Wednesday, February 13

What would you do different?

If you had to start all over again in your church planting, knowing what you now know, what would you do differently? This question is answered by Neil Cole on pgs. 204-206 in his book Organic Church.


First, I would begin in the harvest and start small. Don't start with a team of already-saved Christians. We think that having a bigger and better team will accelerate the work, but it doesn't. In fact, it has the opposite effect. It is better to have a team of two, since the right two makes the work even better: an apostle and prophet together will lay the foundation of a movement. The churches birthed out of transformed lives are healthier, reproductive, and growing faster. It is about this: a life changed, not about the model. Never forget that.

Second, I would allow God to build around others. Don't start in your own home; find a person of peace and start in that home. Read Matthew 10 and Luke 10, and do it.

Third, I would empower others from the start. Don't lead too much. Let the new believers do the work of the ministry without your imposed control. Let the excitement of a new life carry the movement rather than your intelligence and persuasiveness.

Fourth, I would let Scripture, not my assumptions, lead. Question all your ministry assumptions in light of Scripture, with courage and faith. There is nothing sacred but God's Word and Spirit in us; let them lead rather than your own experience, teachings, and tradition.

Fifth, I would rethink leadership. The Christian life is a process. There is not a ceiling of maturity that people need to break through to lead. Set them loose immediately, and walk with them through the process for a while. Leadership recruitment is a dead end...Leadership farming is what is needed. Any leadership development system that doesn't start with the lost is starting in the wrong place...Mentor life on life and walk with them through their growth in being, doing, and knowing. The end is not accumulated knowledge but a life of obedience that will be willing to die for Jesus.

Sixth, I would create immediate obedience in baptism. Baptize quickly and publicly and let the one doing the evangelizing do the baptizing. The Bible doesn't command us to be baptized, but to be baptizers. It is absolutely foolish the way we hold the Great Commission over our people and then exclude them from obeying it at the same time.

Seventh and last, I would settle my ownership issues. Stop being concerned about whether "your" church plant will succeed or not. It isn't your in the first place. Your reputation is not the one on the line; Jesus' is. He will do a good job if we let him. If we have our own identity and reputation at stake in the work, we will tend to take command. Big mistake. Let Jesus get the glory and put his reputation on the line; He can take care of Himself without your help.


My observation is one of the keys to successful church planting is learning to empower others. Making others the focus of ministry, not ourselves. I could write a post on each of the above seven issues Neil brings up. Suffice it to say, anyone involved in church planting would do well to heed Cole's words gained from first-hand experience.


Rick said...

Looking back, those make perfect sense. I've made the same mistakes in church planting.

Looking ahead, I can see this knowledge as a blessings; things I can even incorporate into the church I lead NOW!

Rhea said...

These are great thoughts for eny Christian, not just the one who is planting churches. I especially liked the one on baptism.

David Rogers said...


I have not yet read "Organic Church," but I have read "Cultivating a Life for God," and attended Neil Cole's "organic church" conference.

In general, I like Neil Cole a lot, and think he has hit on some great principles of evangelism, discipleship, and church planting.

To tell you the truth, though, I am struggling a bit with what he says here about not starting "with a team of already-saved Christians." I guess it is more of a pragmatic thing that he, in the course of his experience, has observed to yield better results. But I am struggling with what this says about the biblical understanding of the church.

I, for example, have been impacted by what John says in 1 John 1 about our fellowship being with the Father, and his Son, Jesus Christ (v. 3b), with one another (v. 7), and inviting others to join in on that fellowship with us (v. 3a).

I tend to think that modeling the fellowship and love of the church among those who are already believers is an important part of the evangelistic/discipleship process. Also, Jesus said "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another" (John 13:35).

I wonder how Cole would respond to this. I am also interested to hear what observations you may have related to this out of your experience in Guayaquil?

GuyMuse said...


I agree. Most of these points are applicable not only in new church planting, but in mobilizing believers in existing churches.


Baptizing people ASAP is definitely something we have learned the importance of. The longer a new believer delays in obeying this outward symbol of identification with Christ, the more likely that new believer will never grow.


Did you go to the recent CA organic church conference with Neil Cole and friends? I flew up for it last year and was greatly blessed.

I hear you on using non-yet believers as building blocks. Where I might differ with Neil is that we do use only believers to start new works. What we have found in our own work is that new believers make excellent workers. The quicker we can get them involved and doing what Christ commands, the more natural they are at doing it. The toughest folks to work with are those long-time pew warmers who have grown accustomed to thinking Christianity is about going to church. New believers have a whole list of friends and family who do not know the Lord. They are usually very intense in wanting to see them come to the Lord.

Maybe I'll write Neil about that one. It does sound a bit strange, and not sure where he is coming from in saying this.

Darrell said...

Guy when I started out trying to follow what I had read in Garrison's book and what I learned at a "Greenhouse" put on by Cole's CMA I tried to do it with 4 other already saved Christian families. I found that what Neil wrote is 100% true. I wrote about my lessons here: The bottom line is that few people who have grown up in a traditional church can make the switch. They become a huge distraction and obstacle to being the kind of church that Cole and Garrison write about. I wish it were different...I tried all I could to make it work. In the end all the families went back to what they were comfortable with. So I agree 100% with Cole and have learned some other things that have been unique to my journey.

David Rogers said...


No, it wasn't in CA. Actually, the "company" brought Neil over to Western Europe a couple of years ago. I would be interested in Neil's answer to your question. All in all, I have been impressed by his humble and gracious attitude.

