February 24, 2013
Pastor Joe Wittwer
#3—Planting more churches


I’ve got an important announcement to make: we’re pregnant!  Not Laina and I—we, Life Center, are pregnant.  We’ve already had 7 babies, and we’re getting ready for more!  We also have two grandbabies and more on the way!  Woohoo!

For those of you who have no clue what I’m talking about, we’re getting ready to plant more churches.  We have planted 7 other churches in our community, and some of them are planting churches too.  

Today, in my final talk in this series, we’re going to talk about our church planting efforts: why we do it, what we’ve done, and what we’re about to do.

Let’s have babies!

Introduction and offering:

What is this (picture of an apple tree)? What does an apple tree produce?  Apples, of course; but what else? More apple trees!  Inside the apples are seeds that don’t just become apples, but become apple trees. Apple trees ultimately produce more apple trees!

What does a church produce? “Ahh,” you’re thinking, “trick question.” A church produces Christians, of course! But churches also produce other churches. The Christians we produce are the seeds that will become other churches, which in turn produce more Christians and more churches.

ILL: Johnny Appleseed wanted everyone in America to enjoy apples. But he didn’t go across America passing out apples! He planted apple trees.  

We want to win the world for Jesus. We can’t just pass out apples, we have to plant apple trees. We can’t just win a few people to Jesus; we have to plant churches that will win people to Jesus, who will plant more churches to win more people to Jesus.

This is our third and final talk in the Send series.  Our guiding purposes at Life Center are:

  • Love: Love God with all we’ve got.

  • Win: Win our neighbors to Jesus.

  • Grow: Grow to be all God wants us to be.

  • Send: Send out agents of change into a broken world.

This series is about that “send” purpose.  I’ve said that every Christian is a missionary.  God sends each one of us to make disciples and do good.  

John 20:21 “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.”

God is sending us here, near and far to make disciples and do good.  But it starts here, so we talked about our local efforts to do that first, and then we talked about our efforts around the world last week.  The other part of our “send” purpose is planting churches: we send out leaders from our church to plant new churches.

The Big Idea: God sends us to make disciples and plant more churches here, near and far.

1. Why: the theology of planting more churches.

Why plant churches? The simplest answer is the Great Commission.

Matthew 28:18-20 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

This is the church’s God-given mission. We are on a mission from God!  Jesus charged us to make disciples of all nations. Our mission is to help people find and follow Jesus.  It starts here at home.  We help our friends and neighbors and family find and follow Jesus.  It starts here, but it can’t end here because Jesus said we’re to make disciples of all nations—all ethnos (we talked about this last Sunday), all people groups in the whole world.

ILL:  If my mission in life was to make whirligigs, I would make whirligigs. Maybe I would make 5 or 10 or 100 or even a 1000 whirligigs. But if my mission in life was to make whirligigs for the whole world, to make sure everyone had a whirligig, then I wouldn’t make whirligigs; I would make whirligig factories, and I would recruit and train whirligig makers.

I can make disciples, and I do. But when we started our church, we started a disciple-factory that now enlists thousands of people who are making disciples. I multiplied my effectiveness many times over. But it’s still not enough. Our church can’t reach our whole city, let alone the world. So we have to start more disciple-factories, in our town and around the world.

That’s why we start churches: to help people find and follow Jesus.  To make disciples.  If we plant churches that only shuffle the saints—if all we do is move Christians from one church to another—that is a waste of effort.  We plant churches to reach people who aren’t being reached.  The local church is God’s redemption center, a disciple factory. It’s how disciples are made and the gospel is spread.

This was the practice of the apostle Paul.  We see it clearly on his first missionary journey.  He traveled through the interior of what is modern Turkey, making disciples in every city he visited.  Then he doubled back and on his return visit, he organized these disciples into churches.

Acts 14:21–23 Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, 22 strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said. 23 Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.

They appointed leaders—elders or pastors—for every group, forming new churches out of these new Christians.  This was Paul’s practice wherever he went.  He made disciples and planted churches all across the Roman Empire.  He never made disciples without organizing them into a church.  His efforts to make disciples always resulted in a new church.

When the gospel breaks into new territory, new churches start.  That’s happening all around the world today.  But new churches are needed everywhere, including places the gospel has already gone—like here.  I asked you if you thought Spokane needed more churches.  How many think “yes”?  How many think “no”?  Let me tell you why I think the answer is yes.

