New Testament Church Plants
As we examine the church plants in the book of Acts, we can discover several principles that will help us in our own church planting endeavors.
Jesus’ first church plant took place in Jerusalem. I think it is worth noting that the Lord only let Peter have a "one-day crusade" in order to get this church "off the ground." Did you ever wonder why they only continued the "meeting" for one day, when three thousand people were saved in that short a time? Most of us would have extended the meeting, and stayed as long as we could, once we saw that kind of success!
I believe that Jesus was planting His church responsibly! It would have been irresponsible for Jesus to let Peter have a seven-day crusade and keep on winning souls! He only had a hundred and twenty leaders! If any more people had been saved, this new church would not have been able to handle it.
A lot of times we see evangelists go into a third-world nation to hold a crusade. They advertise the meetings and thirty thousand people come forward to get saved. What they don’t tell you is that they were the same thirty thousand people that were saved in someone else’s meeting two years earlier! But, the evangelist gets great pictures for his magazine of thousands coming to the Lord, and then he goes home! To me, that’s irresponsible! We need to have adequate follow up! I am glad to say that many evangelists are now beginning to work together with apostolic leaders and the harvest is being conserved.
When Jesus planted His church, He made sure He had adequate leaders! (Actually, He didn’t have quite enough, if you go by the Exodus 18 principle. In order to have enough leaders, He would have needed three hundred "leaders of tens," sixty "leaders of fifties," thirty "leaders of hundreds," three "leaders of thousands," and one "leader of three thousand"–three hundred and ninety four leaders in all.)
We need to follow Jesus’ example and be responsible! Why do we do a Victory Lifelines Campaign, and get two hundred people out for the opening service, when we’re not adequately prepared to do the follow-up on that many people? That’s irresponsible! There is a lot more to this than just getting two or three hundred people together for a service! You have to have all of the other pieces in place as well!
When we started the church in Toronto, we had three hundred thirty-six people the first Sunday. But we did it responsibly. We sent a team of pastors over first. We sent in four pastors and their wives, as well as five Bible College interns, three months in advance. Then, when we had a good turnout we were able to follow up on them. You cannot build a house bigger than it’s foundation. When a church outgrows its foundation, it is in trouble. Apostles and prophets are foundation specialists, ensuring healthy, sustainable growth.
In Acts 1:8 Jesus gave the disciples a plan to reach the world. They were to start in Jerusalem. Then, they were to branch out into Judea. From Judea they were to reach out into Samaria.
By Acts 8, they hadn’t moved out of Jerusalem. Everything was in place in the church, and no one was reaching the regions beyond Jerusalem. But, Jesus didn’t just give the disciples power for Jerusalem. He equipped them to reach out to the entire world! So, persecution came and the Christians were forcibly scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.
Some of the things you struggle with are often the very things that push you into the will of God. Sometimes things go wrong, to make you more right. Here, the persecution pushed them into the very thing that God had commanded them to do.
Here we see the birthing of the church at Antioch. The church in Jerusalem sent Barnabas to Antioch. He was sent, and he went. It doesn’t say the Holy Ghost led him. Those in authority in the church in Jerusalem sent Barnabas to plant the church in Antioch, which he eventually pastured. This was the church that eventually reached the world.
Then in Acts 13 we see five of the key leaders praying.
Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, "Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." (Acts 13:1-2)
Everyone rejoiced because this church had a releasing spirit. Barnabas and Saul were released into the ministry God had for them, and the church went on without them.
(Acts 16:5-15, 25-31)
The church was birthed in Jerusalem. Then, the Antioch church was raised up and reached the world. From there, Paul attempted to go into Asia, but the Holy Ghost forbade him (Acts 16).
It’s interesting that three chapters later Paul went into the very place that God wouldn’t let him go earlier. Just because God didn’t allow you to go somewhere a few years ago doesn’t necessarily mean that He doesn’t want you to go there now. Sometimes we don’t get a green light because the timing isn’t right.
In Paul’s case, the timing wasn’t right. So, he sought the Lord’s direction. As he prayed and sought God, he had a vision of a man from Macedonia saying, "Come over to Macedonia and help us." God let Paul, as he sought both the will and the timing of the Lord.
When he got to Macedonia, Paul found a group of people praying. We have found that so many times in our ministry! That’s what happened in High River, Alberta. They were praying and they called us, so we came and planted a church!
Some people play it so safe. Consequently, they just remain dormant. They never do anything for God. I’d rather step out on the water and be in a position where God might have to come and save me, than to play it safe and never experience God’s power.
Church planters are risk takers! They will go where others won’t go. As a result, their lives brim with excitement and rewards!
Thessalonica and Corinth
(Acts 17:1-10, Acts 18:1-11)
This was an interesting church plant. Paul and his team were only in Thessalonica for three weeks. This church was birthed in the same way Paul planted several of his churches. He would go into the Synagogue, split it in half, and start a church. The group that didn’t believe him usually wanted to stone hi, so he had to leave town. That’s why Paul only lasted a few weeks in Thessalonica. (I’m not suggesting that you go and split a church! You have to be very careful to do things ethically. We live in a different culture.)
Eventually Paul began to wonder how the church was doing, so eh sent Timothy to Thessalonica. When Timothy arrived he found it a thriving work for God. Paul stayed different lengths of time in different places: three weeks in Thessalonica, eighteen months in Corinth, and three years in Ephesus. It just depended on what was needed at the time.
When you’re planting a church you can’t say that you’re going to be there for a specific period of time. It will vary from church plant to church plant. I was eighteen months in the church in Medicine Hat, Alberta. I was up late one night, reading my Bible when God spoke to my heart from Acts 18:9-11:
Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace: For I am with thee, and no man shall set on three to hurt thee: for I have much people in this city. And he continued there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.
I knew that was God’s word for me. And, we were there exactly eighteen months. We never unpacked our bags, because we knew we weren’t going to be there long. But, of course, you can’t tell the congregation that.
Every place you go into, you should go with the attitude that you’ll be there as long as it takes. Determine that when it comes time to leave you’ll leave in a responsible fashion. No one should leave a church without raising up or bringing in responsible leadership to turn the church over to. I think it’s a crime for people to raise up a church, and then leave because they get frustrated. The sheep get scattered and people get hurt. I believe it is difficult for God to bless that person in the next place.
In this church, we see the process, the principles and the results of revival. We see Paul, the wise master builder, at work. This church began with a small group of men who were praying. Paul asked whether they had received the Holy Ghost, and they replied, "We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost." Paul then prayed for them and they were all filled with the Spirit and baptized in water.
From there the church grew and developed until the social impact was evident. The city’s idol makers went out of business. Those who had used "curious arts" came together and burned their book. And revival hit the city!
The same sort of thing has happened in recent history. In the Welsh Revival of 1904, the judges wore white gloves because there were no cases to try. It is said they had to refrain all of the donkeys that worked in the coalmines because they didn’t understand the miners’ commands anymore, since the miners stopped cussing.
God has called Victory Church International to plant churches all over the world. We started with our " Jerusalem" ( Lethbridge). Then we moved on to our "Judea" (the province of Alberta). Next was our " Samaria" ( Canada). Finally, we’re working on spreading the Gospel to the uttermost parts of the earth! We are doing this by planting church planting movements in as many nations of the world as is possible before the return of our Lord Jesus Christ.