The Future of Church Planting in the SBC? (Part 3)


Part One of The Future of Church Planting in the SBC? – The Primacy of the Local Church

Part Two of The Future of Church Planting in the SBC? – The Primacy of the Local Church Continued

A lean, streamlined Church Planting Network (Simple Planting) – Note: Aaron Coe, a Planter through NAMB, has helped us with the information in this section. This network must be streamlined, meaning that ideologies of the current model will have to change along with renegotiating existing relationships. We believe that this is necessary because it will help us get necessary resources to our planters and it will help us spend money on what is best, not simply what is good. It will also mean a unified strategy.

First, Change the current ideology. Church planting should probably be done less, but done better. The main focus of the church planting network should NOT be the number of churches planted each year but rather the quality of churches planted. The major problem with our current process is that we are more concerned with the number of churches we plant than we are with the health and viability of the churches we plant. Our focus should be finding the right men and helping them plant churches. The issue here is that we have a higher failure rate than some because of this ideology of planting high numbers of churches. This ideology also causes us to struggle in finding resources to support these church planters.

A nice shift would be if we only have three capable planters in a given year, only plant three churches. This way we can support churches that will be viable in ten years instead of extinct. Our resources are ultimately wasted if we invest tons of money in churches that will fold up the tent within 10 years, which unfortunately happens too often! The ideology should be find the right men (or teams), however many or few they are, and help them with an abundance of resources to plant healthy, vibrant, self-sustaining, reproducing churches. In the long haul, if we are planting a small amount of healthy, reproducible churches then it will create a multiplication effect. Let us resolve to plant a smaller number of vibrant churches with the right men (teams) for the jobs. We must have a focus on planting healthy churches, and not just more churches.

Second, invest the necessary resources to aid the planters (teams). We mentioned above that the lack of resources hinders many of our church planters. We cannot give a planter a measly salary, send them to a major (expensive) city, and say, “okay, have at it”. As Danny Akin said, in this case they are “DOA.” Here is more from the above quoted Western Recorder interview, “He decried the low funding levels for a new church start and declared a church planter is “dead on arrival” when he is funded at a decreasing level for three years at a starting salary of just $20,000. Baptist State Convention of North Carolina church planters start even lower, at $14,000. “I’ve got news for you,” he said. “You put all that together, and I’m going to be hard pressed to take care of my family for one year.” Instead of giving measly support, we should find the chosen and give them great support that ensures they can last.

Third and directly related to a shift in ideology, we should also consider supporting teams that plant more than just a lead man. This has not traditionally been one of our strategies. This is more than likely tied to our concern with the number of churches we plant in a given year as mentioned above. This must change. Team planting seems to be much more prudent than a single unit plant and some would argue more biblical. This will help in areas of early strength, accountability, planning, etc. We must support more effectively those we are sending into areas that are tough, including many of our major cities. If we do not, we should not be shocked when living in relative poverty, being isolated, and the trials of church planting discourage them. We must resolve to use “Annie” for the sake of our planters. In addition to being prudent, team plants enjoy greater success.

Fourth, we need to eliminate bureaucratic hoops, duplication, and competing strategies. NAMB must find a way to overcome the challenge of moving from a state-convention entangled, bureaucratic agency to a church-focused, streamlined church planting machine. Let us be clear. We’re not saying that state conventions and NAMB should not have any cooperative agreements. That’s impossible. NAMB and state conventions need to operate with one another to prevent overlap. But, we do mean that the current ways that NAMB and the states operate will not do. In fact, we believe, that this step is necessary to a viable existence. These agreements may have served us well in the past, but they need to be re-thought for our future. We hope that state conventions will be very much involved in church planting. But we hope that the interaction between NAMB and state conventions would be healthy and mutually beneficial.

In order to be less bureaucratic and more focused on church planting this home mission board/church planting network should employ its own home missionaries/church planters and not be as bogged down with ties to existing state conventions. An outstanding article entitled “Moment Critical for NAMB” by Calvin Wittman helps us think through what this might look like. We commend it to you, and we believe this move might be a necessity. The red tape and the entanglement with the state conventions must be altered. NAMB on the whole, unlike the IMB, does not employ its missionaries and planters. They are instead employed by and supported through agreements between NAMB and the State Conventions. The State Conventions are then in cooperation with the associations. That means that funding for these planters has to go through several layers to even get to the field: from HQ in Atlanta to the state office to the association and then to the missionary/church. So this means “executive” level salaries at 3 or 4 different levels in order to administrate ministry in one church or area. According to NAMB employees this creates all sorts of issues.

