Our team recently co-wrote a blog unpacking how we arrived at desiring to plant in Washington DC. Today I want to build off of my personal experience and derive a few principles for choosing a city to plant a church. This is my opinion formulated from reading the Scriptures, reading various resources, and watching other people go through this particular part of the church planting process.
My goal is for this blog to be a reference resource for people at the very beginning stages of church planting. Maybe you are starting feel a holy nudge from the Lord to be a church planter. This blog hopefully will help you answer the question, “How do I decide where to plant a church?” I offer you three questions to consider, and four hesitations to heed.
First, think through these questions in conjunction with your local church. I think the order of the questions can be moved around, but after giving it some thought this is the order I would prioritize these questions.
Where is your local church interested? If your local church (who is hopefully sending and resourcing you and not just waving goodbye) is not on board with where you are hoping to plant, then you are already starting off on the wrong foot. You may be at a church that is thoroughly missional, and willing to support church planting work regardless of its location. However, you may be at a church that has hesitations about church planting, or simply is selective with where they send people. If so, accept that the Lord has given those elders to lead you, and receive their counsel on where to plant. There is gospel need almost everywhere, therefore let your local church leaders be a God-given filter for choosing a location.
Where is there a need? The short answer: everywhere. In my experience, your personality and temperament will speak into this. Some people will like the challenge of expensive cities with people that seem difficult to reach. To be honest, I’m not overly in that camp. I like a challenge, but I don’t want to be William Lane Craig every other conversation. My two teammates chose Washington DC in part because it was a challenging context. For me, I just knew there was a lot of need, and my local church (Imago Dei Church) was interested in sending a church plant there.
Where has God’s providence moved you? Here is that subjective quality to a “calling” you have been waiting for. In all seriousness, though, God’s providence was the biggest factor in my commitment to DC. God placed Washington DC in my path so clearly that it would be disobedience to go elsewhere. I am so thankful for that: other opportunities for ministry and gospel work come along from time to time, but because God’s providence has steered me to DC so clearly I have clarity on what to say no to! Ask yourself, “Where has God put in my path and in my heart again and again?” But, let this question be trumped by where your church is interested and where there is obvious need.
Be hesitant of going alone. I have sat in rooms with NAMB leaders that recruit individuals that they deem more gifted in leadership or speaking (aka a “lead” planter); I have literally heard students recruited with the line “God calls THE MAN!” That thought has one too many words in it: “THE.” God is calling ALL men either to salvation or to be on mission. Don’t hear that as condemning “the senior pastor model;” do hear me condemning the lone-wolf model. If you feel led to plant somewhere and no one is going with you, be hesitant. Now, if your church is considering sending you to do pioneer missions in an unreached, dark, hard context, don’t pull up this blog and wave it in your elder’s faces as an excuse not to go. All I am saying is you should recruit friends, family, fellow church members, and other Godly people to join you. If people are not joining you, you have a reason to hesitate.
Be hesitant of going where your family can’t/won’t/don’t want to go with you. This point and the next one are related to the previous one about going alone. Do not dare go to a city if it puts your marriage in jeopardy. Do not dare go to a city if it jeopardizes your relationship with your kids. If you begin talking to your family about possibly planting in a city and they throw up red flags, hesitate. Examples of this may be a spouse not wanting to leave a sick or dying parent. Or, a good example I heard recently was a man decided to pause moving to aid a church plant because his fiance` just got back from a missionary stint in Laos. That’s not fear, that’s wisdom! Life is complicated and messy. Be zealous for the mission of God, but walk hand-in-hand with your family on mission; don’t drag them behind the U-Haul.
Be hesitant of going when your church isn’t sending you. This is a similar-but-different point than the first one of being hesitant of going alone. Coincidentally, you may be going alone because your church isn’t sending you. You may say back, “I have missional convictions that are different than my church.” I recognize that some churches may be failing in raising up members of their church and sending them out. Consider other options besides going without your churches blessing.
Be hesitant of going where you aren’t burdened for. Your own fame may motivate you when things are going well, but it won’t sustain you in the hard times. You need to have a clear burden for the people you are trying to reach. This level of clarity in God’s calling will sustain you when rejection and melancholy are the thickest.