First, we need more churches because many churches are dying. Every year, we close more churches in the US that we start. We have fewer churches this year than last; fewer redemption centers, fewer disciple factories. And many of the churches that exist are not making disciples. They are hanging on. They are trying to survive. We are losing ground. We need more churches that will help people find and follow Jesus.

Second, we need more churches to reach more people in our community. We have over 400,000 people in our county, and about 400 churches. On any given weekend, less than 18% of the population is in church. If every church were full every service, we could accommodate about 40% of our population. Our existing churches can’t hold everyone, and more importantly even if they could, they’re not reaching everyone.  Many of these churches aren’t evangelistic, aren’t growing and frankly, probably aren’t going to be any time soon. So we need more churches to reach people we are not reaching.   

You might say, “Instead of planting new churches, why not help the existing ones to start growing.”  I agree.  We should help every church that wants to change and grow do so.  But here’s the reality.  Some churches don’t want to change; some don’t want to grow; some don’t want to make disciples.  Some are dead.  If you want to grow your family, which is the easier: to have a baby or to resurrect your dead grandma?  Have a baby! By all means, let’s help every church that wants to become better, get better.  And let’s start new churches to reach more people.  It’s not either/or, but both/and.

Third, we need new churches of every kind. Our church won’t reach everyone in our town, so we must to be willing to start new churches to reach the people we can’t reach. We need different kinds of churches to reach different kinds of people: different age groups, different ethnic groups, different music preferences, different people groups. Not everyone is going to like our worship style.  Not everyone is going to like my preaching style.  Not everyone is going to like you either, so neener-neener!  It takes all kinds of churches to reach all kinds of people. We need more churches to reach more people, to make more disciples – churches of all kinds.

Why plant churches?  To fulfill our mission of helping people find and follow Jesus.  To make more disciples!  The local church is the disciple factory!  And we need more of them!

But it’s costly.  Church planting will cost us—we’ll have to send off some of our best leaders.

Acts 13:1–3 In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. 2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3 So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.

Who did they send away? Paul and Barnabas! Two of their leaders, probably two of their very best leaders. They didn’t keep them, saying, “Our church needs these people.” They gave them away, saying, “The lost need to hear about Jesus. Go and tell them.”  

We’ve done this.  We’ve sent away some of our best, and it’s painful.  It’s hard to say goodbye.  But when God calls, we’ve got to say yes!  And the payoff is huge, as we’ll see next.

So how do we do it?

2. How: the practice of planting more churches

I’m going to tell you what we’ve done and what we hope to do next.

A. What we’ve done.

We have planted 7 churches in Spokane, and these churches have planted a couple others.  Let me tell you the story.

In 1997, we launched our first church plant: Summit Ridge on the South Hill.  On their first Sunday, 635 people showed up for worship!  That’s a big baby!  At the time, Life Center averaged about 1600 people in weekend worship attendance.  About 400 of those went to Summit.  We thought it would take us a couple years to recover.  But the next Sunday, our attendance was down by 40—not 400.  It had taken a week—not two years—to fill the empty seats!   

Summit has been through several pastoral transitions.  Most recently, Brad and Cheri Williams went from Life Center to be the lead pastor at Summit.  In the last year and a half, Summit has grown from 200 to over 800 people in Sunday worship.  And they just purchased and remodeled their first building.  Brad wrote, “It has become a very fun place to discover the Gospel, in community. We have seen dozens and dozens of folks authentically choose to follow Jesus, and be baptized. We really encourage Summit folks to live out their faith ‘out there’ in the community.  Good stuff is happening and it’s hard to run into someone these days who isn’t either being impacted by the church or at least aware and curious about what is going on.”  Things are cooking at Summit!

In 1999, we launched our second church plant, Life Center North, pastored by Mike and Tesa Meade.   On their first Sunday, 565 people showed up—another big baby—including a couple hundred sent from Life Center.  And that next Sunday, our attendance wasn’t down 200; it was up 200.  We couldn’t give them away fast enough!

Life Center North has grown steadily since its inception, and now averages about 1100 in worship each Sunday.  Almost 1500 people have come to Christ through Life Center North since it was planted!  In the last year and a half, Life Center North purchased and remodeled their first building.  They had rented a school for 4 years, and then a remodeled theater for 8 years.  