First, there are often times disagreements between NAMB, the state convention and the local association as to how ministry in that particular area should be done. So, the missionary is in an awkward political position trying to determine with whom he should “side.” Second, this creates often times greater loyalty to one entity over another depending on which entity hired you. Third, these tensions lead to NOT having a unified approach to ministry in a particular area. One example might be reaching college students in a city. One entity may utilize a church-based strategy that empowers local churches to reach college students, whereas another entity might utilize a parachurch campus based approach to reaching college students. Too many bosses. Too many chefs in the kitchen. Sometimes the bosses utilize strategies that work against one another.

However, what we propose for this church planting network is setting up regions within the US (which could cut down on the number of executive level salaries necessary to carry on the work of the board). They would employ planters and have a unified strategy (church planting) in that region. The regional coordinator would work with churches in the planting process.

One of the biggest factors in the upheaval at NAMB seems to be that NAMB cannot operate effectively in its current structure without state convention buy-in. So a trim and more efficient church planting network that lacks much of this red tape is necessary. In some ways it is harder for NAMB to succeed than IMB because NAMB has so many more hoops. So NAMB has done it like this: they get an idea, put it before the states, and then form committees  made up of the state convention people, ostensibly to get their input, but in reality more to get their commitment. This leads sometimes to stalling creativity and the death of good ideas. There is a catch 22 though because NAMB must have state buy-in to be successful. It seems that this is the system NAMB has created, and it needs to be replaced. This will take tough calls, but a leaner entity could be a better church planting network.


Jon and Nathan Akin

Part 4 of this series will be some concluding thoughts

Comments 0

  1. Jon and Nathan:

    I agree that due to NAMB / State relationships that there is ambuiguity in terms “who is in charge”. So there can be situations where people on the ground are getting mixed messages — such as your example regarding campus ministries being either extension of local churches or SBC “parachurch” ministries such as the Baptist Student Fellowships.

    However, I also think that there is another problem is happening at the NAMB. That is that the NAMB comes up with stuff without any plan to implement it or to track it over time. If a plan is dependent upon external stakeholders (such as state conventions) for its success then there has to be tracking from day one on how the project is defined and then at periodic checkpoints to track whether or not all parties to the implementation are meeting targets.

    Specifically, the NAMB may think everything is cool only to find out that even though there was no “formal agreement” that states “assumed” that the NAMB was going to do something or pay for something that was outside of the boundaries of the project as viewed by the NAMB.

    I don’t know if a restructuring is needed or not. But at least the NAMB has to make sure that all sides of any cooperative venture know who is committing to doing what from the outset.

  2. Jon and Nathan,

    Thank you for your heart and passion and furthering the discussion on Church Planting in the SBC. We are committed to just such a vision that starts with the the gospel and the primacy of the local church. I have personally prayed for such a movement in our convention for many years–may we have the humility and courage to do the hard work of putting into practice what we have preached for years.

    Love what you guys are doing!

    Jeff Doyle
    North Wake Church

  3. Jon and Nathan,
    Echoing Randy Chestnut, get started. Churches plant churches, not agencies. However, our USA challenge is that churches are not planting churches. Some of the new church plants have planted again, but only some. A church planting movement will not happen in North America with the current paradigm of full time pastors and church buildings. There is not enough money or land to have enough of these local churches that are needed. Churches are planted that prioritize funding the current paradigm more than impacting lostness. So our paradigms must change. Funding is not the solution and never will be.
    FBC Woodstock may be doing great, but the majority of SBC churches are 100 members or less and many of those are led by bi-vocational pastors. Whereas the megachurch may not need other agency partners to help them with planting, only metachurches will really impact lostness in America. Most of these churches need the help of association, state or national agencies to know how to plant, or missiological insight, and cooperative program assistance along with many partners to fund the current popular paradigm. Churches should be planted pregnant and planters should go to the field that God has called them to knowing that the resources are in the harvest. Our paradigm for the “local church” must change structurally.
    Very few of the state convention church planting processes are cumbersome. On the contrary, they are continually being streamlined to be as effective as possible to converse with prospective planters, assess their calling and preparedness, and train and equip them for what God has called them to do. The training available for planters is at least as good, if not better, than any other planter training available, and is provided free in all cases I know about provided by the cooperative program. Most of the current Church Planting leaders at state levels have excelled as church planters and/or are highly gifted missionally oriented individuals. In one state convention, there is a 90% rate of planting a church that will be viable and still ministering 5 years later. I am encouraged to see new generations of Association DOM’s who have missional worldviews and are geared to partner with their associational churches to majorly impact their communities. All of my friends in these positions would do all they can to aid prospective planters who are truly qualified and called to plant. They definitely want to see the local church engaged in the mission field and do what they need to to partner with these missional churches.
    As for NAMB, NAMB does a lot of things without state buy in. Much of the church planting process is given to the states who then contextualize it for their specific environments. Most of this is available to anyone free. So any church has access to the process and training.
    Are there bureaucratic areas, sure. Every system has them. Even missional churches have teams that control things too much and have bad ways of doing things. But many state conventions are engaged in way out of the box ways of doing things, partnering with associations, and responding well to come alongside the local church to assist the church in their God called mission.
    Improvements are still necessary, but lets not “diss” in generalities. The way things have been in SBC life, is not necessarily the way things are now all across the board.
    Thank you both for raising the issue and causing awareness. I thank God for the SBC and its mission vision. I thank God for the hundreds of leaders in position right now that are being used to do great things for the Kingdom.


