March 3, 2021

A Different Approach to Church Planting

I could be wrong but I think it's safe to say that not every mainline Protestant midlevel judicatory body celebrates new faith communities. Many are "circling the wagons" due to decades of decline. Some of the same are deeply threatened by new expressions. This is not the case in the Episcopal Diocese of Texas, which I work for and am a member of. Because of how I am connected I am biased but let me tell you something about this collection of faith communities covering about a third of the state.

Every year the congregations and institutions of this Diocese gather for an annual meeting. During that gathering they celebrate new congregations. A grand church bell was fashioned nearly a decade ago that is towed around the Diocese to be ceremonially rung to declare God's good news at work in that place, through the people ringing the bell. Each year, when the bell strikes the response is thunderous applause from a room full of representatives and clergy of thriving, managing and struggling congregations. It's a cultural tradition that says so much about this specific collection of Christians.

But there is more.

While mainline Protestant institutions have not been known in recent decades for their church planting enthusiasm–although, there is lots of evidence that this is changing–other Christian traditions have historically celebrated church planting. Yet, there is something distinct in the approach here that is worth noting. We imagine God's love as always expanding and embracing over exclusion. We value cultural creativity rather than cultural destruction. We invite people into relationship through sharing a message of love and hope as opposed to fear and hatred. This does not mean we are not susceptible to the sins of consumerism and colonialism that are on display throughout the history of Christian mission. We are well aware of them, confess them and are doing our best to go about the great commandment and great commission differently. This is to say, we do not have to "throw the baby out with the bathwater" as they saying goes. We do not have to equate practices of coercion with evangelism and mission. There are ways to go about growth and expansion differently. We need more churches and institutions willing to do this work with this perspective.

Grateful to be a part of one.      

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