Models are constructions and symbols of a reality – they are guides, but not exact representations of what we do (no church fits a model, but they can apply a model). In other words, models help label and give descriptions to certain practices. While one model may be preferred (see below), strengths from other models can be borrowed and implemented. The model chosen should fit with the giftedness and skill set of the planter or planting team and the cultural environment where the new faith community will be planted.
There are many models for forming faith communities. Some are:
Parachute – A planter and their family move into a new location to start a church from scratch. The planter has very little connection with or existing support within the new area. The planter and their family are “pioneering” new territory. Where there is great risk, there is great reward, but this approach is not for the faint of heart.
Sponsoring Church or Organization / Mother Church – An existing church or church planting organization provides the initial leadership and resources (dollars and/or people) to get a new church started including the selection of the church planter. Often the church planter is selected from within the organization and has already bought into the vision, values and beliefs of the sponsoring organization. The existing relationship allows for a close working relationship between the “mother” and “daughter” churches. Although the new church is autonomous, the sponsoring organization often has significant influence in the new church (including decision making during the pre-launch phase). Advantages often include increased financial resources and the ability to draw core team / launch team members from the sponsoring organization.
Multiplying – An existing congregation births an autonomous new congregation.
Tentmaker – A lay leader or several lay leaders with secular employment begin new faith communities with little or no financial remuneration from the new church.
Collaborative Network / Partnership – This is a rapidly growing trend where and organization (or many organizations) committed to church planting work together to plant churches. These informal alliances are referred to as collaborative or partnership networks. The participating organizations often share common beliefs and a passion for starting new churches. Planters often get many of the benefits of the “sponsoring church” model but with increased autonomy in decision-making.
House Church / Cell Church Network – Small (5-20 people) groups / cells form and multiply via a network of people meeting in homes. In some cases, the individual cells are connected in a larger network that meets together periodically in a large group setting. This relational model focuses on personal growth, care and teaching through one-on-one and small group discipleship. Groups are birthed through multiplication, and, often die, only to resurface months or even years later. This model requires very little funding.
Satellite / Campus / Multi-site – An existing church opens new locations. The idea is for one church to have many meeting locations. Motives range from reaching more lost people to making more room at an existing location. The evolving multi-site model is proving important in creating an entrepreneurial spirit of multiplication / replication within existing churches. It is still to be determined whether this model will spark an increased rate of new autonomous church planting.
Restart / Re-launch – An existing struggling church decides to bury the old and plant a fresh new church. The restart may or may not be at a new location and may or may not be with the same leadership. The resources of many older stagnant churches are a good way to bring new life to the community being served.
Church Split – Unfortunately, this model of church planting most often results from disunity. As a result, it is the most dangerous form of planting. A split typically occurs when competing groups conclude there is less energy required to “split or divorce” than to resolve differences and reconcile. The underlying factors causing the split often develop over years, only “explode” in what seems like a spontaneous act. In many cases, the dysfunctional character traits of the old church carry forward to the new churches.
Microsite – A congregation send a group of laity to meet in locations where people may not be able to attend their church (e.g., homes, hospitals, jails, etc.).
Neo-Monastic Communities – Formed often independently by mostly young, single Christians, these communities are the latest wave of evangelicals who see in community life an answer to society’s materialism and the church’s complacency toward it. Rather than enjoy the benefits of middle-class life, these suburban evangelicals choose to move in with the urban poor and those on the margins of society.
Church / Business Hybrids – These ministries combine income-producing business that helps offset the costs of ministry while serving as a third place to meet and develop relationships with a community. Examples of church/business hybrids are coffee houses, wind making, sports clubs, etc.
Community / Faith Centers – Shepherd Community Center in Indianapolis, IN, works with neighborhood youth and their families “to break the cycle of poverty on the near Eastside of Indianapolis by engaging and empowering the community to cultivate healthy children, strong families, and vibrant neighborhoods through a Christ-centered approach that meets the spiritual, physical, emotional, and academic needs of their neighbors. Visit www.shepherdcommunity.org for more information.
Art Churches – The Church of Craft is interesting (the video is pretty good at explaining it). They meet in an Etsy lab in Brooklyn, and different chapters have sprung up all over the country. These are churches that are formed around the knowledge that making things is often a person’s spiritual practice. There’s also Wicker Park Grace, which met in an art gallery. Creating art, poetry and music has become central to who they are as a community.
Food Churches – Many congregations are using food – farmer’s markets, local food movements, etc. – to connect with the community and (in some cases) provide additional funding. Read about the farmer’s market church by Craig Goodwin at the website http://www.thefigtree.org/dec09/120109goodwin.html
Nonprofit / Church Hybrids – In a similar vein with food churches, The Common Table is a nonprofit that serves food, and guests pay whatever they can afford. Western Presbyterian houses Miriam’s Kitchen. New members often talk about “coming upstairs.” In other words, they first connected with the church through Miriam’s, but then they decided to venture up the stairs on a weekend for worship. Visit miriamskitchen.org for more information.
Migrant Ministry – This model has worked with an annual temporary influx of migrants for short periods of time, in places where immigrant populations are transient. It requires advance preparation. It serves the transient community through “outreach ministries” and by providing for their spiritual needs through worship services, Vacation Bible School for children, or adult Bible study groups. It is a limited ministry, but an important one to the life of the migrant workers and to the churches involved in the ministry.
Racial / Ethnic Congregation within a Multicultural Context – This is an “ideal” model that has worked in some places, but it takes a special kind of church – one that is sensitive and intentional about making it work. It takes a willing, open church; inclusiveness is a two-way street. It requires changing services, customs, and traditions in ways that will attract racial/ethnic people and incorporate them into the congregation. People will come if they are accepted for who they are and if their customs and traditions are appreciated.
Fresh Expressions - A Fresh Expression is a form of church for our changing culture, established primarily for the benefit of those who are not yet part of any church. Around the world, Christians are stepping out in faith and beginning fresh expressions of church, new or different forms of church for a changing culture. Each fresh expression of church is unique, and designed for their particular context. They can be rural or suburban, in public spaces, housing projects and college dormitories. Some are aimed at specific groups, ranging from “Messy Church” for families with children to “Amore Groups” led by married couples. There is biker church, cowboy church, church for artists, church at or after work; the sky’s the limit. Each is an adventure in bringing the power of the Gospel to people who might never experience Christian community and the transformational and self-giving love of Jesus. Four guiding principles tie fresh expressions together. Each one is:
The real measure of a new faith community’s success will be in the lives that will be touched and introduced to the eternal love of God in Jesus Christ because we will reach people who might otherwise not be reached.