As I have the privilege to meet with Kentucky Baptist Churches and their leaders about the Great Commission, we regularly discuss matters of church planting and church revitalization. When it comes to the Great Commission, a primary part of the church’s faithfulness to that call involves healthy church formation. As Jesus instructs His disciples before He ascends back to heaven, He commands them to make disciples (Matt 28:16-20).
While we love to tell people that we are all about making disciples, what does that actually mean? The best way to know what that means is to examine what Jesus’ early disciples did to make disciples. In short, the book of Acts demonstrates their understanding of Jesus’ command as that of birthing or planting churches and strengthening existing churches (Acts 14:19-23). Great Commission obedience is done in the context of forming healthy churches.
So, as I meet with churches across the Commonwealth of Kentucky to discuss the Great Commission and a strategy for obeying Jesus’ command, we inevitably discuss church planting and church revitalization. Here is the question I most often ask: Are we called in the Great Commission to plant new churches or help existing churches become healthier? The answer is clear—Yes!
Great Commission work involves the planting of new churches and the revitalization of existing churches. The Great Commission expands as churches are planted and strengthened. Why? Because more churches are needed to reach an ever-increasing population. Yet, churches that are not healthy will never focus outward, but only inward. For example, one NAMB stat reveals that there is only 1 SBC church for every 6,505 people.
Intertwined in Paul’s missionary journeys in Acts is the planting of new churches and the strengthening of existing churches. Scripture never puts church planting and church strengthening at odds. We could say that they are two sides of the same coin. Paul’s concern in Acts is for the spread of the gospel through planting new churches and the strengthening of existing churches. Thus, in Acts 14 Paul plants new churches and then circles back around to these same churches to ensure that these churches are in fact healthy.
While healthy churches seek to build disciples within their own congregation, they also look outward to reach other peoples and places through the planting of new churches. This Great Commission focus requires a Kingdom mindset that says it’s not simply about our own local congregation, but about the spread of the gospel through many congregations.
So should churches be about planting new churches or strengthening existing churches. Yes! Great Commission work is the making of disciples through the context of local churches planting new churches and strengthening existing churches.