This is David F. Reagan's response to one pastor who wrote to him after he had read his article on Be Fruitful & Multiply. He wanted to know what he might do in a small church in order to have a part in planting churches.
Dear Brother [name withheld],
Thank you for your letter. I have been blessed by your response. You mention your size as about 30 people. Do not be discouraged. I have pastored Antioch Baptist Church in Knoxville for over 16 years. We spent several years averaging about 30-35. We had about 45 when I became pastor and in 4 ½ years we went all the way up to the low 20’s. Recent years have seen slow growth and we have been averaging from 60-70 this year (we had 73 Sunday). Just keep plugging away. Do not discount the ministry you have to your present folks and when God is ready He will give you more. (I am not denying the importance of working the fields but the increase is still always of the Lord.)
I remember being discouraged for years over not having people out on visitation. Our attendance is not consistent but we do have a lot more involved these days. I counted 18 out for visitation this last Saturday. We got some John/Romans printed with the church information on the back. We go door to door “sowing the seed” by giving them a portion of God’s Word. I have told our people that it is time to sow the seed again. The Bible Belt has forgotten the Bible. I encourage families to come out together and get these out. I encourage them to witness but only when God opens the door. After all, they are leaving a witness in the form of God’s Word. My brother, who is a pastor, got us started on this and it has been a blessing.
You ask how to get started in church-planting. I must admit that I have simply been stumbling into this and do not have everything worked out. In the last 16 years, we have become the sending church for three other churches—two here in Knoxville and a third in Kentucky. I am presently looking and praying for another opportunity. I have some ideas I am trying to work out but do not have them formed enough to teach them to others. So, let me give some general principles.
You must help your church to get the vision. Incorporate church-planting into your messages on evangelism. In teaching from Acts, emphasize the church-planting being done there. Talk up your desire to your key people. Your people have to have time to get used to the idea. Eventually, some will warm up to the idea. And, even then, only an occasional person will get enthusiastic about it. Sometimes, all you can do with some people is get them to the point where they will not get in your way when you go to do something. Don’t let this get you discouraged. This is progress. This is like missions or soul-winning—people need to hear about it for a long time before they get the vision.
Take personal responsibility for the territory of about a 50-mile radius around your church. Know what Independent Baptist churches are in that area. Look for communities where there is not a good Bible-believing church with an evangelistic outreach in the community. I have a couple of areas of Knoxville and a couple of towns north of us where I believe there needs to be a good church. I tell everyone who acts interested and keep looking for ways to make a difference there.
Pray for these areas—that God would send a man to them; that your church might be able to help establish a church there. Get to know church planters in other areas and pray for them. Pray for God to raise up a church-planter in your midst.
Prepare your people for this ministry by following the above points and talking about them. If God gives you a young preacher, make sure that he at least thinks about starting a church. We have to get people thinking about this as a calling of God. We are mostly too lazy for this kind of ministry today. It takes too long and we do not have the patience.
Make church-planting a part of your missions work. Bring church planters in to preach to your people. Bring men in who are just getting started. Take one on for support.
This is what I am still working on. Go to an outlying area and hand out John/Romans door to door. Find someone who does not have a good church to go to within decent driving range. Start a weekly Bible study to which they invite their friends and neighbors. See what God will do with it.
Find a way to physically support someone who is planting a church. We have given old songbooks and other materials to starting churches. We have had workdays at their church in order to give them a boost. We have had young church-planters in to preach and taken up an offering for them.
I do not have many of the answers. God has just dealt with me about this over the years and He has opened doors for us. I hope this will be a help to you. Be aware of the need and seek for opportunities. Pray and God will lead.