“I’ve learned many lessons in simple church planting, but a very important one is: don’t start a house church by gathering Christians,” church planter Ross Rohde said. God called him to plant simple churches in 2001 in Spain. With some friends, he hosted an international conference for house church people. Out of this conference at least 30 new churches were started by gathering Christians. They were all wonderful people, but never won anyone to the Lord. Two friends of Ross, started to plant churches by focussing on reaching the non-believers and using the principles laid out in Luke 10. 30 more churches were started and a lot of people repented and became dedicated followers of Jesus. Read on for his whole story and the lessons he learned in Spain.
What is one of the most important lessons I’ve learned in simple church planting? Well, I’ve learned many, and I suspect I have many more to learn. But very high on my list would be don’t start a simple church by gathering Christians. This seems so counter intuitive that it is almost sacrilegious. For most of us who were raised in Christendom, there really is only one way to start a church; you gather a group of dedicated Christians, form a core congregation, then add to that core. And from the very start, you have developed an attractional model, which will be very hard to escape from. You have also, without thinking about it, stepped away from Jesus’ model. You have started on the wrong foot.
Jesus formed a core of disciples, soon to be apostles (Matt. 10:1-2). From the start, Jesus’ plan was to train this group in apostolic ministry. Congregational growth was never Jesus’ goal. Building on a foundation of ever expanding apostolic ministry was.
When God called me to simple church ministry in Spain in 2001, I started by gathering Christians. Our group was made up of dedicated, well trained, wonderful people. We never won anyone to the Lord. We sponsored an international conference. The result of the conference was that at least 30 churches got started in Spain and Portugal. They all began by gathering a core of Christians. I don’t know of a single person who came to the Lord through those churches. Yet they were filled with highly trained and dedicated people… and a few cranks.
A few years later a team of two people in Madrid tried to learn to plant churches by asking Jesus to lead them into apostolic ministry through his Luke 10 pattern. I later joined them in a supporting role. I’m not sure how many people came to Christ in the following nine months. We had one gathering where there were about 110 new converts. I know that many more new Christians were not present and others came to Christ after that meeting. To my knowledge we never did count how many people came to Christ. I do know we planted about 30 churches among non-Christians. I do know we went to second generation churches. And we made a bunch of mistakes. Yet it was the same context where we couldn’t win anyone to the Lord with 30 churches started with a core of Christians. The key difference was starting with apostolic ministry by following Jesus, not congregational church growth.
Where did this default behavior of starting with a core of Christians come from? It comes from Christendom. Gathering a group of already Christians and focusing ministry on them has been standard behavior since the Roman Empire became mostly reached. Starting with non-Christians was mission field behavior. Something one did “over there.” And once a small core was reached on the mission field, the focus changed from ministry among the lost to ministry to the saved. Why? Because that is the way church has been done for about 15 or 16 hundred years.
Didn’t Jesus command us to make disciples? He most certainly did. If the truth be told, Jesus never told us to plant churches at all. But I can tell you one thing from hard won personal experience, as well as watching many, many others start simple churches. If you begin with a Christendom model, instead of Christ’s model, you will have a very hard time getting out of Christendom mode. You may never make it; most don’t.
Source: Ross Rohde