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Five Shifts Toward a Church Planting Movement

By Ed Stetzer

There’s a certain desperation in the air. But not necessarily the kind that is derived from a sense of hopelessness, as if the dispiriting upshot is inescapable. It’s a desperation that’s motivated by reality—the kind that takes a long, hard look at the facts and resolves that risk, experimentation, and change are no longer a nicety, but a necessity.

So, how should we respond? 

Here are five shifts for networks and denominations if we are to see church planting movement dynamics happen again in North America. 

Shift #1: From Launching Worship Services to Disciple-Making Communities

The cultural ecclesiastical fluency that gave rise to the church growth movement is over for the vast majority of North America’s population. Shockingly deteriorating returns on attractional strategies put a bold exclamation point to this fact. Savvy leaders should leverage this transition to vigilantly pursue planting disciplemaking movements, not simply reproducing an over-programmed, highly resourced, intricately polished icon to religious consumerism. 

Rather than lamenting the need for such a transition, we should lean into the primacy of the disciplemaking mandate Jesus gave His Church. Church planting training that emphasizes this reality will better prepare planters for the facts of their context.

Shift #2: From Pushing Gatherers to Empowering Multipliers

If the multiplication implicit in disciple making is at the core of the Church’s task, then those we entrust to lead must become masters in this work. Natural charisma, leadership prowess, or entrepreneurial insight may mask the reality that many who are given the mantle of leadership simply do not know how to make disciples. Highly tuned gathering skills devoid of a commitment to multiplication simply exacerbates the failing narrative. Those assessing and sending leaders into the harvest should shift from a focus on gathering skills to a hyper-intentionality on multiplying practices.

Shift #3: From Recruiting External Leaders to Building Indigenous Pipeline

Disciple-making skills are best developed and refined in the context of an externally focused local church. In the past, the normative strategy for finding leaders was recruiting them from outside sources—be it a seminary, parachurch ministry, or a staff member from another church.

This preoccupation with recruitment masks an ecclesiological malaise that substitutes addition for an indigenous effort to nurture leaders by developing an internal pipeline designed for multiplication. Jeff Christopherson’s team at Send Network has spent the past three years developing, testing, and implementing a Church Planting Pipeline as a tool to assist local churches in their desire for kingdom expansion through internal multiplication (www.namb.net/pipeline).

Shift #4: From Inadequately Resourcing All to Jet Fueling Some

Funding mechanisms for church planting often drift into a one-size-fits all pattern with little regard to future sustainability or catalytic potential. Such socialized funding strategies fail to incentivize the behaviors necessary for movements, nor do they properly prepare a necessary co-vocational army to attack the most difficult contexts.

Funding mechanisms for future movements will preserve capital for leaders gifted and equipped to lead multiplying movements of covocational teams. By shifting from the diffusion of fully funded planters who become bi-vocational at the end of their funding stream (often because of the difficulty of their contexts), to concentrating resources on a sustainable and catalytic leadership, we will exponentially increase our likelihood for movement.

Shift #5: From Organizationalcentrism to Celebrating Multiplying Churches

A final kingdom shift will be the refocus of attention from mission organizations, networks, and denominational structures onto courageous and sacrificial multiplying churches. Church planting infrastructure should strive to stay in the background as servants to the Church of Jesus Christ.

As a measure of victory, networks and church planting agencies should see their future irrelevance as a sign of amazing success. The local manifestation of the body of Christ is the context and conduit for preparing and propelling indigenous teams capable of giving everyone in North America exposure to the gospel message and access to a healthy church where they, too, can be discipled and deployed.

Without question, healthy, multiplying churches are the best hope for gospel movement in North America. If you are a fellow church planting leader, you know the stakes are high, and to lead change in your organization is not an easy task. We know firsthand how difficult it is. And if you should choose to lead your organization in the direction of kingdom multiplication by making the shifts outlined, we know it will be difficult for you as well.

But it will be worth it. And we believe that God has called faithful leaders, like many reading this report, to make the shift.

*This excerpt is adapted from Best Practices in Church Planting Systems that I wrote with Jeff Christofferson, Daniel Yang, and Daniel Im. Download the e-book for free.


Ed Stetzer

Ed Stetzer (@edstetzer), is a professor and dean at Wheaton College who also serves as Executive Director of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center. Stetzer has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, has earned two master’s degrees and two doctorates, and has written hundreds of articles and a dozen books. He is regional director for Lausanne North America and publishes research through Mission Group. Stetzer is a contributing editor for Christianity Today, a columnist for Outreach Magazine, and is frequently cited in, interviewed by, and writes for news outlets such as USAToday and CNN. He is the founding editor of The Gospel Project, a curriculum used by more than 1.7 million individuals each week for bible study. His national radio show, Ed Stetzer Live, airs Saturdays across the country. He serves as teaching pastor at Highpoint Church in Chicago and has been the interim teaching pastor at Moody Church in downtown Chicago.


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