Think about your child or the child of a close relative or friend. Imagine a scenario in which you were asked to be the judge who decides where that child will live. You only have three options:
Option One- The child would live on the street by herself.
Option Two- The child would be placed in a group home or orphanage.
Option Three- The child would live with her family or with a loving, healthy adoptive family.
Which would you choose? Of course, it’s a no brainer! We all instinctively know that sending a child to live on the street is WRONG. Life in a group home or orphanage is better than living alone on the street, but the best place for a kid to grow up is in a family. Period. And, the same holds true for new churches.
It seems strange to me that too often new church plant projects are treated like homeless children (sometimes referred to as “parachute drops”) or placed in a group home/orphanage environment (planted by organizations, denominations or networks). Having helped to start thousands of new churches, I’m convinced that the best place for a church to grow up is in a family environment where a “parent church” is available to lead and guide the new, infant church.
In fairness, most organizations are working overtime to reduce their number of homeless plants. But despite their best intentions, once in a while, an organization will send someone out with a “God bless you”, a pat on the back and little else. More often, homeless planters are those who have chosen to run away from home. Their homelessness is self-inflicted. The prognosis is not hopeful for these solo endeavors.
The traditional solution to homeless planting has been the group home/orphanage approach. An organization wearies of the high rate of failure experienced by homeless plants, so they create some institutional systems to provide structure and support for their plants. The challenge is that even the best group homes/orphanages have a disproportionate ratio of adults to kids. It’s really hard for any organization to provide a nurturing environment for all of its new churches – even if they focus on just one at a time. An orphanage approach is much better than settling for homelessness, but it’s not the best.
My experience has been that planting projects started as a family member have the best track record of thrivability and missional effectiveness. When a healthy church starts another church, it doesn’t guarantee success, but the probability of failure goes way down. Conversely, the possibility of long term ministry effectiveness goes way up! The “child church” benefits from the stability and strength of the “parent.” The parent wants their child to succeed; so they pray for them, cheer for them and invest in them. Again, the best place for a church to grow up is in a family.
If you are planting a church, look for a church to be your parent – it’s an increasingly common practice. I get calls every day from parent churches looking for “kids”. But, be sure you choose your parent carefully! Ask all the questions about the relationship up front, so you won’t be surprised later.
If you are leading an organization, look for ways to help churches under your umbrella to become parents. Leverage the scale and structures of your organization to make it easy for every church to become a parent. Specialize at helping kids find their parents!
Let’s put an end to homeless churches!