Last week, after asking, “How can Mennonite Church USA be helpful?” one pastor quickly responded with, “MCUSA should put the majority of its resources into church planting, after all, new churches are the future of the denomination.” This is a statement with the potential to cause a whole lot of animated discussion. If we put all of our resources into church planting, what do we do with the service programs, publishing, peace and justice, intercultural relations and the list could go on.
I am not sure that we need to enter this debate right now. So let’s start a different discussion. What does it mean to plant a church, and what should church plants look like?
At its simplest, church can be defined as a place “where two or three are gathered.”
There are emerging intentional communities that identify with Mennonite practices and theology. They are asking how to be part of us. They are not churches in the traditional sense, but they are churches none-the-less.
I have visited with pastors who like to hang out with Mennonites, they are starting churches and leading Bible studies, but are not ready to go through the process of becoming official. Can we find space for these groups?
I visited with a pastor who gathers folks together on a semi-regular basis to talk about faith and art. The group is not ready to call themselves a “church,” but they care for and support each other. They are kind-of-a-church, but not in the traditional sense.
During one meeting, a pastor spoke of a group of Goshen College, Hesston College and Eastern Mennonite University alumni who refuse to attend the local traditional church on a regular basis but are willing to gather together in a home and sing hymns and talk about faith issues. Is this a church planting effort?
As I travel around the country, it is clear that there is lots of desire and need for traditional church planting. By traditional I mean starting a church that will eventually occupy a building, hire staff, take offerings, establish by-laws, set up committees, and support denominational efforts.
That said, we also need to find ways to support and encourage these non-traditional efforts. We need to find ways to include these groups in our life and leadership.