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Church Planting in the Secular West

I've appreciated reading Stefan Paas' book Church Planting in the Secular West recently. Lots of church planting enthusiasm comes from the USA which is fine and understandable, but the US context is so different to Western Europe, which is significantly less-Christianised culturally and far more secular.

So I was glad to see Paas' study recommended late last year in a journal and have enjoyed reading it. I'm still mulling it over but here are a few thoughts and choice quotes:

As far as Western Europe is concerned, there is no reason to believe in the general truth of sweeping statements like ‘church planting is the best evangelistic methodology under heaven’ (p180)

Appreciating Paas' survey of the European church context, debunking of much common church planting rhetoric, while making a case for church's - new and old - to be mission-minded, which might mean church planting.

How much church planting talk argues for more and better churches? How much is either denominational expansionism and a critique of existing churches for not exploiting a religious market place?

Need the realism of the parable of the sower that evangelism is hard, and to recognise "the deep convictions of individuals and groups who simply refuse to obey social laws" and the self-fulfilling prophecy of "an indestructible faith that the fields are ripe for harvest." 

"Numerical growth is not the mark of the true church per se, but yearning for growth should characterise every church that has reflected upon its calling as an instrument of God's mission..." Van Engen/Paas (p250)

"...our best may become our worst overnight. Traditions and routines that have never failed us begin to work against us when cultural conditions become different." Paas' Hedgehog (p199)

Church growth research almost always focuses on factors in church (leadership, excellence) neglecting externals (such as population growth, other churches closing) giving a model. Rarely asked if same factors might've been found in shrinking churches. Could be no correlation at all. (p203)

"Ezk 37:1-4... There is no model to bring a graveyard back to life. Being hopeful means admitting that we have no control, to accept we will likely fail, yet to go with joy to preach the gospel... rejoicing in our own weakness..." (p207)

Which isn't to say Paas is against church planting! He argues that it has benefits:
  • it may catalyse a church to be more outwardly oriented and so share Christ with more people. 
  • it might help churches to be more 'human sized' communities by multiplying a bigger church into smaller congregations. 
  • there are communities with no church or where a new church isn't about just having more/better churches but rather the best way to re-establish a viable witness.
But, he cautions that church planting is not the panacea, a claim supported by lack of thorough research and the conviction that the world around us is not just an unexploited religious marketplace to be plundered, if only we had more and better churches to do the job. Whether through the ongoing revitalising and growth of existing churches, or through new churches planted, the task is the same - proclaiming Christ to people.


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