Planting Churches with Friends

By Dean Fulks

Relationships are essential. This is especially true in the context of church planting. Here's why leaning into the relational connections of your congregation and community is a game changer for planters.

The Multiplication Mountain

Most of us think about multiplying congregations like we think about climbing a mountain: It would be great if I could just make it to the summit. It all seems too overwhelming for us. However, I want to challenge the way we think about church planting. When you read through the New Testament, you get to the end of most of Paul’s letters and find a long string of what feels like a random set of names. We tend to just look past them. But if we were to take the time to read and investigate the people behind these names, we’d begin to understand the role of relationship in church planting, as well as what these connections meant to Paul and the New Testament church as they established their new congregations.

In these passages of Scripture, Paul revealed so much about the people he planted churches alongside. He knew their travel itineraries. He knew about their health conditions and crises. He was a fundraiser for many of them amidst whatever situation they found themselves in. He knew of their spiritual gifts, and he spoke of how beneficial they were to the churches’ ability to stay connected and multiply. He did not talk about them like fellow workers or mere co-laborers. He talks about them like family. These really are the roots of gospel friendship; we multiply leaders who multiply groups and, in turn, congregations.

The Nature of Friendship

In the life of our church, we came to understand that a community near us had 11 different life groups meeting there. At this same time, we had a leader whom we raised up as a college student, and we identified him as a possible planter along the way. He would later multiply himself as a leader through multiplied life groups. We believed that the next step for him was to multiply a congregation. So, we took these 11 life groups and matched them up with this new leader, and we planted in that community where we saw need.

The reason we think it’s important to plant churches with friends is because it’s the most natural thing to do for those who are already naturally connected to one another. In fact, it’s oftentimes harder for these individuals to not go with this new congregation. It was harder for them to not be part of a new plant launched by their friends and their children’s friends. Those who started this new church carried the DNA, culture, and nomenclature of their own church into their community as a local congregation with a local leader raised up out of our church. On the other side of our original location, we had nine life groups. We raised up a leader who understood us, our DNA, and our culture. We matched these nine life groups with this new leader and congregationalized in that community for the purpose of starting a new church. Once again, it was more difficult for those folks to not go because they were already friends and co-laborers in the gospel.

Humble Beginnings

As you think about multiplication, I would encourage you to not think about taking on the summit of the mountain. As you already know, it’s an overwhelming task. So, find leaders and ask them to multiply themselves into new groups. Look at a new geographic area, take a leader, and say, “Hey, try to start a small group here.” If it goes well, multiply that group into two groups. Maybe you’ll find yourself in the beginning of church planting movement. With leaders who can multiply themselves, you’ll have groups that can multiply more groups. And if they can multiply more groups, they can turn those groups into a congregation, and they can do so in the context of friendship—it’s not just a random group of people you’re trying to pull together. Churches in a region can do this, with each of them starting a group in a different area where they’re considering planting a church together. As they each start a group and as those groups grow, they can grow together in the context of friendship and become a new congregation.

When we think about church planting, we think about sending at least 10% of our congregation to go plant a new church. We call it “tithing” our church for the purpose of multiplication. If you’re a church of a hundred people, you could send ten. If you’re a church of five hundred people, you could send fifty. If you’re a church of a thousand people, you could send a hundred. Will it hurt? Yes. Will it be worth it? Well, read through the New Testament epistles and listen for God’s activity. See what He does in the context of gospel friendship. Then, consider what He can do in the context of your local church.

Adapted from “Planting Churches with Friends” from the Sending Church Masterclass. Watch this video and more for free by signing up for the Masterclass today.

Published March 20, 2024

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Dean Fulks

Dean Fulks has been the lead pastor at Lifepoint since its beginning in 2004. He is the coordinator for SEND Columbus, an initiative to plant churches throughout Columbus, Ohio. Dean is married to Angie and they have three children — Sydney, Dillon, and Sylvia. He has a Master’s of Divinity from Mid-America Theological Seminary (Memphis, TN) with a minor in Memphis barbecue.