Thursday is for Thinkers: Ray Ortlund on Small Churches Planting Churches

Today’s post comes from Ray Ortlund. Ray is lead pastor at Immanuel Church here in Nashville. Immanuel is only a few years old and still small, but they have already planted The Axis Church in a different part of the city.

In Viral Churches, the book I co-authored with Warren Bird, we state that “Planting new churches is the best way for Christians to demonstrate love and intentionally make disciples.” Often, however, small churches will consider themselves unable to multiply, believing they are limited by size and resources. Immanuel has not been held back, and I am glad that Ray is here to write about the greater vision behind their decision to plant.

Right now, I am trying to profile some smaller churches here at the blog. And, when I had the chance to speak with Ray at a conference here in Nashville, I was impressed by his passion for and involvement in church planting. So, this seemed like a great opportunity.

So, let me turn it over to Ray:

Immanuel Church is small – growing but small. We’re about two years old and averaging around 150 people on Sunday morning. And we are involved in a church plant. Jeremy Rose is pioneering The Axis Church, another Acts 29 church, in downtown Nashville. Jeremy served with us at Immanuel the second half of 2009, and now we are committed to his new work in prayer, fellowship and money – 10% of our regular offerings. At Immanuel, we’re stoked about this.

Why not wait until we’re bigger before committing to another church plant? Well, why not wait on every aspect of obedience? I don’t know about you, but I almost never feel ready to obey the Lord Jesus Christ, except in those routine areas of obedience I already have some handle on, like “Ray, read your Bible and pray each day” – and I’m not even good at them! But real obedience, new risks for the name of Christ – that’s part of the “newness of life” the Bible calls us to (Romans 6:4). If all the obedience I offer the Lord is stuff I’m already okay at, where’s the newness? What am I, what are we, doing in obedience to him that we’ve never done before and that we don’t feel entirely ready for? That’s newness. That’s our real growth. We always want to be out there on that edge. Church planting is one way to stay there. So it doesn’t matter how small or how big our church is. If we believe that church planting is a matter of obedience to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, for his greater glory in our time, then right now is when we should start taking steps toward jumping in. He will be with us.

Plus, it’s a joy to help give birth to a new church. It fills our own sails at Immanuel with a larger sense of purpose and fulfillment. Every church has a purpose. The stated purpose is almost always gospel-centered, expansive, outreaching. That’s great. But sometimes churches also have an unstated purpose, a functional purpose not in writing but in routines. The functional purpose is the pattern the members default to without thinking. And the functional purpose always wins out over the formally stated purpose. The real purpose of some churches might be something like, “Your best comfort zone now.” But it isn’t comfortable. It isn’t even alive. It’s death.

But when a church’s stated purpose and functional purpose converge as one, and that church really is reaching out in sacrifice and innovation and solid accomplishment, it’s thrilling! That church starts feeling like God’s kingdom coming and God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven. An awareness comes over that church, “Wow, by his grace we are involved! We’re not just talking big. We’re actually doing it. What a privilege!” It’s one of the ways a church’s corporate conscience and sense of responsibility ease into a settled happiness. Not complacency, but real happiness in Christ. A small church can get traction for growth when everyone can see they mean business about unselfish kingdom expansion.

We live in such a great time for church planting. Practical guidance is now available to churches of all faithful denominations and non-denominations. Ed’s blog is itself a tremendous resource. Hey brothers and sisters in churches small, medium and large, let’s go for it – now!

Feel free to interact with Ray about church planting, smaller churches, and ministry.

Previous articleJunior High Believe
Next articleThe Local Church: Indispensable
Ed Stetzer
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.