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Church Planting Tutorial: 7. Church Planting Models

There is no universally agreed to list of church planting models. Ask ten different organizations for a list of the different types of church planting models and you will get ten different lists (i.e. there is no universally agreed upon list of church planting models). If you want to see different lists, simply do a Google search on “church planting models” and/or “new church models”. Instead of providing a comprehensive list of all possible models, we will attempt in this tutorial to highlight the high level considerations that distinguish different models.

Note:  Often people confuse “models,” “strategies” and “approaches.” For example, the decision to host a worship gathering in a small coffee shop venue with candles to reach millenials is a strategy and not a model. However, starting churches that meet exclusively in coffee shops would be a model. An approach would be the way in which the leader(s) goes about starting these new environments or churches.

Church planting approaches typically fall into three major categories:

  • Parachute– A planter and their family move into a new location to start a church from scratch. The planter begins with little support and few connections within this new area. The planter and their family are “pioneering” new territory. Where there is great risk, there is great reward, but this approach is not for the faint of heart.
  • Sponsoring Church or Organization / Mother Church– An existing church or church planting organization provides the initial leadership and resources (dollars and/or people) to get a new church started including the selection of the church planter. Often the church planter is selected from within the organization and has already bought into the vision, values and beliefs of the sponsoring organization. The existing relationship allows for a close working relationship between the “mother” and “daughter” churches.  Although the new church is autonomous, the sponsoring organization often has significant influence in the new church (including decision making during the pre-launch phase). Advantages often include increased financial resources and the ability to draw core team/launch team members from the sponsoring organization.
  • Collaborative Network / Partnership– This is a rapidly growing trend where an organization (or many organizations) committed to church planting work together to plant churches. These informal alliances are referred to as collaborative or partnership networks. The participating organizations often share common beliefs and a passion for starting new churches. Planters often get many of the benefits of the “sponsoring church” model but with increased autonomy in decision making.

The approach doesn’t dictate the model. All of these approaches can and do employ various models in order to accomplish their mission of planting healthy churches. Therefore, the question then becomes which approach works best for the church planter based on their situation and calling?

Along with determining their approach a church planter must also determine which model best positions them to accomplish the vision God has placed in their heart and mind. Work through these questions to gain some clarity on models:

  • The strategy for discipleship including drawing people into the church and leading them into a deeper relationship with God.  Will you build a core team one person at a time through relationships with the lead planter? Will you draw a crowd through marketing and outreach? Will you develop fully devoted followers through one-on-one discipleship in small groups? Will you focus on reaching seekers and establishing easy “next steps” for them to get connected at their own pace through a range of “felt needs” based ministries and programs or will you reach people primarily through one-on-one relationships? Will you use a formalized class/curriculum based approach (e.g. 101, 201, 301, 401)? Will you hold regular Sunday worship services? What will the role of your small groups be? Will teaching be primarily done through Sunday sermons, through classes, or through small groups? Do you anticipate having a “public launch” or functioning on a more informal, relational basis?
  • What will your staffing philosophy be?Will the new church be able to financially support a full-time paid minister? Will the planter be the only staff initially or will the plant have the funding for a staff team? If bi-vocational, how much time will the planter have to dedicate to the plant? Is the plan to eventually become paid by the new church or to continue in a bi-vocational capacity?
  • Size of the Launch Team / Core Team. How large do you expect the launch team/core team to be when public services are started? How do you intend to build and add to the launch team? Will the team primarily come from a single existing church, multiple existing churches, or from non-believers?
  • How will you build community awareness about the church?Will you grow exclusively through friends inviting friends and relationships? Will you use outreach activities to build awareness and start conversations in the community? Will you use marketing activities to build awareness and start conversations in the community? Will you attempt to establish a broad “brand” awareness and reputation in the community? If so, how?
  • The purpose for starting the new church. Is the new church being founded to reach more lost people in a new geographic area/location? Is the new church being formed as a result of a church split? Is the church being started to revitalize a dying church? Is the church being started to allow a new campus or site of an existing church to be started? If so, for what purpose (e.g. alleviate overcrowding at the main campus, for the convenience of existing members, to reach new people, etc.)?
  • Are there models to which you already have an affinity or bias? Most of us have a hard time breaking past paradigms. Are you coming out of an experience that will bias you to a particular model? Have you seen a specific model in practice that you feel God may be calling you to? What model best fits your experience and gifting? Are there specific models that will best fit the geographic area to which you are called or to the people group you will be reaching?

