I’ve gathered quite a bit of experience in what we might refer to as the “early days” of church planting. I planted a church in 2009. We then planted two more locations in 2012 and 2018. Finally, we moved away from multi-site and to autonomous congregations in 2020, just after getting our younger congregation into a new building and right before the COVID pandemic hit. This, too, felt like another season of “planting.” In fact, when you examine the history of our church up close, most of our time as a church has felt like a church plant: just getting started, vulnerable, young and in “building” mode.
In the early days of church planting, everyone is looking for things that “work.” Time is scarce and the responsibilities are so numerous. If you could come up with a system, plan or time-saving, plug-and-play tool, you probably could make a lot of money selling it to church planters.
In recent years, however, this has become a strategy in preaching. It’s not hard to find sermon series you can purchase online complete with graphics packages, outlines and illustrations. But is this what Paul meant when he told his young co-laborer in 2 Timothy 4:1–2?
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.
I’m deeply convicted that it isn’t. And I’m deeply convinced that every pastor, including church planters, should preach messages from the Bible that they spend the time developing as they read, study and pray the Scripture themselves. But I’m also deeply sympathetic to the situation planters find themselves in.
That’s why I want to offer some direction. Over the years, I’ve had the joy and opportunity to preach through and help others preach through several books of the Bible in a church planting context. Below you’ll find several contexts that planters often find themselves in as well as the suggestions for what to preach and why.
Setting the stage with the mission of God
Some churches are planted in a context with little to no Bible background. Other churches are planted in a context where the Bible is so assumed that people hold onto wrong ideas about Jesus and His mission without even knowing it. I’d encourage any and all planters to consider preaching through one of the Gospels or Acts. Giving your congregation a deep sense of the person and work of Jesus, as well as the mission He left with His disciples, will lay the groundwork of fruitful gospel ministry for years to come.
Early on, my church preached through the Gospel of Mark. We called the series “Our Christ, Crucified,” showing a largely unchurched audience who Jesus is and what He has done. We also preached through the book of Acts. We built it out as a four-part “series of series” called “We are Witnesses.” The smaller sub-series included “The Church on Fire,” “Blood was the Seed,” “To the Ends of the Earth” and “Governors and Kings.”
Developing a biblical culture as a new church
Every church has a culture. And that culture will be developed either unintentionally or intentionally. We chose to develop it intentionally through what we preached on Sundays. We preached 12 weeks through 1 Timothy and called it “Young Church.” We preached 15 weeks through Colossians and called it “Rooted and Built Up.” A few years later we preached through 2 Timothy and Titus and called it “Mission Forward,” coming back to some of the same subjects we saw in 1 Timothy and showing why they were still important.
Today, though my church is almost 14 years old, this congregation is less than 5 and nearly everyone is new since COVID. Our church needs to develop a deeper sense of how joy in the Gospel leads to generosity in the kingdom of God. So we’re preaching through Philippians and calling it “Generous Joy.”
Boldness in the face of an opposing culture
A lot of church planting happens in “hard places.” A lot of people who get saved in church plants are stepping out of lives and lifestyles that result in conflict and opposition to their newfound faith in Jesus. My church experienced this and so we preached toward it. First Peter taught us to “Stand Firm.” Jude taught us to “Contend.” Daniel showed us that there is “No Other God” and we can trust Him to respond faithfully to our faithfulness. Habakkuk taught us the dichotomy of “Enduring Evil, Faithful God.” And a series through John’s epistles taught us about the supremacy of Christ in a post-modern culture as we looked to “King Jesus” in all things.
God’s love for a city
I’ve learned, over the years, that one of the greatest motivators for mission to a city is love for that city. People end up in a city for all sorts of reasons. Whether they moved there to attend school or were relocated by their employer, loving a city doesn’t always come naturally. The Word of God can help. Preaching through the book of Jonah is a great idea to help a team see God’s love for a city and His passion to send missionaries there with the good news of Jesus Christ.
I’ve also learned that people can love a city for wrong reasons. They don’t love the people of the city. They love what the city can do for them; they love the amenities. Preaching through the book of Nehemiah can help a new church see God’s bigger picture for a city and be challenged to not just exist in the city, consuming from the city, but to “Rise Up and Build.”
Understanding the basics
Lastly, because church planting is still the greatest tool for evangelism under the sun, a new church is going to reach a lot of people with little to no understanding of the Bible. They don’t know the difference between the Old Testament and New Testament. They didn’t grow up in Sunday School, so they don’t have the names of the patriarchs or Bible writers memorized. And because a second of hour on Sundays that might facilitate something like Sunday School isn’t possible in many church planting contexts (think rented facilities), the preaching ministry is where the bulk of this work is going to be done.
We saw this need and preached a series called “The Gospel of Genesis” where we traced the main narrative movements of Genesis and showed how they point to Jesus. We’ve done topical series on the words and works of Jesus like “Teach us to Follow,” in which we examined many of the more popular pericopes in the Gospels. We’ve done two series on prayer: “Teach us to Pray” was a series on Jesus’ instruction for prayer and “That We May Know” was a series through the Pauline prayers. Finally, in order to help our young church develop a biblical worldview, we did a series through Proverbs we called, “The Beginning of Wisdom.” Each week we saw how the Proverbs showed us “Wisdom for” another area of life.
I know church planters. We’re always looking for something that works. Most of the time, that’s exactly what we need to do to be nimble and flexible, “becoming all things to all people that by all means we might save some.” But it also can lead us to neglect the greatest tool for personal, corporate and community transformation ever known: the preaching of the Word of God.
Church planters, the Word works. Let’s preach it.
Published May 24, 2023