Forget Church Planting, We Need Love Fellowships

Ask anyone who knows me well and they'll tell you that I despise gimmicks. And as far as I'm concerned, the modern "church planting" model and it's process -- particularly the contemporary evangelical flavor of it -- is a magnificent gimmick. This is not to disparage the good and decent intentions of church planters. It's simply my observation that they've become captive to the gravity of the highly corporate nature of the modern church planting process, rather than moved by the gravity of real human issues that are experienced by real people who need real, engaging, and authentically transformative human fellowship.

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Am I saying that church planters don't care about people? No. I'm not saying that at all. What I am saying is that modern church planting has become about creating organizations spun by marketing, metrics, and programs, as if promoting a product for mass consumption.

I took the opportunity to view several extremely well produced church planting training videos from Lake Pointe Media, and they revealed what has become so abundantly typical of the modern church planting operation: An individual (usually a man) with charisma and strong personality creates a vision for the creation of a church. He picks an area and a demographic conducive to his cultural comforts and age group (as one of the participants said, it is preferable to plant a church with people in a "similar season of life as the lead pastor" who must be "comfortable in the culture" where he intends to plant his church). Then comes donor shopping, where the visionary and his team reach out and ask for donations from individuals (usually Christians) who have an interest in funding a new church plant. After the donations have come in and the budgets and development plans are put into motion, promotion and marketing of the new church begins (which would typically include the creation of a website, social media presence, mailers, and holding a number of "preview services," or samplers). Finally comes the launch, where the organization officially "exits the womb," so to speak, and attendees arrive to listen to the music program, hear the first sermon, fill out "connect cards," and bask in the reality that now has arrived a new organization that's going to need a steady influx of cash in order to remain afloat.

The new church soon becomes about marketing and metrics. Logos. Contact cards. New visitor surveys. Free gifts for first time guests (such as the famous church mug). Newcomers meetings. New members workshops. Awesome modern musical program (and sometimes even a theatrical program). And of course, pastoral celebrity with which to leverage membership increase.

Then you have the core gimmicks of the church. "Relational evangelism," "life groups," or "missional communities." These mini-gatherings are programs of the larger church where small groups of people get together on a semi-regular basis to get to know one another in a setting where they're less likely to get lost in the crowd and go unnoticed. In many cases the mini-gatherings will have themes: married couples groups, singles groups, men's groups, women's groups, and so on, all for the sake of engendering more meaningful relationships so as to help everyone remain steady and strong believers.

While getting to know people better in small gatherings is a truly worthwhile end unto itself, that's not the prime objective of these programs. All church programs have a purpose. They are a means to an end. In the case of these church-sponsored mini-gatherings, the objective is to create networks that will serve as points of cohesion to help sustain the main church as a whole. The ultimate purpose? Getting people to come back and getting people to stay (and when people stay, they pay). Because where the modern church planting model is concerned, numbers are the measure of success: the number of attendees in the seats and the number of dollars in the church bank account, most of which goes to maintain the church facility, it's programs, and the salaries of the church staff. The more you have means the more successful your church plant is (and the more successful the church plant is, the more successful the lead pastor is).

In short, church planting has become about building mini-corporations with boards of directors (i.e., pastoral team), committed member supporters (who in the commercial world would be known as shareholders), and weekly consumers. It is a venture designed to sustain itself, for itself. (And I'm not even going to get into the insanity of churches that raise funds from "capital campaigns" just to build more massive facilities that feature vast auditoriums, immense entertainment systems, bookstores, and even cafes and restaurants; all of which will require more attendees so as to get more money to pay for the new, bigger "campus").

The one thing the modern church planting model seems to ultimately reinforce is that it's better to become something big rather than do something important. And frankly, creating an organization just to promote a belief system and advance an indoctrination program isn't really very important. It's a gimmick.

But what's the alternative?

Love Fellowships, Sanctuaries of Transformation

As I tweeted to Nathaniel, "The contemporary model of 'church planting' needs to be done away with. Or, where I'm concerned, completely dismissed. We need to create sanctuaries of genuinely transformative fellowship that aren't competing to be the model church plant. [Where] transformative fellowship is engaged dialog to create intentional life change, rather than attending weekly seminars (i.e., church)."

So what does a Love Fellowship look like?

It looks like a small gathering of people -- perhaps in a person's home, or at a cafe, or in the corner of a local pub. They're there by simple invitation from a friend, or maybe two. Why are they there? To listen, to share their stories with one another, and to engage in open and non-judgmental dialog. Not about how to "believe rightly," but about how to live fully. To struggle together, and heal together. To empty their minds and lives of destructive burdens, and pursue inner transformation so as to experience awakened purpose in the freedom of authentic human faith. The ultimate goal? To create Oneness within ourselves, with one another, and with our living world. (That is the real Gospel!)

It is a "Love Fellowship" because Love is the core ethos. Not a belief system. Not a theology. The Love taught by Jesus of Nazareth. The Jesus Way which says, "Love God with your whole heart, your whole soul, your whole mind, and your whole strength; and love your neighbor as yourself." It is not about demanding intellectual assent to old religious ideas. It is about advancing a new, radical way of life, and encouraging one another to live it boldly and with integrity.

It is a "Sanctuary of Transformation" because it is a safe place for all people, as all people are equal children of God. It is a place of security and acceptance and inclusiveness, because only in such an environment can our common humanity truly be fostered and celebrated. It is a place of open hearts rather than closed minds. It is a place of the warm embrace rather than the cold shoulder. Where what you believe -- or don't believe -- is not the standard of acceptance. Are you human? You are welcome here. No conditions.

Instead of lead pastors, youth pastors, worship pastors, media pastors, and so on, Love Fellowships are simple, small gatherings of equals where a "presiding brother" or "presiding sister" guides and moderates the sharing and dialog. No salaries. No hierarchy. No programs. No gimmicks.

You don't need a church planting operation, raise money, or launch a marketing campaign to create a Love Fellowship. You don't need to build something. You just need to love someone.

That's the Jesus Way.

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Posted in Churches/Faith/Religion Post Date 11/26/2022






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