  4. David,

    Thank you for your thoughts and taking time to interact in this discussion. We certainly do not want to give the impression that there is nothing good going on at the state level. We are offering suggestions on how we can network together to do church planting better. Many of these suggestions are offered after dialoging with guys who planted through the current systems (and got frustrated) or guys who chose not to plant thru the current system (b/c they were frustrated after investigating it).

    I agree with many of your statements in the first paragraph. There does need to be a paradigm shift (we addressed this in the comment section of the first post) away from building and staffing (at least every plant doesn’t have to be done this way).

    When you say that “churches are planted that prioritize funding the current paradigm more than impacting lostness,” do you mean the current church paradigm or the current cooperation paradigm? I think both are true in some places. From some planters we’ve talked to in order to receive convention support you must agree to give a certain % to the CP. So the support is more a loan than a gift. It seems the idea is scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours. Denominational loyalty is placed above planting more churches. How does this impact lostness?

    Again, we agree that FBC Woodstock is not the only model (but it is a good model, and it is really impacting lostness). We offered a smaller model (Open Door), and in the comments section of the first post we mentioned a model where the originating church is only 100 people. Size is not the issue in churches planting churches.

    Again, we are for cooperation and the convention serving churches in church planting. We are just opposed to a model that says send us your people and money and we will do the training and the planting for you.

    I do appreciate your insights into the state convention church planting processes. To be honest this thing is so complex (and so varied from location to location) that I don’t know if I will ever fully understand it. Let me ask you a few questions about this so I can gain greater clarity:

    1. If only a very few of the State church planting processes are cumbersome why are many Baptist planters we talk to choosing not to plant thru SBC channels because of frustrations over how cumbersome it is? Are they just misinformed or is there a miscommunication when they sit down with state employees to talk about these things? Perhaps if these processes are not cumbersome and complicated then we need to do a better PR job at all levels and do better at communication. If there are cumbersome processes then let’s consider how we can do it better.

    2. I’ve never been to a state convention or NAMB church planting training, so I cannot speak to how good they are. However, how can one say that it is as good or better than anything else out there? This statement would be almost impossible to verify. Certainly the free part b/c of generous CP giving is a major plus!

    3. What kind of “way out of the box” things are some state conventions involved in?

    David, if we “dissed” in generalities, and what we said is untrue, then please let us know so that we can be better informed. Our intention is not to diss at all (though that is virtually impossible when offering suggestions for improvement). Our intention is to promote a conversation where we challenge each other to do church planting better. We love the SBC, and we are devoted to & extremely excited about its future. Thank you for engaging in that conversation with your thoughts. I very much appreciate them.


  5. Jon and Nathan:

    Thanks again for this series. North American church planting is near and dear to my heart. We have all read the stats. We know the need. One final thought from me… Every pastor needs to be a theologian AND a missiologist. In fact, I don’t really believe you can be one without also being the other. Pastors need to develop the skill of cultural exegesis. Two of the best resources for this is “Church Planing Movements” by David Garrison and “Breaking the Missional Code” by Ed Stetzer and David Putnam.

    There is no “one way” to plant churches in the North American context. Take, for instance, the inner city. I have seen many urban church plants use a suburban funding strategy, and it does mot translate well. By that, I mean, there is no way the community could support a full-time pastor after support runs out. I know of zip codes in Cleveland where the median family income is $20,000. These zip codes are also the most densely populated. Many of these families are led by single moms. It is not unusual to see 75-80% of these families receiving some kind of government assistance. To fully-fund these planters and expect them to have a church that is self-sustaining and be able to support a full-time pastor in 3-5 years, in most cases, sets everyone up for failure and disappointment. We need more bi-vocational and “tent-making” planters. One of the things that encourages me about the younger generation of planters is their willingness to do whatever it takes.

    God bless you guys, and keep up the good work!

