I have had the privilege of coaching dozens of planters over the years and am currently in some level of coaching with 33 planters/places here in the states. One of the common questions that arises with those who begin to feel a call to plant is, “How do you decide where to plant a church?”
I actually love this question when it arises. I love planters that are ready to go wherever they feel God is calling them to go. There are hundreds of places we could go but where should we go?
Paul and Barnabas are an interesting study. Sometimes God led them through dreams. Sometimes it was a need they discerned in a place. Sometimes they knew people and sometimes they didn’t. Sometimes the Holy Spirit opened doors and sometimes he closed them. I love that from the very beginning that this endeavor is spiritual and not rational. That it depends on God and discernment and not just sticking a pin in a map because we like the location.
Yes, there are factors of location that will tend to make you more successful in the natural realm but there’s no simple mechanical formula for deciding where to plant a church. I’ve watched God send planters to places they really love and other times I’ve watched Him send them to really hard places. Probably the best lesson that we can learn early on in the process is that God is in control. In control of our location, calling, church, family! I promise you, it’s okay to take your hands off the handlebars.
We all would love the big neon lights or writing in the sky. I’ve found that God highlights characteristics of the place you’re supposed to go. It may be a rural place or suburb or big city. It may be to retirees or post-moderns. It may be to the Big Ten or the SEC. It may be close to your family or far away. Listen! You will need this trait more than any other trait in your church planting experience. You might as well get good at it now.
Here are some practical places to put your ear to the test:
• Listen to other planters and the story of their call. How did they hear from God to determine their place? I would urge you to hear from my friends Branden and Jenn Petersen as God wrecked their heart for the people of NYC. Check out their website here: reslifenyc.com.
• Listen to the people. Visit locations you think God might be calling you to. Walk the streets or cornfields. Pray as you walk. Meet people. Ask God to give you a person of peace or an open door. Fall in love with the people and place. I remember my good friend Jervie Windom sitting in Maryland describing the church he thought that Texas City, TX needed. It wasn’t until he got on the ground of his new city and began to meet with residents and pastors and city leaders that God severely shifted his focus to what Resonate Church is becoming.
• Listen to the Spirit. If your calling is towards need and your heart is drawn towards the largest number of unclaimed people in a city, may I suggest this article as a way for the Holy Spirit to speak to you.
Don’t forget that for some the call is not to America. Perhaps God has given you a missionary heart and your view has been too small or too close. Perhaps God has called you to unreached people groups on the other side of our beautiful globe.
At the end of the day, the problem as Jesus described it is not found in the harvest but in the need for workers. Thanks for being willing workers who will strain to listen to the voice of the master so that when he says “go”-our answer will be, “Wherever you need me Master!”