(Photo: The Gospel Coalition)
The greatest evangelical impact Christians can take part in is to plant new churches, say leaders at the Acts 29 Network, an organization aimed at facilitating a global church planting movement.
Pastor Scott Thomas, who is the president of the group and lead pastor of church planting at Seattle-based Mars Hill Church, recently re-published an article by pastor and bestselling author Tim Keller on the subject.
Keller, who leads Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, published his thoughts about the importance of starting other churches 10 years ago. His article was condensed in a post last week titled, "Why Church Planting?" on Acts29Network.org.
Keller's assertion that planting churches is essential for the Church is still being echoed by pastors today.
Acts 29 is a network of church planters founded by Mars Hill lead pastor Mark Driscoll. Thomas says that in the last 10 years, "Acts 29 has emerged from a small band of brothers to over 400 churches in the United States and networks of churches in multiple countries."
"Keller reflects our biblically-informed approach to church planting," Thomas told The Christian Post. "The Book of Acts is a record of Spirit-led Christians proclaiming the Gospel boldly in places where the Gospel is not known and establishing churches among the new believers. The Book ends in chapter 28. Acts 29 (Network) is seeking to continue the call to redeem broken lives into a community of God worshippers for His glory."
On the group's Website, Thomas states, "We seek to be a movement of church-planting networks – that is, decentralized and empowered networks to lead men of all different types of churches in order to make disciples of all people groups."
Keller explains in his article that: "The vigorous, continual planting of new congregations is the single most crucial strategy for 1) the numerical growth of the Body of Christ in any city, and 2) the continual corporate renewal and revival of the existing churches in a city."
Keller admitted that his view is "an eyebrow raising statement." However, he also said that for those that have researched this topic to any degree it's "not even controversial."
Pastors.com editor and church planter Brandon Cox recently wrote that he is obviously passionate about church planting and that Keller's article "echoes my heart about the matter."
"It really reflects the reason why we're planning on planting out of Grace Hills as soon as possible," said Cox, who is the lead pastor of the church in Rogers, Ark.
Keller explains that Jesus' essential call was to plant churches and says that Christians need to be true to the biblical mandate.
"The only way to be truly sure you are increasing the number of Christians in a town is to increase the number of churches," he writes. "Why? Much traditional evangelism aims to get a 'decision' for Christ. Experience, however, shows us that many of these 'decisions' disappear and never resulted in changed lives. Why? Many, many decisions are not really conversions, but often only the beginning of a journey of seeking God."
Keller also makes the case that church planting is being true to the Great Commission for Christians, is part of a renewal process for the Church, and an exercise in "Kingdom-mindedness."
However, there is some disagreement within the Christian community as to what is the best tool for spreading the message of the Gospel.
Social commentary blogger Andrew Jones wrote an opinion piece published online at Christianity Today International's OutofUr.com this week in which he says that church planting may no longer be the best vehicle for evangelism. He said he based his conclusions on observing Christian communities in more than 30 countries recently.
"While some young, enthusiastic people are out there planting churches like its 1997, others are focusing on launching more sustainable, more holistic, more measurably transformational Kingdom solutions," Jones writes.
He makes an argument for his case by stating nine observations, one which includes the idea that measuring the success of the church planting movement is faulty.
"The measurement criteria of the church planting project, focusing on numbers of attenders and momentum of new church launch, is too narrow, too shallow, unholistic and ignores more vital measurable signs of a transformed society in its various spheres (economic, environmental, social, impact outside the church environment, etc)," he states.
Thomas responded to Jones' opinion by saying, "Acts 29 planted 157 churches in 2011, the most prolific year to date. The blog world is filled with theorists and people who have never planted a church, but have plenty of critical ideas for those who do."
"Our emphasis is not on having a service or taking up a guilt-induced offering, but on the making of disciples of Jesus Christ. Too many church attendees have become disciples of a church or of an idea or the theory of not having a church, rather than of Jesus Christ," Thomas said.
"I define a disciple as a Spirit-led follower of Jesus Christ, united with a Gospel community, on mission to people of all nations, for the glory of God. The local church acts as the mission sending and equipping and inspiring agency for all Christians as they share the Good News of the death, burial, resurrection and promised return of Jesus Christ," he added.