Planting vs. Transplanting—An Analogy
In my last post I affirmed that what many currently call “church planting” is better described as church “transplanting.” A leadership core group is developed within one church that will leave and move into a new area and form a new church launch. Since this core arrives as a functioning group, it has really been transplanted. (If you want to see some fascinating pictures of this, go to www.instantshade.com and click on the link to tree transplanting.)
By contrast consider planting an acorn and growing an oak tree. We all realize it will be a long time before these baby trees will be large enough to become shade trees, but they have some real advantages. It is very expensive to transplant already-grown shade trees. While it appears to be a much faster process, transplanting is also a slow process. Whether a tree grows from an acorn into a shade tree and then is transplanted, or just grows where that acorn is originally planted, it always takes years. Because you can plant and care for numerous seedlings you can actually start many more churches by planting than transplanting.
Also, the reality is when you transplant risk is involved. Large trees with extensive root systems require great care and much equipment to give a good chance at survival. There is always shock that comes from the digging process, planting process, and stabilizing the tree in its new location.
Many people who grow in one church and move to a new location also find it shocking to be transplanted. While they do their best to prepare for the move, it is hard to anticipate what actually happens.
When I speak of church planting I am not talking about church transplanting. I am not talking about people leaving one congregation to be the leadership core for a new church somewhere else. I am speaking of planting “baby churches” in new communities—especially among people groups who do not have a good Jesus option. Let me define the terms I use and then test them to see if they ring true. I am convinced God is calling us to such church planting.
Franchising—It’s About Control
A large well-known corporation bought out his postal/copy center. He had to fund a face-lift and everything had to be arranged and decorated to their specifications. The new name recognition and national advertising budget came at a high price. Little did he realize how far the control extended. When the executives decided to remove all visible clocks from their stores so the waiting public would not fuss about how long they were standing in line, my friend had to remove the clocks that he was selling as a side-line business in the store he owned. They owned the rights so they called the shots.
Transplanting is the dominant methodology of starting new churches for the same reason. It’s all about control! Leaders who have been entrusted with “protecting” the flock demand that control techniques be in place to insure uniformity. Since they control the money, the methodology will have to address their concerns. (I know this well. I have been guilty of the very thing I speak of here.)
What is wrong with this approach? It will not produce indigenous churches that are culturally appropriate to impact people different than those who have the control. White, upper middle-class churches transplant white, upper middle-class churches. Living organisms reproduce after their own kind.
But that’s the Biblical Way!
Really? Do we really see the cultural uniformity we presume in the early churches? Jerusalem’s first challenge is over cultural uniformity. Will the widows who do not speak Hebrew received benevolence (Acts 6)?
While the same gospel is preached to Jewish and Gentile communities, cultural diversity existed which did not conflict with the teaching about Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection. Remember, Paul rebuked Peter to his face for his failure to uphold this in Antioch.
A close reading of Acts and Paul’s letters reveals he was not into the franchise control business. Churches were established quickly, indigenous leaders were appointed, and Paul moved on to new regions. Yes, he continued to mentor and teach these leaders, but Paul’s methodology was not edict, but calling for them to make right choices based on what they know of Jesus, Paul’s own example, and his reasoning with them through letters and messengers. Paul did not discuss “handing the church over to the locals” at some distant point when they were his clones. His practice acknowledged the continuing work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of these believers. He knew they would rapidly mature as they put into practice the things they already knew.