By Ken Davis
A recent research study by Exponential and done by Lifeway reveals that the number of Protestant churches planting churches in America has seen a slight increase from 4 percent to 7 percent. This is an encouraging sign that more local churches are embracing corporate reproduction. A growing number of evangelical congregations and pastors are awakening to their Biblical privilege and responsibility to birth daughter churches. Praise God!
Yet one of the greatest challenges facing churches that desire to parent—not just support a new church—is identifying prospective church planters to send out with a team of missional members. Here’s our contention: future planting leaders do not simply appear; they are discovered and then developed in-house.
Your church provides fertile soil for discovering future planters and teammates, and some of the best training ground for their equipping. For this to happen, current church leaders must assume responsibility for both recognizing and encouraging young leaders for the vital work of church planting.
Here are six characteristics to look for in prospective planters.
- Those who are already working. Look to see where God is already at work among the leaders He has already given you. Look prayerfully with fresh eyes; you’re not going to find what you’re not looking for! So begin looking within your church body for potential church planters. Here are some possibilities: your associate or youth pastor; a fruitful bivocational business leader; an effective small group leader; a second-career, retired lay leader; a Bible college or seminary grad in your church; a retired pastor; or a parachurch ministry leader in your church.
- New believers. Often, new believers still have relationships with those far from Jesus, and they are ready to make radical sacrifices to be on mission with Jesus. They are zealous about sharing their faith story (testimony) and the Good News. New converts are often the best evangelists. Seize this opportunity to challenge new believers to consider how God is calling them to steward their lives for the Great Commission and gospel advance.
- Those who have proved faithful. Proven faithfulness can only be observed over a period of time as a person serves in the local church. Look for people who naturally lead without a title or the praise of men. Leaders are not leaders if no one is willing to follow them. Sheep recognize shepherds. They see their humble servant leadership and want to follow. Faithful service in the local church should be producing fruit over time. Thus both faithfulness and fruitfulness are vital. Do they have a track record of making disciples—or at least a strong desire to be trained to do so?
- Those with godly character. Look for people with a pattern of gospel-inspired change, repentance, and growth. Don’t look for perfection here; look instead for evident brokenness over sin, a trust in the gospel, and a battle for holiness. These mark believers’ growth in understanding and applying the gospel to their lives. Are they relying on Christ or their own smarts, talents, and resources?
- Those who are passionate. Twice in 1 Timothy 3:1, Paul highlights the need for future church leaders (pastors, planters, etc.) to have strong desire. Future leaders will usually have a desire to lead and will often make their desire to lead known. They aspire to lead and serve because of a God-given passion more than prideful posturing. Those willing to lead in the challenge of planting a new church must be willing to step out by faith, trust God, and take faith-fueled risks for His mission.
- Those who have an entrepreneurial spirit. You need someone who can cast vision and gather and motivate people to follow. Ideally look for those who have a record of starting things: a Sunday School class, a small group, an outreach ministry, even a business.
I recommend utilizing a planter assessment center that uses multiple tools, trained observers, and online assessments. Regular Baptist Church Planting’s assessment can be accessed here.
To discover church planters, pastors must cast vision and pray for God to work and move people from the pews to be on mission. They must implement a strategy to lead their church to pray regularly for the Lord of harvest to raise up church planters from their midst (Matt. 9:36–38).
Ken Davis (DMin, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) has been in church planting for over 45 years. He served as chair of Baptist Mid-Missions’ North American Church Planting Ministry Council, cofounded the School of Church Planting, and is director of Project Jerusalem, the church planting ministry of Clarks Summit University.