By Jose Cortes, Jr

The Adventist Church across North America has placed a great amount of emphasis and resources on planting churches. Nearly 600 mission groups (that’s what we call our new church plants) have been launched since 2015 in the United States, Canada, Bermuda, and the islands of Guam and Micronesia. Several of those new churches have been planted in the Rocky Mountain Conference. Although we really believe that planting churches is essential to make the gospel accessible to people in every city, town, and island in our territory, we also believe that we must be very careful about planting churches which misrepresent God and our church.

Reasons not to plant churches

If you are going to plant a church that does not love all sinners, does not care about what happens outside the walls of the building, and whose only purpose is to change the religion of people and judge their behavior, please don’t plant a church.

If you are going to plant a church because your present church is totally dysfunctional, members are fighting, they cannot get along, and they are going to take all that dysfunctional DNA with them to the new church, please don’t plant a church.

If you are going to plant a church right next door to a sister congregation, which is already reaching the people and demographics of that community, simply to compete for their members and resources, please don’t plant a church. The territory is too vast and the amount of unreached people too great to be competing over a neighborhood which is already being reached. In church planting, collaboration is the name of the game, not competition.

Planting under these circumstances may be detrimental to our missional movement, hurt the reputation of our church, and above all dishonor the God we serve. It is true, we really want to plant churches yet we want to plant churches right.

Reasons to plant churches

Now that we’ve gone over some of the reasons not to plant churches, here are some reasons to plant which are important to consider.

1. Plant to make the gospel accessible. I would agree with other church planting specialists that in order for the gospel to be accessible through an Adventist Church to each person in our community, we must have a church for every 25,000 inhabitants. This means that in most of the larger cities of the Rocky Mountain Conference, we could have twice the number of churches that we have today without having to compete for territory or people.

2. Plant because we are the heart, eyes, hands, and feet of Jesus in our communities. Church planting is not just about having another place where we can hold worship services and corporately study the Sabbath School lesson. We plant churches because we desire to open up communities of compassion where people can experience the love of God and the compassion of Jesus in practical ways, which are transformational to families and individuals. We are not interested in planting worship services but churches which love, serve with the community, and worship regularly.

A church that does not go beyond the four walls is not really a church but a club.

3. Plant to best position Adventism to reach new generations, residents, and people groups. Most older churches don’t grow, but those that do grow, gain the majority of their new members by transfers from other congregations. On the other hand, new churches generally baptize at a higher percentage than older churches and gain 60 to 80 percent of their new members from people who are not attending any church.

Although it is hard to swallow, older Adventist churches have a very hard time reaching millennials, Generation Z, and single mothers, who together with their households have become one of the largest people groups in North America. Older Adventist churches also struggle to reach the LGBTQ+ community and emerging immigrant groups. Planting new churches with a different DNA can help to reach people our churches are not presently reaching.

Jesus did not preach an exclusive gospel; He founded an inclusive church. If our church can only reach people who think like us, dress like us, eat like us, smell like us, and worship like us, we will never be able to reach those who are different. Jesus came to save them too. We need to be more like Jesus.

4. Plant to help revitalize existing churches and to provide a natural environment for discipleship. One of the biggest push-backs often used to reject church planting is, “Why plant more churches if the ones we have are dying?” Saying “we cannot plant a church because the ones we have are not doing well” is like saying “a family cannot have babies because grandma is sick.” Churches, just like people, have a lifespan. Newborn babies keep the family going as grandparents age.

There should never be antagonism between church planting and church revitalization—they are both vital. When grandma is sick, we take her to the doctor and try to find a cure for her illness, but if you stop having babies because grandma is aging, eventually the family will be no more.

Church planting infuses new life and helps reset the lifespan of a plateauing or declining churches. When an older church intentionally releases leaders and supports the birth of a new congregation, it rediscovers its purpose, and rallying around the new baby strengthens its health and missional resolve. As people are released for ministry in the new mission group, more people are required to step in and serve, thus creating an awesome opportunity for disciple-making. Another great benefit of this process is that church plants, with mother churches, tend to grow stronger and faster than churches born without support. Planting for the right reasons can be a blessing to the church and its surrounding communities. We have learned from the incarnational Jesus we follow that our churches should not be encased within four walls, filled with people who only talk to themselves and spiritualize everything while the surrounding world suffers. To resemble the Jesus we proclaim, we need churches that are a constant flow of blessings to their neighbors, class- mates, colleagues, and those who simply walk the streets in need of hope. Jesus made life better and brought hope whenever He showed up. Our church plants and existing churches must be a reflection of that if we expect to make a dent in our communities for the Kingdom.

If you are going to plant a church which is centered in the salvation of God and the compassion of Jesus, a church that will be an agent of transformation in the community, please don’t plant one church, for God’s sake, plant at least a thousand.

–José Cortes, Jr., is an associate director of the ministerial association and leads evangelism, church planting, and Adventist/global mission for the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists. Email him at: [email protected]