The emergence of Church Planting Networks has had a largely positive affect on denominations in Canada and the U.S. Yes, I am very much aware that there are some Networks that have caused heartache and trouble. And yes, some planters have too. But if we look at it from a 30,000-foot level, when Church Planting Networks have come alongside denominations to help assess, train and resource church plants and planters, they have been an invaluable resource. It’s amazing what happens when people get together to build God’s Kingdom and not their own!
The popularity of Church Planting Networks (CPNs) is certainly growing in Canada, specifically with our younger pastors and leaders. Why are some leaders gravitating more towards networks than denominations when it comes to church multiplication? What are the things denominations need to learn from networks, so that they don’t disengage next generation leaders? What do networks do to appeal to our planters? I think we, as a PAOC fellowship, need to be asking ourselves these questions and having conversations around this important topic. Maybe I can get the conversation started with some initial thoughts on five observations that we can learn from CPNs as it relates to younger leaders and church planters.
- CPNs are laser-focused.They know what they are about, what to spend time on, and how to allocate finances. They believe this: when everything is a priority, nothing is a priority. The tough part about being a denomination is the wide array of responsibilities that denominational leaders have to care for. It’s easy to become a mile wide but only an inch deep. Depth is what younger leaders are looking for from their overseers. Perhaps we, as PAOC leaders, can re-evaluate what our priorities are. It may mean we have to say ‘no’ to things that are still good, but not priority.
- CPNs have developed helpful systems, processes and pathways. In our PAOC family, we outsource many of the processes and systems needed to become a multiplication movement. I recently conducted a small poll with our districts and discovered that almost every district outsources assessments and training. Many outsource the coaching for church planters as well. I, for one, am grateful for the networks and organizations we have relationship with. I am grateful that they are so generous and open to make room for our planters and leaders. Could we have our own systems and processes specific to the PAOC fellowship? Maybe. I don’t know fully at this point. But what we can learn from CPNs is that we need to think strategically about systems, processes and pathways for our leaders. Otherwise, they will begin to look exclusively at networks and move away from denominations, simply because we can’t resource them with what they need.
- CPNs work with multiple denominations.This speaks loudly to next generation leaders. It’s not a question of loyalty to them, it’s a question of unity. If we, as a PAOC fellowship, seem unwilling to work with other groups, it sends the wrong message to young leaders looking for relationship across the theological board. If we truly believe we are better together, then we need to be working more with other denominations. I am so pleased with the current cross-pollination that is already happening in the PAOC with other groups, but there is still more to do and learn!
- CPNs aren’t afraid to give younger leaders bigger opportunities. It’s not that they are willy-nilly in who they approve for planting. In fact, CPNs actually have pretty strict guidelines for approval and high expectations on leadership competencies. They believe that younger leaders can make incredible planters if given the opportunity. So they make pathways for these leaders. Sometimes, in denominations and organizations that have been around for a while, a “pay your dues” kind of mindset can develop, meaning you can only lead at certain levels once you have reached this age or that amount of experience. What would it look like if we could equip a Bible College student early, have them do a 2 or 3-year residency in a church plant, and maybe then plant a church by the age of 25? Or do we have to wait until they have 10 years’ experience pastoring in a local church before we can send them? I think if we want to plant the number of churches we want to plant and develop the leaders we want to develop, we need to create pathways that make room for younger leaders to plant earlier. CPNs are doing just that. They believe that younger leaders can rise to the challenge. We need to as well!
- CPNs realize “you attract more leaders with fire, not fences”. (Quote from Ed Stetzer) Younger leaders really value freedom and creativity. If all we are providing is unnecessary hoops to jump through or fences to climb over, we may lose them. Younger leaders also love vision, dreaming and being included in the bigger picture. I have observed that these leaders are full of passion and desire to rally around an incredibly important cause like reaching Canada for Jesus! The passion, vision and fire that CPNs communicate brings excitement to young planters. Of course CPNs still have structures and processes, but the vision gives the planters the ‘why’, so that the pathways make sense. Sometimes denominations start with the fences and not the fire. We, as the PAOC, need to make sure our communication reflects our hearts. I know we have tons of fire in our hearts for Canada - let’s start communicating with that first. We want to reach Canadians because every Canadian deserves an access point to the Gospel!
We are better together because we help each other, carry one another and can learn from one another. Partnership with Church Planting Networks is a great place to start.