The Cart and The Horse
What is the relationship of evangelism to church planting?
In a recent post titled, “Dr. Wagner’s Cart Has Been Pulling the Horse for Too Long”, Neil Cole (author, Organic Church) writes about this relationship.
He begins by quoting Peter Wagner that “the best means of evangelism under the sun today is church planting.” Cole states that Peter Wagner based his statements on the fact that new churches are “hungrier” than established churches when it comes to evangelism.
Thus, employing the horse and cart metaphor, Peter Wagner (and Cole) believed that Church Planting was the horse and Evangelism the cart.
Now Cole believes that they had it backwards. “The best means of church planting,” Cole writes, “is evangelism. Evangelism should be the horse and Church Planting the cart.
Before I get to my point, I want to build on something very important that Cole asserts. Oftentimes, fast growing churches are the result of the redistribution of already professing Christians. I’ve known church planters who claim that their plant, unlike all the other ones, really reaches unchurched people. And, of course, as Cole points out, they do reach more unchurched people when compared to established churches. That’s good! But, in the end, they are often nets catching Christians on the move.
I also want to suggest that Peter Wagner was, in fact, correct in two ways. First, depending on what one means by evangelism, church planting is a superior means of evangelism when compared, not with the effectiveness of established churches, but when compared with one of the most common forms of evangelism in that day, namely crusade evangelism. Church planting is a far better form of evangelism than crusades. A second way Peter Wagner was correct is that church planting is often a superior partner to those individuals involved in personal evangelism. People who care about reaching people for Christ want churches that prioritize the experience of the pre-believer. That’s something new churches make their specialty especially when compared to established churches.
Now, I want to get on to my point. A point I think both Neil Cole and Peter Wagner would also want to make.
I think that the issue here is, what is meant by evangelism? I encounter more and more people that don’t know what this means anymore. And, rightly so. To explain the relationship between evangelism and church planting, I would like to frame them again using the same metaphor of cart and horse. Evangelism and church planting are neither cart nor horse. They are vegetables on the cart and horse called discipleship.
We oftentimes proceed as if Jesus and Paul focused on evangelism and they did not. They didn’t focus on church planting either. They focused on discipleship. Neither evangelism nor church planting happen without disciples.
The disciples entered cities, not to plant churches, but to announce the gospel. The announcement of the Kingdom was designed to call out followers of Jesus, not professions of faith.
So I would like to say, along with Neil, “plant Jesus”. I would also add, architect communities that encourage discipleship among those either interested in or new to faith. That’s something we do with Jesus.