by Case Thorp
Moderator of the 39th General Assembly
Escaping the swamp of Florida’s heat and humidity is always a welcomed occasion. Such was just a side benefit of joining the EPC Church Planter’s Retreat in Colorado Springs in October. Little did I know how on-fire our church planting leadership and planters are! My time with them moved me and inspired me, and I’m excited to share five key insights—and their implications for our broader denomination.
1. Tom Ricks is the bomb
The retreat struck the perfect tone: rich worship, challenging content, available counselors, amazing fellowship, and one-off meetings with coaches, experts, patrons, and participants. This was made possible because of the vision and leadership of Tom Ricks, leader of the EPC’s Church Planting Team. Tom is the full-time pastor of Greentree Community Church in suburban St. Louis, and brings to this role decades of church planting and coaching experience.
The planters and their spouses enjoyed a lovely stay at a nice resort—a special blessing that church planters on lean budgets rarely experience. In addition, Tom discovered that renting a nearby (and large!) home through AirBnB was less expensive than hosting two evening dinners in the hotel banquet room, so that’s what he did. The home set a relaxing tone for fellowship, feasting, and friendship-making that sent everyone home with full hearts.
Tom balances casting of vision, setting of tone and table for engagement, and networking through the greater EPC family to see that every church takes at least one of three roles: Parent, Partner, or Patron of church planting. Which one are you?
2. Almost majority minority
It was thrilling to see about 30 percent of our church planters are either African-American or Hispanic. A diverse worship team led our worship times.
As our Revelation 7:9 Task Force calls the EPC to consider how we reach the neighborhoods immediately around our churches, our church planters are leading the way in helping the EPC reflect “every nation, tribe, people, and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.”
EPC church planters are going to communities with resources, and with no resources. Wow!
3. Socialize before you memorialize
At my home church, we are going through a significant process of realigning our ministry model for missional effectiveness. One of our consultants used a great phrase that we repeat often: “Socialize before you memorialize.” His point was this: before you launch some big marketing campaign, restructure your Session or staff organization chart, or endorse some major ministry initiative, socialize things first. See how and where people naturally congregate, lead, live, and breath. Then, as you see the healthier way a community or individual naturally lives out the kingdom of God, memorialize it in architecture, imagery, new staff design, or more.
The church planters are a society of friends, co-laborers, champions, and band of brothers (and sisters!) where the action is happening. As a non-church planter—but a huge champion—I stand on the outside but want to be on the inside where God is doing big things.
4. Networking works
Did you know we have nine church-planting networks already up and running in the EPC? Presbytery-wide church planting work has its pros and cons. In the meantime, presbyteries have endorsed these metro-area networks of mostly (but not exclusively) EPC churches to tackle the task of church replication in their city. Check out www.epc.org/churchplanting and learn more about these networks and their contributions to the EPC church planting effort.
5. More, more, more
New to the retreat this year was a workshop solely for senior pastors who want to take their church from no action to becoming a parent, partner, or patron of church planting. I loved meeting these pastors who have a passion to bring a church-planting vision to their flock!
Mike Moses, Lead Pastor of the Lake Forest family of churches in the Charlotte, N.C., area, taught the workshop and helped these pastors consider the opportunities, costs, pitfalls, and issues with doing church planting well.
Finally, here are two statistics that are worthy of our consideration:
- A church that plants another church within the first five years of its founding is statistically likely to double in size themselves.
- Churches that plant other churches increase in their worship attendance and missions giving more than those that don’t.
The question then becomes: Why isn’t your church planting a daughter church?
Case Thorp is a Teaching Elder in the Presbytery of Florida and the Caribbean. He serves as Senior Associate Pastor of Evangelism for First Presbyterian Church in Orlando.