Conversation: Ed Stetzer
Ed Stetzer is a church planter, college professor, author and sought-after conference speaker. He has planted churches in New York, Pennsylvania and Georgia and trained pastors and church planters on five continents. Stetzer's books include Planting New Churches in a Postmodern Age, Perimeters of Light: Biblical Boundaries for the Emerging Church (with Elmer Towns), and Strategic Outreach (with Eric Ramsey). Stetzer is currently co-pastor of the planting team at Lake Ridge Church in Cumming, Ga. Recently, Steve Pike, church planting director for Assemblies of God U.S. Missions, spoke with Stetzer.
tpe: Why do you think it is important that churches be planted?
STETZER: Church planting is central to the Great Commission. It is not just a good idea; it is a biblical command. The commands of the Great Commission (make disciples, baptize, teach, etc.) are all church functions and they were lived out in early churches. Church planting is the most effective evangelistic methodology we have. New churches reach and baptize more people and are more focused on reaching the lost.
tpe: What characteristics are present in a successful church plant, regardless of style or cultural setting?
STETZER: There has to be a sense of call to reach the lost. Pastors should not plant churches to create a platform or to support themselves financially. Instead, they need a burning passion for lostness that compels them to plant a church to reach those without Christ. I think that passion is universally present in biblical new churches. Also, a right understanding of what a church is and why it matters is essential and universal.
tpe: You mentioned church planting is the best form of evangelism. Why is that the case?
STETZER: New churches tend to have a much higher conversion rate. Let me address it more personally. It is most effective, I think, because it is most biblical. God blesses churches when they give themselves away. We reap from what we sow. Giving people, time and resources to church plants is a great opportunity for God to bless our churches.
tpe: What organizational support systems can increase effectiveness in planting churches?
STETZER: I did a study a few years ago and found a connection between the growth of a new church and their involvement in several support systems. The full study is at www.newchurches.com, but in short we found the following:
¥ After 4 years, those churches undergoing some form of assessment had about twice the water baptisms than those that did not.
¥ Those church planters who went to a boot camp led churches that were almost 50 percent larger.
¥ Church planters who met weekly with a mentor led churches about twice the size of those who had no mentor.
tpe: What are some obstacles to church planting that must be addressed by a planting organization?
STETZER: Planting organizations have to plow the way for church planters. Pastors are human, and humans are sinful. Other churches may see church plants as competition and become resentful.
Movements and denominations have to help our pastors see that church planting is essential and biblical. We have to help church planters see they can't do it by themselves. Driven personalities and get-it-done attitudes are not enough — church planters need assessment, coaching and training. We have to create an atmosphere and awareness from our denomination that church planting is one of our core values and purposes.
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