I’ve had a front row seat watching a flurry of church plants plan, launch, and close. It may be my inner Pollyanna speaking,* a question that always struck me as curious that if several teams are going into the same area, and if we’re all about unity, why couldn’t they join in or join together?

I know, I know, the answer is manifold and cooperative church planting in the name of kingdom building is an ideal. There are fiscal realities (where they are getting their money from), those who are pastor as vocation (that’s their main income), and different visions/specific expression of the church they want to try. The cynic in me has to give a head nod to ego: THEY want to do it. Human nature wants to carve out their own empire and rare is the pastor that admits that they want to be a huge church or speak to large crowds or be on television or radio.

So we get more and more lone wolf communities.

And I get that. Planters have a particular vision, set of values, and a way of “doing/being church” which the vision person wants to try and his launch people/planters buy into. Churches start off with grand visions of who they want to be and what they want to do, called to a particular area for a reason. I think one of the big bugaboos of church planting is mission drift.

A friend once warned me that there was a “danger” when it came to getting a building to house your gathering. The danger was that once a community got a building it could become about the building. Having/owning/renting a building means utilities, rent, insurance, salaries, and repairs. It’s bad enough when administrators view their congregants as “giving units” or otherwise reduce their people to their utilitarian functions. And love is rarely cost effective.**

In a world more worried about production and attendance (“giving units”) and sermons and bottom lines, there’s little room for the eclectic, the square pegs for the round holes reserved for pew potatoes anxious to hear the latest bit of ear tickling, as we’re written off as trouble makers or drama bringers. Suddenly, pastors who didn’t care about numbers start to really care about numbers. The “great commission” becomes “a pretty good suggestion.” Crisis management becomes about how to not lose people. Grand notions of growing a church through winning new folks become reduced to sheep stealing. Because they have bills to pay, they play not to lose. Their communities retreat, become little more than social clubs who play at church.

I’m sure I’m way oversimplifying complex dynamics. And you know what? It’s not bad for a community to step back and reassess itself. After all, the mission was set out by Christ to go forth and make disciples. How each church body does it is up to them. There’s mission drift and there’s a change in focus or a re-prioritization. Not all change is bad and sometimes communities need to accept that’s what they are now and strike a new vision. Of course, I always like the idea of church plants joining together and both communities being blessed. Which is easier said than done.
*and as you know, when you think “Maurice Broaddus” you think “Pollyanna”

**Although, I’d be the first to admit that I tend to come at things as an “artist”, as in, I will blow up a budget. Which is why churches should have administrators who buy into their mission and DO care about numbers.