You won’t find the term “church planting” in the Bible, but that doesn’t mean church planting is not a biblical idea. If you’re looking for it, you’ll see church planting all over the New Testament. For example:
1. Jesus was a church planter
Jesus, the hero of the Bible, established the universal Church and claimed that the “gates of hell would not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). He also led a small congregation of disciples, teaching them the Word of God, sharing communion with them and commissioning them to plant more churches.
2. Paul was a church planter
Paul’s commissioning by the church at Antioch (Acts 13) marks the beginning of an incredible church-planting streak by the great apostle. Over the course of 13 years, Paul embarked on three missionary journeys, during which he traveled more than 7,000 miles and planted at least 14 churches.
3. The apostles were church planters
The apostles themselves were church planters, and the book of Acts is an account of their church-planting ministry. They planted churches with little support of other churches and against great political and religious opposition. Ultimately, their commitment to obey the Great Commission by planting churches cost them their lives.
4. The Great Commission is a call to plant churches
Spoken by Jesus (Matt. 28:18-20), the Great Commission is a call to plant new churches. I can say this with confidence for two reasons:
— The substance of the Great Commission: “Go, baptize, teach and make disciples” is the substance of the local church. No other organization on the planet exists to baptize new believers, teach them to obey all the things Jesus commanded—or make disciples of Jesus. So Jesus could only have been talking about one thing—the Church!
— The apostles responded to Jesus’ commission by planting churches. So the apostles heard the Great Commission and responded by planting churches. If we hear the Great Commission and respond in any other way, who do you think misunderstood the Great Commission, them, or us‽
Church Planting in Acts
In the book of Acts alone, we have dozens of references to church planting. In fact, the book itself is the story of the founding of the New Testament church. Look at just a few of the church planting high points in Acts:
- Jesus sends his apostles to plant the first church in Jerusalem. (Acts 1:8; 2:1-47)
- In Acts 8, Philip preaches the gospel, compelling the members of the Jerusalem church to share the gospel with the “villages of Samaria” (Acts 6:1-7).
- In Acts 9, Saul (Paul), the greatest missionary the world has ever known, is converted from a church persecutor to a church planter.
- In Acts 11, Barnabas was sent by the Jerusalem church plant and lead the church at Antioch. (vv.19-26).
- In Acts 13:1-4, while Paul and Barnabas were leading the church at Antioch, they were called by the Holy Spirit to travel and start new churches throughout the region.
- Paul goes to a city, preaches the gospel, plants new churches and remains until elders are in place to shepherd the flock (Acts 14:23, Titus 1:5).
It’s not just Acts either, many of the letters of the New Testament were written to encourage, rebuke or instruct church planters and their congregations. Dozens of characters we encounter in the New Testament are church planters and church-planting team members.
Sure, the phrase “church planting” is not specifically mentioned in the Bible, but then again neither is the word ‘Trinity.’ Does that mean the Trinity isn’t scriptural? Of course not! A synthesis of many texts lead us to the doctrine of the Trinity. In the same way, church planting is so much a part of the fabric of the New Testament that you can hardly turn a page without encountering a church plant or a church planter.
What This Means for Churches
Virtually every evangelical church in North America would affirm that all churches and all Christians should endeavor to fulfill the Great Commission, but far fewer churches would acknowledge that the Great Commission is most appropriately fulfilled in church planting.
Charles Spurgeon understood the connection between the Great Commission and church planting and encouraged his congregation to leave his church to plant others. Here’s how he encouraged his congregation in the spring of 1865:
“We encourage our members to leave us to found other Churches; nay, we seek to persuade them to do it. We ask them to scatter throughout the land to become the goodly seed, which God shall bless. I believe that so long as we do this we shall prosper.”
Does the Bible command us to plant new churches? Yes! Prescriptively and explicitly in the Great Commission and descriptively throughout the New Testament. We are left without excuse when it comes to our responsibility to develop members into missionaries and to send them to establish churches.
Published November 3, 2021