Church Planting Roadmap
Welcome to the Church Planting Roadmap. We believe God has called us as an organization to prioritize church planting among unreached peoples. God calls to this work both young and old, experienced and inexperienced, but even the most gifted and experienced church planter is not smart enough to figure it out on his own. God has given us His indwelling Holy Spirit to empower and guide us, and He has also given us many good people and resources to help us. We hope this roadmap will be a useful tool in clarifying the goal of “planting reproducing, mission minded, Anabaptist churches” among unreached people, and a resource in accomplishing that goal.
This page is meant to be merely an overview of the primary stages and action steps involved in planting a church. These are not neat and tidy categories. There is overlap. You don’t always move from one stage to the next in a linear way. We recognize that church planting is a very multi-faceted activity and often takes many years to accomplish.
Along the way, you will see some yellow signs with an exclamation mark. Click on these signs to view some things that we have identified as detours, speed bumps, or dead ends that may prevent you from reaching the goal of seeing a church planted. You will also see some blue signs with a fuel symbol. Click on these signs to view additional helpful information and resources.
We hope this page is inspiring and encouraging as you pursue God’s heart for the nations.
Before we get started on this journey, let’s take a look at some key actions and attitudes that we will call “The Road” Without these, there will be no church planting.
- Prayer – “So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Luke 11:9; John 17:20-23).
- The Spirit-filled life – “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
- Abiding in Christ – “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me” (John 15:4).
- Unity – “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself” (Philippians 2:3).
- Love – “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
The start line is set far before you ever arrive on the ground. Church planting starts when God places a burden on your heart for a specific place or people. As that burden grows, you share it with others. A team is formed and people commit to support, send, and pray for you. Then you pack your bags and move away from everything that is familiar to you. This might be a move a few hours away to another community, or it might be halfway around the world. Your primary focus right now is learning the culture and language so that you can become part of the community. You can expect many ups and downs. It is important to take the posture of a learner and embrace the way the host culture lives and communicates, as long as it doesn’t mean compromising Biblical values. You are following in the footsteps of Jesus Himself, who took the posture of a servant with a basin and a towel. As in every stage, prayer is very important. Pray for God to prepare the soil as you enter a place where He is building His church–even if it is not visible yet.
- Share the burden that God has laid on your heart with others. Involve the pastors from your church early on. Share your vision with friends and family. Invite them to pray with you as you recruit a team.
- Persevere in prayer. Start praying for the people to whom God is calling you. Ask God to raise up teammates, intercessors, and supporters to stand behind you.
- Envision the ideal team. What are the gifts and skills that are needed on the team? Be aware of two ditches–going for it as a lone ranger without the blessing of diverse gifts, and going in with too many team members to start a church from scratch that is overpopulated with foreigners.
- Invite people to join you in taking the Gospel to this specific place in the world. Early on, discuss alignment in vision and values. This is crucial to the longevity of your team. Team Compatibility Assessment Questionnaire
- Prepare academically and spiritually. Consider attending a Bible institute (EBI, SMBI, IGO, or Faith Builders) for a term or more. Attend Long Term Orientation in NYC. You might also consider taking other training that will equip you specifically for the location or religion where you will be serving.
- Spend time figuring out on-the-ground logistics before you get there. Who are the contacts on the ground that can help you figure out initial lodging? How will you do language study: with a tutor or a language school? Are you going to go all together as a team or will someone go ahead of the rest to figure out the on-the-ground logistics?
- Work together as a team to get clarity. Discuss key questions such as: What is our team vision, mission, and values? Who is responsible for what? Who is the leader? It would be helpful to start processing these and other questions even before you get to the field.
- Spend time getting to know each other and pressing into potential team dynamics. Ask questions such as: How do we envision working together as a team? What are the personalities, giftings, and life-experiences represented on the team? How should we make decisions as a team? What are the experiences from the past that might make it hard for us to function as a healthy team? How can we create a healthy team culture?