Mike told me that they are excited to plant a new church in Airway Heights with pastor Jacob and Kym Powers.  Jacob has been on their staff for 4 years. Meetings will start after Easter and the public launch of the church will be in September.   Mike wrote: “Thank you Life Center!  Without you none of this would have happened.  People’s lives have been changed for all eternity.”

In 2002-3, we had twins!  In September of 2002, we launched LifeRoads at a public school in NE Spokane.  They opened with 375 people at their first service.  

LifeRoads has been through a couple pastoral transitions.  Four years ago, Donnie and Pam Johnson became the lead pastors. Donnie wrote: “I started out as a volunteer on the core team that planted Liferoads, then became the children’s pastor, then the associate pastor, and for the last 4 years the lead pastor. Also, I got involved in ministry because of our founding pastor, Brad Williams and his influence in my life.”

LifeRoads meets at a rented and remodeled theater near the corner of Sprague and Havana, and averages 160 people at Sunday worship.  In the last 10 years, 375 people have made the decision to follow Jesus at LifeRoads (baptism picture).  Also, LifeRoads is involved in a partnership in Uganda, building a church and school. “We just got our first delivery of bricks to the site and we will be starting on the foundation during the next few weeks. We are very excited about what’s going on there.”

Four months after LifeRoads launched, we sent out our fourth church plant, Eastpoint, led by Kurt and Laura Bubna.  There were 800 people at their first service in January 2003—that was our biggest baby!  

After a couple years, Eastpoint outgrew their first location and they leased the K-Mart at Sprague and Sullivan.  They have grown steadily there and now average 1200 people on Sundays!  This year, they just opened up their new 1000 seat auditorium.  They had over 2800 people at their Christmas services.  In the last 10 years, over 1000 people have picked up new believer packets, and over 700 have been baptized!    

Eastpoint also hosts the Antioch School of Ministry, a fully accredited school of theology and ministry.  Kurt’s first book, Epic Grace, is due to be published this fall by Tyndale Publishers.  Eastpoint is getting ready to plant their first church by 2014.

Those were our first four church plants, and during that time of giving away hundreds of people, Life Center doubled from 1600 to 3200.  We actually launched our building campaign in the middle of church plants 3-4, which didn’t work so well.  But from 2003-2005, we raised the money and built this facility and moved in.  While doing that, we took a break from church planting.

In January 2007, John and Sandy Repsold launched Mosaic in downtown Spokane.  They began meeting at the Interplayers Theater.  Currently they meet in a rented facility on 2nd Avenue, where they average 80 people in their two Sunday services.  They have outgrown this spot and John writes: “We’re looking for a building that can accommodate about 150-200 per service, keeps us downtown, allows us to open a daily coffee/chocolate shop, hold evening musical events and keep ministering in the core of Spokane.”

Last year Mosaic launched “A Hand Up” which provides computers, computer time and training for downtown residents who need jobs.  Mosaic gives 10% of their gross income to other city core ministries.  Their goal is to have a solid Christian witness/Bible study/outreach in every residential building downtown.  They currently have groups operating in 5 different downtown residential buildings and are praying that in the next five years there will be 25.  

Some other wonderful things about this vibrant congregation: last year they baptized 12 people, and they sent out their first international missionary to Cambodia.  And two years ago, they planted a church, The Seaside, at a downtown bar, led by Pastor Charlie and Lisa Greer.  Anywhere from 15-50 people show up for church in the bar!  John sent me this story:

Here’s something you don’t see every day.  For whatever reason, God seems to be giving Charlie favor with the gay community downtown.  So last week a gay man stands up on a bar stool in a gay bar across the street on Sunday afternoon and challenges all the patrons to join him at The Seaside Church.  The whole bar empties out, troops across the street and shares in the 3:00pm service.  As God would have it, Charlie was speaking on sin, no holds barred.  After the service, a number of these visitors came up to Charlie, thanking him for what he said, for not watering down the truth and asking who they could talk to and get some counseling about relational issues in their lives. 

This is why I love church planting!  

John wrote: Thanks for making it possible by “birthing” us!  Thanks for all you and Life Center do for the kingdom of God here in Spokane and beyond.  We’re eternally grateful…and pray often for your continued fruitfulness.

In 2008, Alec and Lynda Gonzales went across the river to the West Central neighborhood to plant West Central Life.  Alec’s vision is “To be a neighborhood church that goes outside our walls to connect with people and offer them a faith community where they feel like they belong and will then develop a strong and healthy faith to become leaders in our church.”  

