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Church Planting, Thermometers and Thermostats

Have one-off service opportunities.

The beauty of handing out water bottles and cooking in a homeless shelter is that it makes your church feel good. As much as one-off service opportunities are a great way to “introduce” your church to service, unless these opportunities turn into ongoing partnerships, then there won’t be much potential for lasting Kingdom transformation in your community.

Picket issues.

Picketing is the ultimate “feel-good” activity for social change. If you’re the one picketing, it feels good since you’re standing up for an issue, making your voice known and doing it with others in community. However, unless you’re picketing over a life and death issue like genocide, to an outsider, it just looks like you’re complaining.

If you want to plant and lead a thermostat church …

Listen to your community.

God is already at work in your community, so get better at asking questions. Even if you’ve lived in your community for a long time, take the posture of a missionary and ask God to show you who the people of peace are—the influential gatekeepers in your community. By first listening, God will show you the unique kingdom impact that he is wanting your church to make.

Live in your community.

If God is calling you to plant and lead a church in a particular community, then God will take care of you. I understand that if you have a family, you need to take house prices, crime rates and schools into consideration, but please don’t live 30 minutes away from the church that you’re planting and leading. It just won’t work.

Meet the needs in your community, but never take the Gospel out of it.

I wish this last point also started with the letter “L.” I guess I could’ve said “Love your community”? Nevertheless, when planting and leading a church, it’s important that you are actively meeting the needs in your community in an ongoing fashion. However, make sure that everything you do has the Gospel at the center of it. That doesn’t mean you need to share the Gospel every time you help someone who is far from God, but that does mean that you are always praying for an opportunity to share the Gospel with those who are far from God. Did you catch the difference? Don’t do good just for good’s sake. Do good so that others will see your good works, experience the love of God and glorify God (1 Pet 2:12, Matt 5:16).

Here are Martin Luther King Jr.’s thoughts on this issue:

There was a time when the church was very powerful. It was during that period when the early Christians rejoiced when they were deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed in. In those days, the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society.

If you haven’t already picked up on it, I’m obviously biased toward being a thermostat church. That being said, can you think of churches in your community who are taking either approach? How effective would you say they are at reaching those who are far from God?

Oh, and my children? Well, they’re starting to catch the difference … most of the time.  

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Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., holds the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College and serves as Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, holds two masters degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles and books.