The model for church planting was established in Jerusalem and Antioch in the first century churches. These churches followed the Great Commission given in Acts 1:8, "But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth." This same commission applies to all churches from then until the present. We should carefully study and follow the procedures as well as the doctrines of the early church.
The pattern of evangelism commanded by our Saviour was to preach the Gospel to Jerusalem first, followed by Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost part of the earth. However, the Jerusalem church initially failed to follow this precise formula. The church in Jerusalem grew to thousands of members while the rest of the world remained unevangelized. God helped the Jerusalem church obey the Great Commission by allowing severe persecution to scatter the believers.
As a result of the scattering, bodies of believers began to emerge in neighboring towns. One of these newly formed churches was in Antioch of Syria. This young church at Antioch established a pattern of church planting that is an example for us today. Notice some of the methods of this church.
1. They purposely sent out their best leaders to start churches in the Mediterranean region.
2. They prayed and fasted for God's leading.
3. They approved of and laid hands on Paul and Barnabas.
4. They sent out these men with their blessing and support.
5. These church planters returned to their supporting church and reported their progress.
The result of following this pattern was the establishment of hundreds of churches. Though the early churches faced significant persecution and hardship, churches were planted and souls were saved. The new churches made such an impact they were credited with turning the world upside down in Acts 17:6, "And when they found them not, they drew Jason and certain brethren unto the rulers of the city, crying, These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also.”
Unfortunately today, many churches have no specific philosophy of church planting. Supporting a few missionaries on a monthly basis falls far short of the Antioch pattern. We should be training and sending out our best leaders to start churches. Once we send them, we should support them financially as well as with prayer.
There are about thirteen to fourteen thousand independent Baptist churches in America. Though America’s population has increased over the last forty years, the number of churches has remained about the same. There has been virtually no growth. Not only has there been no increase in the number of churches, the strength and vitality of the churches has diminished. Consider that less than one percent of independent fundamental Baptist churches in America have over two hundred in attendance on a Wednesday night. Also, less than one tenth of one percent of our churches average over one thousand in attendance. Both of these statistics reveal a declining trend of church growth.
The problem stems from a lack of understanding and applying Scripture. The Bible indicates that churches are living organisms. First Corinthians 12:12 says, “For as the body is one and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ” Failure to reproduce results in death. If our fundamental churches continue to decline, it will be because of our failure to follow the example of the early churches.
Every church family must develop a plan to start churches in needy areas. If five thousand of our thirteen thousand churches determined to start a church every five years, within a few years we could have eighty thousand fundamental churches. This kind of growth is possible even today. This was the pattern of the early New Testament churches and it has been repeated throughout history. Within three generations five thousand churches were started from one single church in Sandy Creek, North Carolina.
Can this be repeated today? Absolutely, but we must get back to the Antioch example if we are to be successful in this great endeavor.