- Consider getting help from a coach (eg. Matt King or Lyndon Risser) to discuss all of the above. It can be very helpful to have a third party helping the team process, plan, and strategize.
- Spend significant time praying and envisioning potential visa platforms (eg. medical, ESL, sports, business, student, retiree). There may be an obvious option in your situation, or there might be a whole range of opportunities to consider. It may also be exceptionally challenging to identify any long-term options.
- Consider where in the country you as a team are feeling called. Is there a specific region or demographic? Take some time to explore the country. If you have connections with other ministries in the country, ask them for input and advice. Ask your local friends and connections what the opportunities that they see may be.
- Language study should start very shortly after arriving in the host community. While language study is a long-term, ongoing aspect of cross-cultural church planting, the initial 2-3 years should be focused primarily on language study.
- If you are married and have children, give significant consideration to the wife’s language study. How will you balance parenting and household work with language study? You might consider taking along a nanny or hiring a local person that you trust to provide the help that you need in order to prioritize language study for both husband and wife.
- In general, starting with a structured language school is going to be more effective than using an in-home tutor. If you use tutors as your primary method of learning the language, you will want to find an experienced language tutor.
- If you can’t find an experienced tutor or established language school, consider using the GPA Method to guide your language sessions. LACE Field Manual
- Language study gets harder the longer you wait. Unlearning bad language habits and incorrect grammar is always harder than learning it correctly from the very beginning. You will never regret the amount of time, energy, and resources you invest in language study!
- What would missionary pioneers tell us today about language study? “Adoniram [Judson] lamented the increase in short-term missionaries who only stayed a few years and weren’t of much use due to their lack of language ability. Hudson Taylor advised newcomers to study ‘six or eight hours a day . . . till you can preach fluently and intelligibly.’” Why Missionaries Must Learn Language
- As a team, pray and fast that God would lead you to people in the community that are both open to the Gospel and willing to help you learn what it means to be part of the community and host culture.
- Intentionally invest in relationships in the community. It’s hard to be part of a community if you are not fully present for an extended period of time. Your community needs to know that you are committed for the long haul!
- Value your expatriate relationships, but recognize their pitfalls as well. “It’s important to spend our efforts and daily discipleship amongst the nationals to see them know Jesus and mature into leaders. But not to the exclusion of other expats who we need to mutually encourage, share joys and sorrows, battles and dreams with” (7 Missionary Traps). Expat relationships can be a huge blessing, but be careful that they don’t distract or dilute your focus in the community.
Evangelism simply means sharing the Good News with others. But it’s not necessarily a simple task when you’re trying to share the Good News in another culture and language. There are many cultural barriers and linguistic challenges. Not only that, but there are your own fears and questions. Only the ongoing infilling of the Holy Spirit can enable you to say like Paul, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek” (Romans 1:16). You’re a sower, planting the living seed of the Word. Spread the seed far and wide. Prayerfully water the seed. And hold on to the promise, “So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11).
- Get out into your neighborhood as much as possible. Take regular walks around the neighborhood when others are out and about as well. Visit them, eat their food, and invite them into your home.
- Be intentional about interacting with your neighbors in everyday life. As much as possible, frequent local shops and grocery stores, even if it means spending a bit more time and money. Avoid importing stuff as often as possible.
- Intentionally put yourself in a place of needing the people in your community. This is hard for those of us who are self-sufficient and independent-minded. Cross-cultural worker Joanna M writes the following about Going Needy, “We have chosen not to own a few tools and household appliances that we use occasionally, and instead borrow from our neighbors when we need these things. This small action has changed our relationship with our neighbors.”