I've discussed this issue in a bit more depth here.

GuyMuse said...

Darrell and David,

I clicked on both of your links and reread two excellent posts related to Neil's observations. I noted I had commented on both of your posts. I agree with you both!

Our own experience over the years is that we live/work in both worlds. We continuously train brethren out of existing traditional churches, and also work with workers coming out of the harvest. It is MUCH EASIER working with those coming out of the harvest, but we can't ignore all those God continues to call out from the existing church structures. Yes, it takes longer and is more frustrating because of the baggage. But I have to remember that 8 years ago, I was one of those believers with a load of traditional "church baggage". It has been a process in my own life, and still learning as we go.

Just last night a young woman whom we have been working with (and I thought was totally onboard) stated, ahora sí comprendo por primera vez -- "I now understand for the first time". It has taken her three years to get to this point of "understanding".

So, I guess what I am saying from our own experience is that both are true. One is certainly easier, and possibly the preference than the other, but if we are ever going to fulfill the GC in Ecuador, we are going to have to work with the existing 800K believers in the country.

David Rogers said...


Kevin, Somewhere in South America said...


Hello, from chilly South Mississippi.

These seven changes Cole would make are the same seven each of us face. I began facing them some 19 years ago, when we first arrived in southern Peru. My bigger battles focused on the issues of leadership and baptism. The 2 churches in our city did not want me developing and empowering young leaders. By "young," I mean young in the faith. The new believers themselves had a cultural taboo against immediate baptism, only reinforced by perfectionist "evangelical-Catholic" Baptist pastors (stick that one in your blender and see what you get).

As David Rogers said, I feel that my greatest exception to Cole's opinion may be the first one. That being said, I do agree that getting traditionalists to rethink "church" is often a seemingly insurmountable task. Some would say you cannnot put new wine into old wineskins. My response would be that if we are being renewed daily, our skins aren't old!

I could also find an exception to point two. My reading of Matthew and Luke 10 is more of non-residential missions. That is a given in many of our contexts. I live in a middle-class neighborhood. I have to drive several minutes and kilometers from my house to minister in most of our areas. Consequently, we have to look for that person of peace and begin there. If, however, God leads me to start a church in my neighborhood, it may be that our house may become a part of that network. I don't believe it will ever be the principal place; but I can foresee the conditions that would make it a cell (small group) location for a larger network of cells. Can any of us give solid reasons as to why that would not be profitable?



GuyMuse said...

Kevin SWISA,

Hello from rainy Guayaquil!

You ask, Can any of us give solid reasons as to why that would not be profitable?

My concern about starting a hc in our home is that by default we would be looked to as "the leader". Any nationals coming to our house would never be as accepted as we would be as a leader. Over the years I have heard of numerous missionaries who have started small groups in their own homes. Things went along fine until the missionary announced they would no longer be leading but hermano Juan would be taking over. Nearly always the group disbands once the missionary steps aside.

I'm not saying this always has to be the case, but seems to be an issue. In our own church planting we want nationals to be seen from day one as the ones leading the new groups. Therefore we do not even attend the new church starts as missionaries, lest we distract from the work of the national leader, and cause the church to look to us for answers. The only time we show up is when we are invited to some event taking place, and we go as a guest.

The problem with missionaries taking the lead in church starts is that it is very hard to turn over to nationals who often viewed as "inferior" to the foreign missionary who is seen as better educated and prepared to lead in the church start.

If you are able to pull it off, please let us know how it goes and what you did. I would be most interested in hearing about your experience.

David Rogers said...


Just out of curiosity, do you not attend a house church meeting regularly yourself? What about the rest of your family?

Kevin, Somewhere in South America said...


I should have been clearer in my statement. I do not think one has to lead the study/worship, even it if it is his/her house.

There is a world of difference, to me, between hosting the cell or house church and leading it. I agree wholeheartedly that if we were to start out or even intervene via our personal leadership, we could potentially undermine the eventual effectiveness of national leadership. A case in point could be one who led a middle-upper class study in his home in Lima, but when he left the study left also. No one in the group was prepared to take over.

I have also seen the opposite, as demonstrated by the success of the CMA in Lima. The missionaries had intentional and purposeful intervention in every step for several years. The end result has been noted around the world.

Also, if our presence is detrimental if we are seen as leaders, what do we do in the implied question that David just posed?

A cultural barrier among the upper middle-class for us in Lima is one of acceptance. Acceptance means I will visit their homes when invited, but that I will also invite them to visit mine.

So, if God leads and allows us to do this, I will keep you abreast of our progress--or failure. - KDS

GuyMuse said...


Just out of curiosity, do you not attend a house church meeting regularly yourself? We try to visit the various house churches during the week, but are not members of any single church for the reasons shared above with Kevin. What about the rest of your family? They sometimes will go out with me to visit one of the house churches, but mainly for the family we try to meet weekly with the other IMB M's for a time of sharing, and prayer. I have written about church membership for missionaries on the cpf as an issue that affects many M's, but got little response.


Thanks for the clarification. I would be interested in hearing about any success CMA has had in being involved with every step in the process. Our tendency is to be involved, but very much in the background, rather than the forefront. I do think you are on the right track by attempting to hold something in your middle-class barrio with people from the same social strata. As you point out, one could do so in a home but start out with national leadership from the beginning, and not have the problem of the missionary turning over the work after several months. Do let us know how it goes if you should indeed decide to go down that path. I for one would be interested in learning from your experience.