry.)

    The problem is not in the application process, it is in the acceptance process and funding. Are CP$ supposed to fund ministry and ministry training or just people attending class. Currently, seminaries accept and give tuition discounts to anyone who applies. The “clear call” is usually accepted as a “call to seminary” and churches are asked to affirm the applicants desire to attend seminary not affirm them to ministry nor license, ordain them.

    I thought the article went along the same lines. I’m thinking the local church could be asked for matching funds of some percentage and that church planters/foreign missionaries shouldn’t have to pay as much as guys like me. I think the training of church planters might be a bigger issue than how we fund their health insurance. (Especially since the training is at times more costly.)

    Am I just in left field here, or maybe this subject should be held for another topic?

  13. There has to be a better way to plant healthy churches than we (SBC) are doing right now. My family and I have been thrown into our first plant not knowing a lot. We have been here since 9/2005 and it has been hard. Not that hard work is a bad thing but we have been thrown into a system with not a lot if any support system set up with a local church or churches. Only by name (which sometimes is the only support they give). Sometimes there might be some money, BUT hardly any mission minded, kingdom minded workers our sent.

    Teams from local churches need to be prayed over, trained, supported and sent out to preach the Word to call people to repentance. I agree that a church is NOT a building; the church is people who have been saved by the grace of God, by the preaching of the Word of God.

    May the Lord use this year (and the ones to come until He returns) to see great things happen for His kingdom!

    “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for Him!” (William Carry)

    Thank you.

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