It rained at an art show last year. We set up our canopy and a table, but we spent most of the day shivering and waiting for the crowds that never came. We spent some time talking to the artists next to us, who came and sat under our canopy and shivered along with us.
We talked about a lot of things, but the one subject that I remember is surprising. “Do you know what you should do?” one of them asked. “You should take your wife to a burlesque show. It would be good for your sex life.”
We are two pastors sitting under a church canopy. I hadn’t expected this conversation! As we talked, it became clear that she didn’t understand that this might be a strange idea to suggest to pastors.
I’m not sure this story is completely typical, but I know one thing: Many haven’t rejected a Christian worldview or the gospel; they’ve never even had the opportunity. I remember reading a quote from a church plant in Seattle a couple of years ago that went something like this:
Tragically, many do not know thIs God, this story or this Gospel. In fact, many avoid Him, ignore Him, neuter Him, distort Him, domesticate Him, misunderstand Him, add to or subtract from Him, or simply hate Him. Many, however, have simply never heard of Him. So we must go to them.
“Biblical church planting is evangelism that results in new churches,” according to J.D. Payne. And that takes time, especially in places where the gospel has not been heard. Payne cautions:
The irony is that much church planting today, especially throughout North America, substitutes other matters for evangelism. With many church-planting teams, evangelism is the weakest link in their church-planting strategies. Many default to gathering believers together to the neglect of evangelism. This transfer-growth form of church planting must stop if we are ever going to be able to make disciples of the over four billion people on planet Earth. (Discovering Church Planting)
When you plant a church through evangelism, I’m guessing that it’s common to see some early results. But as a friend told me last week, it’s not uncommon for it to take three years for someone to move from initial contact to new believer in Jesus Christ.
If you read this and you get excited, then you may want to consider church planting. I personally find this more exciting and rewarding than the transfer-growth model. But at the same time, let’s recognize that the old model of quickly setting up a new church that is mature and self-sustaining in 3 years or less may not continue to be the norm, especially in our post-Christendom context. Let’s dig in deep and have great expectations — but let’s also expect that church planting through evangelism takes time.