A Time to Plant
In the early church evangelism and church planting went hand-in-hand. There really was no other alternative because where the gospel penetrated and people were converted, if they were to be gathered into a church then such a body had to be established. New believers in Ephesus could not be assimilated into one of several churches in the city. They had to become part of a new church.
It is an unavoidable conclusion from Acts that where evangelism resulted in people becoming followers of Jesus there also were new churches planted. Paul and Barnabas' first missionary journey demonstrates this clearly. On their return to their home church in Antioch they revisited the new converts that had been won to Christ in the cities of Galatia and Phrygia. Luke tells us that they were "strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith" and "appointed elders in every church" (Acts 14:22-23).
Evangelism resulted in new disciples who joined together in local churches. That is how churches were planted in the first century. Today, if we are honest, we must admit that many of our new churches come from sin rather than evangelism. If all the churches that began as a split from another congregation were to go out of existence today, the number of evangelical churches in America would be greatly diminished.
That is not to say that it is never right for believers to leave a church to start another one. Sometimes that option is the only viable one available. In a day when many churches have lost the gospel it is not unusual for there to be some kind of disruption in congregations where the effort is made to recover it. The work of church renewal and reformation is very important and greatly needed and the consequences that go with that effort are sometimes initially very painful.
But commitment to church reformation must never become an excuse for neglecting church planting. By the grace of God more and more pastors and churches are thinking about and taking steps to become actively involved in the work of starting new churches. The theme of the 2008 National Founders Conference is both church reformation and church planting. Every church needs to cultivate an ongoing commitment to both.
This issue of the journal gives full attention to the work of church planting. Pray that the Lord will stir even greater passion among us for the extension of His kingdom by sending out more workers into His harvest fields for the purpose of seeing people converted and new churches started.