Did Jesus Plant Churches?
Written by: George Greene
The birth of “the Church” occurred on the day of Pentecost when God poured forth His Holy Spirit on His people as they gathered together in Acts 2. Prior to this, Jesus’ ministry was focused on making disciples, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and doing miraculous works such as healing the sick and raising the dead. In the Bible record, Christ is not once recorded as having planted a single church.
Despite being regarded as “…one having authority, and not as one of their scribes” (Matt 7:29), and His use of the synagogue system to preach periodically, Jesus did not start any new synagogues, or form a structure as headquarters from which to station His ministry. Rather, He and His disciples embraced an itinerant way of life, moving throughout Judea, from Tyre and Sidon (Matt 15:21) to Jerusalem (John 5:1) across the span of his three-year ministry.
IF CHRIST HIMSELF DID NOT PLANT CHURCHES, DID HE INSTRUCT HIS DISCIPLES TO?
The majority of Jesus’ ministry was focused on discipling His followers, especially their preparation for the mission. All of Jesus’ instructions to His disciples are regarding the life they are to live as His disciples. He did not instruct them on the management, structure, or system in which they should continue after He ascended. Rather His final command to the disciples, and ultimately the Church, was to
“…Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you…” (Matthew 28:19-20)
We see throughout the book of Acts, beginning from the day of Pentecost, that the Church was a movement focused on making disciples and evangelizing.
The emergence of local churches was the direct result of that. Where disciples are made, churches will follow.
SO WHY DISCIPLESHIP?
The expansion of Christianity under such extreme persecution validates the strategic brilliance of disciple-making, simply because it worked. Despite the brutality inflicted upon the early disciples, Christianity not only outlasted the Roman Empire but managed to reach nearly the entire known world. Men without planes, phones, or the internet preached a word of hope that has changed the very foundations of our cultures and altered the course of civilization and history.
Across borders, cultures, languages, and time, Christ’s commission to make disciples remains the most effective means of reaching a lost world, even today. In comparison, the effectiveness of church planting to reach the lost is dependent on all four of these conditions, and subject to them. There are places in the world, where you simply cannot have a church in the traditional way.
WHY IS CHURCH PLANTING TO REACH UNREACHED PEOPLE GROUPS INEFFECTIVE?
Of the aforementioned barriers, the greatest may perhaps be time. As our world rapidly changes around us, we are finding ourselves losing the youth of the next generation. Church planting is a relatively new strategy in our history, and we are already seeing it lose its effectiveness less than a hundred years after it was so widely adopted amongst believers. The system of the church, the music, the flare, and the allure, will not bring a TikTok generation to the pews. We are going to have to do something different.
WHY HAS THE CHURCH CHOSEN CHURCH PLANTING AS THE PRIMARY MEANS OF REACHING THE LOST?
The main reason we have relied on church planting to reach the lost is because we assume the end result of evangelism is more church members. Church planting is also a process we can measure and control. The Holy Spirit is not needed in church planting. Men can, through their own intellect and strength, determine the correct pattern of the church system for an area that draws interest and is more or less self-sustainable. It requires no intervention from the Holy Spirit to pull off the Sunday morning service designed to attract Nigerians in Lagos. Man has from the beginning been tempted by the notion that we do not need God. The Church, as seen throughout its own history, has wrestled with this. Our own structures and systems and strategies are evidence of this fact. Church planting’s attractiveness is that we can understand the process that leads to success by means we agree upon, rather than waiting on and following the Holy Spirit into unknown waters, where we may be called upon to get our feet wet.
Jesus didn’t plant churches. He wasn’t seeker sensitive. He had the following, the talent, and all the right conditions to have a historic mega church. And yet Christ, in His infinite wisdom, chose instead to make disciples and embrace the cross. Should we not do the same?
God is on the mission, and Jesus is making disciples.
Let us, as the Church, join Christ in what He is doing.
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The Keystone Project is a global missions network of churches and leaders committed to the fulfillment of the Great Commission in this generation.