So I've been reflecting lately - those in the Christian world are well aware of the phrase 'church planting'. Others might think it's some gardening term, or a funny/strange way of talking about a building (bricks & mortar) program for a church building.
But I wonder, outside of the training ground that is a church plant, whether most fully understand what it is to church plant?
I'm guessing those of you that have been reading over the last two years will have already seen in some detail the essential essence of what it is to church plant. Clearly, firstly, its a lifestyle. It's not something done just on Sunday's (or whenever you meet together as a recognisable group), but it's something you do all the time, every day, every month. For example, having people around for meals. Meeting new people for coffee (these are especially true for a city plant and that in a foreign culture where everyone new to the city is in more need of pastoral care - you know, someone looking out for them). It's helping out the core group as much as possible - so moving them into their houses (for the record, besides our own, the count is three house moves for families already in these two years - and because we all live in flats, the stairs are what make it very hard!).
It's hosting visitors - both family who've come to see exactly where their children/siblings etc have ended up, as well as hosting others looking in, one way or the other, be they church leaders (who are important for bringing in Biblical Foundations), mission teams, visiting speakers, or just tourists.
For a city like St Petersburg, mission teams take some planning and are obviously expensive things to do for those coming here, so you want to use their time well and make their trip worthwhile. After the flights and visa costs, most people have already paid something like £300 each (from the UK) before you are looking at accommodation and the rest.
And of course church planting is very much about what goes on when you do meet together in a recognised group. So the Sunday's and midweeks, and any evening meetings you have. It's bringing new leaders on quickly, training them on the job to help share the load and grow the church. It's training up small group leaders for the existing groups as well as new leaders for new groups that you hope to start soon. It's teaching people to welcome correctly on Sunday's, especially true and challenging here in a culture that to friends Russian's are very open (more open than Brit's) but are far more closed and wary of strangers - even within the church.
None of these latter points are done in one session - that would be the day! But it's continually shaping and encouraging, directing and leading by example. It's takes great patience, and even when you think you've got it right, you realise things haven't gone to plan.
We now have a Welcome Pack which is given to all new people. Because we are on the 2nd floor, someone is on the door on the street and someone else on the door to the office where we hire the hall. The process is that people are greeted on the street, and all new people then walked to the office door and 'handed' over to the person there. They are then given a pack, shown around the hall (toilets, drinks, meeting hall etc) and then introduced to someone in the hall in order for that person to return to the door quickly to greet the next guest.
A smooth, slick system.
Still, there have been weeks when a new person either hasn't seen the guys on the street, or worse still, has been let in, but left to find there own way to our office door.
And there have been times when the office door has been left open, a visitor walking in, straight past the person there, not really noticed at all or given one of our new packs.
So you repeat and encourage people constantly to do it in a way that will best serve those that are visiting us for the first time, which is the only reason we do it this way.
Church planting is seeing God in every situation - we often say to ourselves in my family "It's OK, we're church planting" when we come across a situation that doesn't seem to 'fit' with what we thought we were here for and yet is there, and people are wanting relationship, or we're tired, or something else, and we remind ourselves - "Yes, we are church planting and this is all part of it".
So church planting isn't a high and mighty phrase - it's not a promotion, as if such a thing existed in the church anyway. It's a very down to earth phrase, open to all, available to all. Everyone can be involved in a church plant. Everyone can play their part. Team is essential in all church plants, it's never possible for one person to do everything. It takes a huge amount of energy to get something started. Things that are already established just take a little ticking over and sometimes some hands on to move something on, but something that doesn't exist takes a lot of work to get it off the ground and then to gain momentum.
And it's really momentum you are looking for in a church plant. Momentum that brings in new people, momentum in growth and salvation, in service and gifts, momentum in a team working together, learning together and themselves growing. Momentum for the small fragile group of people that make up the church plant team to get through the quiet seasons and still feel you're moving on. It's momentum all church planters are looking for.
When Hope Church was launched in September 2009 there was a small but eager group to see us through the first few weeks. Many quickly joined and we saw some momentum get us through to December. January is a long holiday month so it was in February when things restarted and I believe momentum continued. In April there was a team coming over and that built some more momentum in, all the way to the end of May, but in Russia by June the 'summer' months have started.....leading through until September, even 1st October before things are back to 'normal'. So for us, one year old, it did feel hitting September again we were starting again, as we looked around and wondered where everyone was! So we are still looking for momentum, but God is faithfully adding to us, building in some strong people to help us get the momentum that could see us through next summer a little easier.
So I hope that this has helped a little as to explaining what church planting is and showing that's it's not an exclusive thing by any stretch of the imagination, but something anyone can do, including YOU. Maybe you've been thinking God has called you to a church plant, or to be a church planter, but you've thought that you couldn't do it. I think ALL church planters at some point during the process say "I just can't do this!" so that is natural - but remember, most important of all, and deliberately left until last, it's God who builds his church anyway. It's all God! We just do some of the leg work (& I realise I haven't mentioned anything on the technical or advertising sides - but to communicate well all new plants need a website, Facebook presence and advertising (we are also on VKontactia, which is a Russian version of FB)).
Jesus said "I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it!"
Why do we church plant - it's obvious - the church is the ONE place on earth that Satan does not have control. Hell's gates cannot overcome His church. The gates of any city are where the leaders would sit and decide things. Satan's power is in his gates, as they work out how to advance in the world, and how to try and attack their most dangerous enemy - the church. But those gates will never overcome the church, which is why we need to plant churches everywhere, in every city and in every nation. The church needs church planters and church plant teams.
So what are you waiting for......?