Let’s consider making churches more easily reproducible.
There are three costs involved in church planting. Each of which can be overcome by starting “simple churches” or “house churches” as some call them.
The Education Factor
The first cost is the expense associated with a seminary or even a Bible college education. Tuition costs are one thing but the time away from other options generates heavy human costs and a high threshold to ministry.
As a Bible college graduate I spent the years I might have spent learning to make money going to a school that didn’t teach much about that. It worked out fine for me, but most of my classmates dropped out of pastoral ministry within a couple of years. They were crippled by the lack of a skillset capable of adequate care for their families. In effect they gave some of the best years of their lives, and a whole lot of money, just so I could glean an education and do whatever I’ve done in ministry. You might call the entire process a “tax.”
Another cost associated with seminaries and Bible colleges is removal of a potential leader from their home church.
For a while, we ran an in-house ministries institute because our seminary students lost touch with our church, even though the school was within driving distance of their homes and church. To our dismay, we soon discovered we caused the same effect. The homework load we put on them, plus their jobs, removed them from active ministry, where they would have gained hands-on experience. We eventually dropped the ministries institute for a more aggressive approach to training through disciplemaking. This problem was especially apparent with our 30-something pastoral candidates. They had full-time jobs, and families, plus schooling which left ministry sidelined.
Buildings Can Be A Problem
A second obstacle is that of a building. Unless you plant a church where the suburbs meet the countryside, obtaining enough land for a mega-church is a near impossibility. We have seen churches get land in distressed neighborhoods just as nearby properties were gentrifying but that is a rarity. Wherever you go, land is increasingly expensive and zoning laws tend to tilt against church planting.
In Hawaii, we planted churches, quite handily, in public schools for three decades. But a recent lawsuit raised the rents on the schools and left school principals fearful of renting to churches. A door is closing! We need somewhere else to plant churches.
The third cost is that of a full-time pastor. It now requires a congregation numbering around 160 people to provide for a full-time pastor. Decades ago, when I planted a church in Southern California, 100 people would generally support a full-time pastor.
The real tragedy is that most pastors are underpaid. A bivocational pastor can live a far better life than many of his peers. Considering that half the churches in America number under a 100 people. Money continues to cause people (boards as well as pastors) to lose sleep. Hugh Halter and others have demonstrated that we can overcome this problem by planting with freelance/bivocational pastors.
A Possible Solution
Simple churches, or house churches, or whatever you call them address these three costs. Leadership development happens through disciplemaking in a parent church. Buildings are always available. And, members share the pastoral load rendering a salary a smaller issue.
I’m not a house-church guy but I can see writing on the wall. It that tells me that simple churches need to play a larger role in our future.
What do you think? I’d love to see your comments, below…