In his blog “Reclaiming the Mission”, David Fitch recently posted this provocative article: STOP FUNDING CHURCH PLANTS and Start Funding Missionaries: a Plea to Denominations. The all-caps are his, and yes, it’s a provocative shout-out. The essence of his point is that it’s too difficult and too expensive and missionally ineffective to plant classic suburban congregations based around an entrepreneurial leader that will be financially self-sufficient in three years.
He suggests that instead, missionary teams of 3-4 leaders or leader-couples be sent to under-churched (often poorer) contexts, supported only short term and with only housing allowance and health insurance, with a view to a long-term (10 year) missionary engagement with the context that is supported by tent-making (all leaders having secular employment in the context).
This is a trend that is already strongly emerging in Australia – I see several groups of my friends doing precisely that (though usually with no financial support from the denomination). There is a LOT to like about Fitch’s recommendation. But like all provocateurs, he over-reaches a little. First, in thinking that this is not already happening (Start funding missionaries? What a new idea!), secondly in dismissing the entrepreneurial approach as impossible – some can still pull it off; and thirdly in considering this the end of church planting: He is, in my view, suggesting a more effective and affordable approach that still ends in sustainable Christian community.
In Christianity Today, Jason Hood writes an excellent, appreciative and balanced response to Fitch which is just as much worth a read: The End of Church Planting?
What I like about this conversation is that it is grounded in the realities of practice. What can we actually do – given the current limitations on our resources and the climate of the context to which we’re sent? I wonder whether churches with capital tied up in trust-deeds that demand it be used for “a place of worship” could buy houses to accommodate house-church planters, er, missionaries?!
Do read both articles – and then I’m very interested in your view!