West Central Life meets at COPS West, and averages 23 people on Sundays.  They reach many more people through their monthly neighborhood outreaches. They average 5 decisions for Christ each year in church services, and 25 a year in their outreaches.  Six or seven times a month, the church partners with other neighborhood churches and ministries to serve the needs of their neighbors.  At Easter, they do an outreach at Holmes Elementary that last year served over 500 neighborhood people and was staffed by 80 volunteers.  I love Alec and Lynda’s love for their neighborhood and the good work they’re doing in West Central.

In 2009, Mike and Lisa Fairburn launched City Church in the Garland district.  Since then, City Church has grown to 250 people in two services; lots of people have begun following Jesus and 34 have been baptized.  A couple years ago, they were able to buy their building.  It was a God deal: the owners were asking $500,000, but when Mike and Lisa met with the owners to say they couldn’t afford it, the owners offered it to them for $100,000.  

They wrote: “Our big deal is we are a missional church…working toward neighborhood transformation and empowering young adults to reach the world for Christ.”  They are doing some really creative things to serve their neighborhood.  They have done free BBQs with no ulterior motives.  They do bar breakfasts: they go to the nearby bars, get to know people, and invite them to breakfast when they’re done drinking.  Many of them come to the breakfasts where some of them have come to Christ, and several have started in recovery programs, or are attending church.

They are also working closely with their local elementary school on a daily basis.  They have volunteers at the school most days helping at recess, assisting teachers, reading or mentoring students. They are deeply invested in the neighborhood.

One more: we have a granddaughter church that I haven’t mentioned yet.  Back in 1999, Summit Ridge planted Northwest Church, now known as Living Hope.  Pastored for the last four years by Sean Lumsden and his wife Lynne.  Living Hope meets in the Rogers neighborhood at the corner of Nevada and Garland.  They average 300 people on Sunday; here’s a shot of their Christmas service.

Living Hope is doing great work with students in the neighborhood; their youth group is made up entirely of neighborhood kids.  They offer breakfast every Sunday morning to all the children.  And I love talking with Sean because he always has wonderful stories of redemption—God is using their church to reach some people who have had very difficult lives.

18 months ago, Living Hope incubated and sent off their first church plant!  A great-granddaughter!

I can’t tell you how proud I am of these pastors.  I meet them once a quarter for lunch, and we swap stories and encouragement and talk about how we can help each other.  God is doing remarkable things in each of these churches.  

On any given Sunday, almost 8500 people gather at Life Center and her daughter and granddaughter churches in Spokane.  At Christmas and Easter, that number more than doubles to about 18,000 people! And you should feel pretty darn good about it, because it all started here, with you.

That’s what we’ve done…and we’re not done yet!

B. What we’ll do.

We—Life Center and her offspring—hope to start a church planting movement: we want to plant churches that plant churches that plant churches to reach more people for Jesus.  So we want to ramp up our church planting efforts and plant more churches here, near and far. Here’s what is in the hopper.

Here: There is a growing discussion and buzz among our staff and leaders about church planting, and many of our young leaders are beginning to dream about what a church plant might look like for them. In the last 5 weeks, I have had conversations with people interested in planting new churches in Austin, Texas; Spokane, Liberty Lake, Couer D’Alene; and Russia.  We don’t have firm and final plans, but I anticipate we will soon, so stay tuned.  And if you’re interested in church planting, let me know!  Let’s talk!

Near: We’re exploring the possibility of a new church plant in Coeur D’Alene.  Some dear friends of mine, Sean and Tan McCartin are in town this weekend hanging out with us.  They are experienced and successful church planters and are here to discern if God wants them to plant a new church in CDA.  Please pray…and we’ll keep you posted!

Far: We are in the exploration phase of our first international church plant—in Russia! owners here at Life Center believe that God is calling them to plant a Life Center in Kaliningrad, Russia. So in May, Rick and I are going to meet with other church and ministry leaders there, and assess what it would take to make it happen.  Be praying for us!  

Beyond all that, we continue to partner with others who are planting churches in our city, region, country and around the world.  For example, we regularly do some coaching with new church planters here in town; they are from a different denomination.  We’ve also provided financial assistance to other church plants—again, not from our denomination.  We do this because we don’t see ourselves in competition with other churches—we are all on the same team, doing God’s work.  

We want champion church planting for the sake of reaching more people for Jesus.