- Be a neighbor, not just a resident. Rich Perez, in his book “Mi Casa Uptown”, highlights the difference between a neighbor and a resident. “…neighbors were very different from residents. Neighbors make the neighborhood; residents exist in the neighborhood. Residents come and go. They’re in and out. …On the other hand, neighbors carry a sense of responsibility to one another. They’re involved in each other’s stories…”
- Ask God to show you the needs in the community that He wants you to meet. This might mean teaching English, providing medical care, opening a coffee shop, or working against sex trafficking. John Piper puts it well, saying: “Christians care about all suffering, especially eternal suffering. Christians care about all injustice, especially injustice against God” (Christians Care About All Suffering and Injustice). Meet physical needs but don’t stop there. Use it as an inroad to meeting deeper, spiritual needs.
- Find as much common ground as possible as you interact with people. Ask God to show you specific inroads for the Gospel. Ask lots of questions and avoid jumping too quickly to your own conclusions.
- Look for redemptive analogies. In the words of missiologist Don Richardson, this is something that facilitates “human understanding of redemption”. It makes them “aware of spiritual meaning dormant within their own culture” (Redemptive Analogy). Ask questions, be curious, and draw from their culture to make connections to the Gospel.
- Take opportunities to clear away unnecessary barriers to the Gospel. The fact that you don’t look like the Hollywood actors they see in movies is in your favor. Look for ways to help them distinguish the difference between western “Christianity” and Biblical followers of Jesus.
- Be very careful about getting into political discussions, recognizing that the community may have a very different perspective on western politics than you do. Seek to listen and understand their perspectives, while always remembering that you are an ambassador of Christ, not the of country you were born in.
- Look for persons of peace that God is putting in your path. These are often individuals of influence in the community that are open to other worldviews and ideas, or those that seem to welcome you as a foreigner.
- What this looks like will vary depending on how “creative access” your context is. As the term implies, creativity is needed. Keep in mind that there are two ditches to fall into. One is allowing caution to debilitate you. The other is being careless.
- Remember that your actions may bring unintended consequences on the seekers, believers, and other expats in your community, so be sure to think beyond the implications for just yourself and the team. Get input from other expats and persons of peace.
- Find ways to guide conversations toward spiritual topics. Ask open-ended questions. Talk about what they want to talk about, all the while praying that God would give you eyes to see the opportunities He is opening for you.
- Find appropriate ways to give people the gift of God’s Word. If it could put their lives in danger, follow their cues. Offer it discreetly, but don’t push it on them.
- In more open contexts, tract distribution, street preaching and singing, and door to door evangelism may be effective at spreading the seed far and wide.
- As friendships emerge, invite individuals to study the Word of God with you in their own language. Consider starting in one of the Gospels. Stories are an easy starting point to engage with the Bible.
- Consider using a more structured Bible study, such as the Beginners Bible Study by Gary Troyer.
- While studying one-on-one might be a good starting point, especially in a creative access context, don’t stop there. Try to get a few people to study the Bible together.
- Be quick to ask questions and slow to offer your own explanations. Cultivate the attitude of: “What does the Bible say?”
- Prayerfully invite people to a point of decision. Recognize that for some, it may come quickly while for others it may take years of exposure to Scripture before they are ready to respond. Remember, “I [Paul] planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase” (1 Cor. 3:6).
Jesus commands us to make disciples. It’s exciting when people surrender their lives to Jesus, but that’s just the beginning of the long road of discipleship. If “teaching all things” is the goal, then you are committing yourself to walking alongside others. Teaching and modeling the Gospel week after week, month after month, year after year, is not for the faint of heart. But that is what discipleship is. Be wary of any strategy or technique that promises rapid discipleship. Would you believe a doctor if he told you that he could grow a baby into an adult by the end of the year if you followed his ten-step plan? Why then do we think certain discipleship techniques could accomplish the same for a new believer? Paul encouraged Timothy, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). Discipleship requires perseverance and diligence in teaching the Word, because spiritual growth is like a tree. You rarely see the growth in a day’s time, but in a year, or two, or three, the sapling becomes a young tree. And over a few decades, its towering trunk and leafy branches become a home to many birds, a place of respite from the scorching sun in the middle of the desert.