Take some time to answer these questions as you consider which model fits your vision.

Task: Determine Church Planting Approach/ModelThe Models

So…how do these questions translate into church planting models? Most models fit into one or more of the following categories:

  • House Church / Cell Church Network– Small (5-20 people) groups / cells form and multiply via a network of people meeting in homes. In some cases, the individual cells are connected in a larger network that meets together periodically in a large group setting. This relational model focuses on personal growth, care and teaching through one-on-one and small group discipleship. Groups are birthed through multiplication, and, often die, only to resurface months or even years later. This model requires very little funding.
  • Launch Large– This model is focused on gathering a large group of people for a worship gathering. It starts with a lead planter, and possible staff team, gathering a launch team of 30-60 people. This launch team will commit to spreading the word about the church, serve on ministry teams to create worship environments, and hopefully support the church financially. These launch team members can come from sending/sponsor churches or through personal contact by the planter or staff team. In order to accomplish the goal of launching large the new church will invest a significant amount of money and energy into staffing, marketing, equipment, facilities, etc, so it must be well funded. This model is typical for suburban settings.
  • Missional/Incarnational – If church plants could be compared to kitchen appliances, the launch large model would be a microwave and this model would be the slow cooker. They both gather for public gatherings (although sometimes not every weekly), but instead of trying to launch large this model launches slow. It focuses on building relationships and getting people into smaller groups where they can study God word together and serve each other and their community. It’s not focused on calling the community to their worship gathering, but infiltrating their community with the gospel. Since this model takes a longer time to gather enough people to support any full-time staff members, the leaders will oftentimes be bi-vocational.
  • Satellite / Campus / Multi-site– An existing church opens new locations.  The idea is for one church to have many meeting locations. Motives range from reaching more lost people to making more room at an existing location. The evolving multi-site model is proving important in creating an entrepreneurial spirit of multiplication/replication within existing churches. It is still to be determined whether this model will spark an increased rate of new autonomous church planting.
  • Restart / Re-launch– An existing struggling church decides to bury the old and plant a fresh new church. The restart may or may not be at a new location and may or may not be with the same leadership. The resources of many older stagnant churches are a good way to bring new life to the community being served.
  • Church Split– Unfortunately, this model of church planting most often results from disunity.  As a result, it is the most dangerous form of planting. A split typically occurs when competing groups conclude there is less energy required to “split or divorce” than to resolve differences and reconcile.  The underlying factors causing the split often develop over years, only to “explode” in what seems like a spontaneous act. In many cases, the dysfunctional character traits of the old church carry forward to the new churches.

Each of these models is unique, but they all have something to offer to the next model (perhaps with the exception of the church split). The decision of which model to employ should take into consideration the community context of the new church, the people it seeks to reach, and the wiring of the planter. It must also be bathed in prayer.

[bctt tweet=”Choosing a model for our church plant–not as simple as I thought! #churchplanting”]

Note: The model is independent of the people group you are trying to reach. For example, any of these seven models could be used to reach a specific age group, demographic, or ethnicity.

3 thoughts on “Church Planting Tutorial: 7. Church Planting Models”

  1. very educative material which is useful to an inexperienced churchplanter like me. please send me every copy available

    1. Hey Emmanuel,
      I’ll get the presentations posted as soon as I collect them from the presenters! Hopefully by the end of the week.
      My plan is to have them on the Free Downloads page, Exponential category.
      We still have more to come!!
      Thanks for your kind words!
      Dave R. Phillips
      Project Manager, Passion for Planting

  2. Hi Dave,
    This article was a blessing. I am from a large established church and have been pastoring for a few years now but we have been talking about church planting and this will really help structure our conversations.

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