Ed Stetzer on Should Church Planting Be Done Through People or Through Churches?

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Ed Stetzer is executive director of the Billy Graham Center, serves as a dean at Wheaton College, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group. The Exchange team helped with this article. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily represent those of BCNN1.


Jack Redford’s 1978 book Planting New Churches became one of the most influential church planting books for a decade following its release. He believed all churches should be involved in planting new churches as a normal part of their work.

Ideas were adopted by many church planters, and his book quickly became the planting guide for many. Redford featured nine steps to planting a new church. These steps made church planting look something like this: form a missions committee, find the place to plant, and prepare and send volunteers to engage with that community.

Once enough members of that community were interested, small groups would emerge and meet together on Sunday mornings. Eventually, once the mission chapel was able, people would begin to focus on the administrative work to make the church official and legal.

Churches Planting Churches

These nine steps focused mainly on the mother church’s involvement. Typically, a denomination or church would send out its members to plant another church. People would physically move to new locations in order to invest in the community of the new church.

The foundations of the sending church and the new churches they started were practically identical to one another. In fact, mother church involvement was so important that people often used the analogy of one beehive creating a new hive. They talked about the mother church “hiving off”: giving some of its people and with that part of its DNA to the new church.

Entrepreneurial Planters

Over the next decade or so, the conversation began to change. Bob Logan and others talked about planters, not just churches planting churches. The entrepreneurial planter became more central.

From the late 80s forward, church planting placed greater emphasis on the individual church planter rather than the sending church. The planter was given greater responsibilities; the mother church no longer needed to hive off and send people out to new communities. Over time, as this strategy was utilized more and more, moving from hiving to driving, with the planter becoming the driver of the church planting car.

This new approach spread as quickly as Redford’s ideas did. Logan published a church planter’s guide that included cassette tapes (it was the 1980s, remember) with lectures on planting.

Charles Ridley and others then developed a Church Planter Assessment to evaluate how well people were suited to be planters.

Planter-Centered Church Planting

By this time, practically every aspect of church planting was centered around the planter, and it was reflected in the new church planting culture. (I wrote my PhD dissertation on the development of church planter processes, analyzing their application and efficacy, because of the emphasis of that season.)

Pendulums swing in the world of ideas, and sometimes those swings bring unintended consequences.

Because so much attention was given to the church planter in this approach, there was a de-emphasis on infusing a church’s DNA into the new church.

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Source: Christianity Today