My latest column at Christian Week:
When Terry Cuthbert decided to step down as President of the Fellowship Baptists in Canada —- after serving what he calls “12 years of an 8-year term” — he wasn’t sure what was next. After prayer and coaching, he settled on church planting as the best fit. For the past seven years, he’s focused on enabling church planting, primarily in Montreal, and coaching church planters.
Cuthbert is passionate about the need for church planting. In Montreal, he says, only 0.3 per cent of the population attends an evangelical church, and the percentage is even lower among the Francophone community on the island.
“How many of you have relatives in Montreal?” Cuthbert recently asked a group in Gaspé Bay. Almost everyone raised a hand. He then asked, “Who is reaching them with the gospel?” Churches are needed, particularly in urban centers across the country.
Cuthbert likes the definition of church planting given by J.D. Payne, Professor of Church Planting at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary: “Evangelism that results in a new congregation.” It is part of our obedience to the mandate given to us by Jesus. Disciples reproduce disciples; small groups reproduce small groups; leaders reproduce leaders; and churches reproduce churches. “The task,” Cuthbert says, “is to get established churches to reproduce churches.”
From the beginning, those new churches must have multiplication as part of their DNA. He asks his planters, “Where is your multiplier?” The focus on multiplication has to be everywhere. While some church planters remain as pastors, a church planter by definition is normally an itinerant, moving from place to place while continually starting new churches. That planter begins with an exit strategy from the start.
The obstacles are overwhelming. There is no way to plant, he says, without sacrifice. It takes “equal sacrifice from multiple sources beginning at the centre of the plant,” beginning with the planter and launch team to those who support the plant. Finding property is also an issue, especially in urban contexts. “In every situation it takes a miracle,” he says. But he has seen many miracles take place.
Cuthbert focuses on beginning well. The more you do up front, he says, the better chance you have for a launch. He tells his planters to “put your project in pixels” and write it down. You may have to modify the plan, he says, but it’s important to think through what has to happen. “It’s all about a healthy birth weight,” he says. A plant must begin with a critical mass and key systems in place.
Forget trying to balance an inward and an outward focus. “Our natural tendency is to turn inward.” The only way to maintain balance is to put a disproportionate emphasis on evangelism, he says.
I asked Cuthbert what he would say to churches that haven’t considered church planting. “Repent,” he said. “In a lot of our programmatic churches, there is a lot of time, talent, and treasure sitting in the pews immobilized. We need to equip and mobilize them. The task needs all hands on deck.”
Cuthbert says that his involvement in church planting has been both scary and exciting. He’s looking forward to seeing more churches planted in Montreal, and in key centers throughout Quebec and Canada.