There is much said around the place about the effectiveness of church planting as a strategy to reach the lost and grow the kingdom. Much is said because it is true! It has been reported that full-on church plants (as distinguished from 'transplants') will have up to six times the number of new converts as existing churches of the same size. As a strategy for reaching the lost the facts speak for themselves.
There are a number of reasons why plants do so well. They are new and so are often far more accessible to new people coming in and being accepted. They energise congregation members who then give far more energy to the work. The list goes on.
But an often overlooked reason for their higher impact is the way they focus on outputs rather than simply inputs. It is important to note this because it provides the means by which church plants can continue to be effective even after the novelty has worn off. Let me explain.
The input vs output issue is spoken of a great deal in business literature. In that context output is typically defined as profit whereas inputs are defined as what goes into the company – staffing, training, admin, resources, etc – to produce the profit. It is often pointed out that businesses that keep focused on the bottom line – output – tend to do much better than businesses that focus on inputs.
Why should this be the case? Because output focused businesses are prepared to do whatever it takes to ensure they achieve the thing they are set up to achieve instead of simply turning the wheels and being busy. They ask hard questions of all they do. They put on and cut off according to that which actually produces results.
How does this relate to Christian ministry?
For better or worse, one powerful factor that new church plants have in spades is the obsessive focus on outputs. That is, they care passionately about actually growing – whether by transfer or conversion. They care about growing because their actual existence depends on it! And typically this focus on outputs is shared by everyone and not just the leaders. It is shared by everyone because it is evident to all how important it is to grow. This might be for good or bad reasons! But the fact is, in a new plant every new person who joins is precious. Everyone rejoices and works to welcome them. Unfortunately, this focus fades as churches become established because whether or not a new person walks in the door, whether or not a person has been converted in the last ten years is irrelevant. The church is established and now doesn’t need growth to exists. It just is.
Simply talking pragmatically it is clear that focusing on outputs actually makes a difference in church life. But the key question to ask of course is – is it Biblical? Ultimately this matters more than any observed benefits a strategy might have.
Considered Biblically it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that it is thoroughly appropriate to focus on outputs – however, with one important and critical twist.
Jesus comes to seek and save the lost. He came to actually achieve something. He will build his church and the gates of Hell won’t prevail against it. He was/is focused on producing something and will produce it despite the opposition.
The early church rejoiced in counting the numbers of people who responded because it was evidence that the lost were actually being saved. Returned missionaries reported actual growth because they were focused on seeing growth. They were focused on outputs. But, and here’s a critical twist on the output focus, there were other outputs that stood out as great concerns. Chiefly, and over and above even numbers, was a focus on the output of glorifying God in not only the fact that the nations were being won to Christ but also in the way the ministries were exercised and further, in the fact of lives changed so that they shifted from selfish, sinful, man centered, to lives of faith hope and love.
How does this relate to Church planting?
Critical to the life of a new church is establishing a focus on outputs. We are starting new churches to actually make a difference. The easiest and most obvious difference a new church can focus on is the growth of the Kingdom. We want to capture core groups up into the vision of actually seeing the lost saved and so the Kingdom grow. This is so clearly God’s concern. But alongside that we need to help core groups and those won to Christ own the deeper outputs that we exists to produce – glorifying God in the winning of the lost and in the way we win them and in the lives that are changed and transformed by the Gospel. It is not sufficient to merely exist. We must seek to grow. But neither is it sufficient to merely grow! We must grow in God honouring ways and by God honouring means and we must grow in maturity and godliness.
To push it one step further though, it is critical that this output focus (and the full range of outputs which include so much more than mere numbers) is built into the DNA of core groups and all who join so that even when a churches survival is no longer a driving force to keep people focused on outputs we will continue to have a deep concern to actually see the gospel make a difference. In fact, in my view, one of the great challenges of planting is to move people from the surface need to see results (perhaps merely for the survival of the church, or the reputation of the planter) to focusing on outputs as a pattern for the rest of life, fueled simply by a passion for the glory of God. It is so important that this becomes a core conviction, that this culture pervades even established churches and keeps them ministering with a view to actually seeing the gospel make a difference in the lives of men and women. And, it is imperative that we as leaders work out how to share this focus on outputs so that as our church grows every member continues to feel the importance of actually making a difference.