  6. Jon and Nathan,
    There is a lot of common ground between things you have mentioned in your response above and my perspective of things. Its hard to address everything well enough by text so that what is read is what is meant or, without writing a dissertation, everything is said that needs to be said to give adequate explanations. You seemed to have captured much of what I said well. Not in rebuttle, but hopefully to add to the conversation, allow me to expound on a few things.
    Let me expound on the “prioritizing funding the current paradigm a little more.” As a former planter of multiple churches and now working with many different cultural planters, I perceive an unfortunate stress on planters to get the conventional (full time staff and building) model plant up and running so that the salary can be there when partners begin to pull out. So emphasis is on getting people in so that offerings can accumulate. Our methodology of funding this type of plants probably needs an overhaul, but the answer is not at the state level or even really at the assn level. I believe the true answer lies with the local church. Since I think we agree that it is the local church that should be planting churches, does it not lie with the local church to fund that new plant adequately. My parents were obligated to insure my needs were met growing up. The advantage SBC churches have is partners in this (the Assn, State Convention, and NAMB). Coop Prog allows these partners to have the ability to partner with the local church’s mission needs, but because CP dollars are limited, they are unable to financially help with all the mission needs a church might have for long periods of time. Either these agencies say no to many churches in order to help others, or some funding method is determined so that the most churches possible can be aided at the moment they need the help. Even among colleagues, the phase down method is seen as valid in some settings, but with serious deficiencies. As known, the idea behind it is as the church grows, their need for outside funding decreases. There is a delicate balance between help and encouragement to growth and creating a welfare mentality. Phase up strategies, level strategies, phase down, long term, short term all have issues depending on who you supporting. It is a complicated issue. My personal ideal is non-funding. We are open to suggestions.
    In our network, we encourage the plants to give back to the network from day one, but we don’t set a percentage. We want to partner with our network churches who will give back to the network so we can help them and others continue planting more churches. As the network grows, so does the need for more funds to partner with more churches who have mission needs. So, yes, in a way it is scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours, but the reality of the big picture is help us help you. Our network is not growing bureaucratically. Some are. I hope the GCR will help in raising awareness that we need small admin staff (which is a necessary evil) and low overhead so that the dollars are out in the field. Together we can definitely continue to do more than any one church individually. I don’t know of any one church that can support 5000 international missionaries, catalyze the tens and maybe hundreds of house church networks that are now happening in North America, aid small churches and large in sending mission teams consisting of people that have never been mobilized before, see evangelistic doors and new churches planted as a result of massive disaster relief efforts, partner with collegiate ministries in pioneer areas aid wounded pastors and staff members, and the list goes on. Is there fat, yep. But overall, these are just a few of the great things that God is doing through our existing SBC systems.
    Why are planters going elsewhere to seek help in planting? Maybe not a major reason, but definitely a reason is fad. There are some popular networks out there. These are good, but the ones that are doing well are still requiring of their plants that they partner with the network for future endeavors.
    Another reason is misconception and miscommunication. The need it now right away generation is sometimes not willing to go through seemingly long processes in order to get funding whenever they can go through systems that require less accountability faster. The state convention I now work with works hard to partner with local processes and only requires our process whenever local processes are non-existent. We are accountable to a couple thousand churches who have entrusted us with finances to invest in planters who will plant biblical churches who will continue to be a partner with the network of churches in its kingdom mission. This requires a little time for assessment of the planter and to train the planter. For us, where the local church does this well, we don’t require it done again. I do know of some conventions that have to do these things regardless who else does them. I agree, churches need to work with their regional and state agencies to make the process healthy and efficient so the planter can get busy obeying their calling.
    I have mentioned a few wild things that state conventions are involved in, here’s a few that our convention partners with: church planting, mission initiatives, lay led mission initiatives, missionary catalysts, refugee church plants, mobilizing collegiate churches and evangelism teams, disaster relief that intentionally leads to evangelism and planting, partnering with pioneer areas for church planting and partnering with our churches and wherever they want to go for planting among unreached peoples, multi-housing initiatives, multi-cultural resource gathering and development, aiding language peoples in their leadership development, etc. Some of this sounds normal, but within each of these things there are happenings that amaze me and excite me how God is doing things in unconventional ways.
    Continue to diss the things that are broken, and as with our conversation here, lets focus not on generalities, but on the specific things that need fixing. While we do this, let’s continue to celebrate what God is doing through SBC. I am excited about the direction and motivation of B21 peoples.
    Thanks again for causing awareness. I am open, and I believe many of our state leaders are open to good dialogue about the systems. Don’t be afraid to draw us into conversations and when possible, personal conversations about them. For me personally, I want to see the church continue to rise, I am excited to help my church be a missional peoples, and from a state level, not have any agenda except partnering with what the local churches that need assistance with their God given mission.

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