- In everything you do, continually take them to the Bible. Whether you’re walking with someone through difficult situations or listening to their questions, or addressing areas of concern, ask the question, “What does the Bible say?”
- It is important that the Gospel is understood in the context of the greater story of Scripture. Consider laying a foundation by using the Creation-to-Christ approach. Firm Foundations is a Bible study that was developed in a cross-cultural setting. God’s Big Picture is a small book that traces the storyline of the Bible from cover to cover. The King of Glory video series is an animated chronological video series that is available in multiple languages for free.
- It is also important to lay a foundation of basic doctrines. Consider using the 1963 Mennonite Confession of Faith as a guide.
- Consider studying through books of the Bible, one chapter or passage at a time. This provides a very basic model for Bible study that anyone can lead out in. It also highlights the centrality of Scripture and the importance of studying it in context. The Head, Heart, and Hands Bible study questions might be helpful.
- Remember Jesus’ command to teach the “all things”, from the least command to the greatest command. You can’t teach everything at once, but set the noble goal of faithfulness to everything Jesus commanded.
- Any resource you use should serve as a guide, not as the primary content of the study. You are meeting together to study the Word, not someone’s opinions or ideas.
- The goal is to get multiple believers studying together. Although you shouldn’t hesitate to study the Word one-on-one if a group hasn’t yet formed, keep working towards gathering believers together.
- Don’t underestimate the power of living what you preach. Your personal life speaks volumes. The way you do business; the way you share the Gospel; the way you relate with family and teammates; your attitudes and appearance–this and more will show new believers what you’re trying to preach.
- Invite people into your life as much as possible. Invite them to join in your evangelistic efforts. Invite them into your home. Be vulnerable with them about your personal life as far as you feel comfortable doing.
- Look for opportunities in daily life to point them to Scripture. When situations arise or when they ask for your advice, resist the urge to provide quick, easy answers. Instead, take them to relevant passages and Biblical principles that will speak to the situation.
- Take time to explain why you do what you do. This means you will need to take adequate time to think about why you’re doing what you’re doing and to study Scripture for application in your own life. Surround yourself with a multitude of counselors that can walk with you even as you walk with others.
- Don’t underestimate the importance of the ordinances– the outward symbols of spiritual truths. Things like the timing and mode of baptism and how you practice communion need to be thought through carefully. Especially take into consideration the social pressures or even physical dangers involved.
- Encourage new believers to start sharing their faith immediately. Give them guidance such as who they might share it with or how they might go about sharing what Jesus has done in their lives.
- Invite them to join you as you meet with others and do ministry. Model a simple approach that they can reproduce. Give them meaningful ways to contribute.
- As they grow in the faith and demonstrate faithfulness, continually look for other responsibilities that you can give them. You might eventually help them start to lead their own Bible studies with your assistance. Eventually, they may have the confidence to do it without your attendance.
- Cast a vision for “all nations”. Help them catch a vision for other people groups that are near to them. Perhaps God will use them to take the Gospel to their needy neighbors that live and look different than them.
We can do a lot of good things without planting churches, but we cannot do true biblical discipleship without planting churches. Discipleship happens in the context of the local body of believers. As new believers are growing in their walk with the Lord, it is important to pray and plan toward raising up local leadership and establishing structure for the local group of believers. Work together with the new believers to determine what corporate worship and church life looks like in their context, while continually asking the question, “What does the Bible say?” Continue to spread the seed, disciple new believers, and be a learner. Pray that the emerging group of believers will grow in their love for each other and that by their love, the community would know that they are Christ’s disciples (John 13:35).
- Church almost always starts with small groups of people meeting in homes. You don’t have to have a building to start gathering together regularly for church services.
- Keep the service simple and reproducible. Key components are the Word, prayer, worship, and fellowship. This will look different depending on the culture and context you’re in.
- Early on, look for simple ways to involve new believers in the input and organization of the service. Start with small responsibilities and continue to increase those as they demonstrate faithfulness and willingness to learn and grow.
- Pay close attention to the foreigner-to-national ratio. You want the nationals to be the majority as soon as possible.
- Start getting the men together on a regular basis for leadership development. The health of the church depends on the men stepping up and being servant leaders.
- Study through the pastoral epistles together (1 & 2 Timothy, Titus) with a focus on leadership development. Give special attention to the Biblical requirements for leadership. Discuss these and seek to grow together as godly leaders.
- Consider starting a leader apprenticeship program with a few committed men. Invite men to join, especially men that have demonstrated faithfulness and alignment with the church’s beliefs and practices. Study topics such as church history, Biblical exposition, theology, and more.
- Church membership is simply an understanding of what it means to be committed and accountable to the local body of believers.
- This is a crucial opportunity for discipleship. Consider taking the emerging group through a series about the Anabaptist worldview and hermeneutic. Share the Anabaptist story and how it fits into the greater story of the church. Highlight the values of Anabaptism that make us unique. Early on, help them catch the vision for the Anabaptist identity. Consider watching the Anabaptism as Worldview series if you’re uncertain where to start.
- Include local believers in the discussion. What does it look like to be a Biblical church with an Anabaptist worldview and hermeneutic in their culture?
- Get it on paper so that it’s clear and easy to understand. Consider providing Scripture references throughout the written document, as it is important that the beliefs are anchored in the Word. Get input from your mentors and leaders who have experience in church planting and leadership. What should it look like for you to provide clarity and structure for the church in this specific context?
- In the process of developing documents of belief and practice, some specific questions to consider are:
- What is the vision for the future of the church?
- What are the core beliefs that should be clarified and communicated?
- What are the important practices of those beliefs?
- Sit down individually with believers and invite them to join and commit to the church. Give adequate time to work through the church’s vision, belief, and practice documents. These are key discipleship opportunities as you take them to the Word and articulate why these beliefs and practices are important.
- Commission men as leaders for a specific period of time (eg. 1-2 years). Use the Biblical leadership qualifications (1 Timothy 3, Titus 1) to assess their readiness. This is an opportunity to give them additional leadership responsibilities and to extend trust in an environment of learning and testing. It is important that you are proactive in observing, encouraging and exhorting.
- Together as a church, prayerfully consider ordaining a few men. This shouldn’t be rushed, since it’s important that these men have proven themselves to be faithful. But neither should it be delayed longer than necessary; otherwise, you as the church planter will have an even harder time working yourself out of a job and moving on.
- After membership is established, a core group of believers who are aligned in beliefs and practices will emerge. From the core group, leaders will be discipled and equipped to lead the church forward. This process requires wisdom, diligence and patience.
- It is at this point that you and the rest of the church planting team should give careful thought to your roles. There are different ways this might play out but you should be establishing an exit plan.
- Are you going to start another church plant? You could invite some of the believers from the local church to join you in the next work.
- Is it time to return to your home community? Consider what an ongoing supportive relationship might look like (See page 4 in this article – the four stages of a church planter). It is likely that there will be a felt dependency on you as the founding church planter. Distance will help the church move forward with the local leaders that God has raised up. However, stay in touch and consider serving as a mentor or coach to the leaders. Ask them what they need from you in order to succeed in their role.
Reproducing, mission minded indigenous Biblical Anabaptist Churches.
- Loving brotherhood and interconnectedness.
- A core group of followers of Jesus that understand and have embraced a Biblical Anabaptist worldview.
- Indigenous churches that apply the Scripture in ways that are culturally appropriate and aligned with BMA’s doctrinal understandings.
- A local leadership team that is committed to teaching the “all things” of scripture and going to the Scripture for all our answers.
- A church that has a vision to start future church plants and take the Gospel to the lost, both in their community and beyond.
- Church planters that have turned over authority and responsibility to the local leadership team, and have left to either begin planting a new church plant or have returned to their home community.