In March 2020, Daniel Yang (director of the Send Network) stated that we need to net 1800 new
churches in America per year just to keep up with the population growth alone. 1 Currently, the IMB
estimates that there are just over 3000 people groups with no indigenous church of adequate size
to evangelize their people group without outside assistance. 2 As a result of these statistics, most
mission sending agencies list “church planting” as part of their mission, or their process, or their
core values. But the words “church planting” are never found in the Bible. The goal of this article is
to clarify the link between Jesus’ final commands to His disciples and the pursuit of church planting.
The Great Commission is a command to the church.
Matthew 28:18-20; And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (English Standard Version)
In these verses, Jesus commissioned the eleven apostles. He did not give this mission to only one person; He gave it to a group, a fellowship. Once Jesus rose into heaven, the eleven apostles were left to fellowship together– to study God’s Word, teach the Word, baptize new believers, pray and encourage one another. This is the same group of apostles with whom Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper before his crucifixion and then commanded them, “Do this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:19) All of these actions are a function of the global church and fellowship of believers. These purposes were direct commands given to the apostles who became the leaders of the church after Christ’s ascension. And the church continues with these aspirations in mind.
The members of the church are the hands and feet that will continue Jesus’ mission. They are the ones who will make disciples as Jesus did, will baptize new believers as Jesus did, teach God’s commands as Jesus did, and live life alongside the new believers. Without the church, the Great Commission cannot be fulfilled.
The apostolic example is church planting.
As the apostles carried out this mission throughout the book of Acts, they consistently proclaimed that Christ is indeed the prophesied Messiah. He willingly sacrificed for their sins and was resurrected by God, exalted, and given all authority in heaven and earth. Whenever people repent and believe in this message, they gather into fellowships to study the Word, to pray and encourage one another, and to practice the ordinances of baptism and communion. The apostles acted as elders in the early church, providing leadership and discipline.
- Acts 1:12-16 – The apostles gathered with about 120 others to pray and meditate on God’s Word. That was the first thing they did after watching Jesus ascend into heaven.
- Acts 2:1 – Once again, they were all gathered in one place, fellowshipping together. After the awesome events of the Pentecost, the apostles were asked, “Brothers, what shall we do?” In 2:41-47, in response to the apostles’ instructions, those who repented and believed were baptized and counted. They were devoted to the apostles’ teaching, the fellowship of the believers, the breaking of bread, and prayer. “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
- Acts 15:1-35 – When debate arose within the church at Antioch, the matter was brought before the apostles and the elders of the church in Jerusalem. They made a decision based on Biblical truths and disseminated that decision to the global church.
We rarely see examples of one person coming to salvation on their own. Instead, we see that the church is the means God uses to promote consistent teaching, sustainability, and reaching out to neighboring communities.
Paul’s example is church planting.
Unlike the apostles, Paul was not present when the Great Commission was received. However, upon his conversion, he began executing the Great Commission as if it had been given directly to him. Just like the other apostles, Paul consistently gathered those who repented and believed the gospel message into local fellowships. In his letters, he taught the Word and encouraged the practice of the ordinances. We also see Paul appointing elders in every local church to provide leadership and discipline.
- Acts 9:28-31 – Paul preached boldly in Jerusalem; the church had peace and was being built up.
- Acts 13:13-49 – Paul preaches at Antioch in Pisidia and the Word of the Lord spread throughout the whole region.
- 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 – Paul taught the Corinthians that by baptism they entered into a fellowship of believers.
- Ephesians 4:11-16 – Paul explained how the different gifts were given to different members of the church to build up the body of Christ, to grow and equip each other, to teach and evangelize.
- Titus 1:5-9 – Paul left Titus in Crete to put the local church there in order. He appointed elders for each local assembly so that sound doctrine would be maintained.
Everywhere Paul went, local fellowships were built. In Romans 15:23, Paul goes so far as to claim that “I no longer have any room for work in these regions.” He trusted that the fellowships he had started, encouraged, and taught to multiply had made the gospel available to everyone in the Roman Empire.
Christians cannot survive long without a church.
In Matthew 16:18, Jesus states that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against the church.” But without that church community, a single Christian will not last long. No Christian has been given every spiritual gift! To steal Paul’s metaphor from 1 Corinthians 12, a Christian living apart from the church is like an arm living apart from the rest of its body. With modern technology, we can sustain it for a few hours, but not forever. Hebrews 10:24-25 commands Christians to meet together, encourage one another, and to stir up one another to love and good works. Believers must fellowship with one another in order to live out the commands of Jesus!
The Church functions as a group of witnesses who will outlive any man. Her mission is to make disciples of Christ. Acts 1:8 demands that the church be a witness “to the end of the earth.” Until all the unreached language groups of the world know and worship God, more churches must be planted. More workers must go to proclaim the gospel, baptize new believers, disciple young believers, and organize church fellowships that will sustain the new believers long after the workers have left. Healthy and reproducing churches outlive any man, any heresy, and any persecution. We stand in a long line of churches and church planters who have gone before us.3
Revelation demands a church from every tribe.
Revelation 7:9-10 shows us what the completed task looks like: “and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
The end goal is that the one true God may be known and worshiped by everyone on earth. To accomplish that, witnesses will have gone to the ends of the earth. Every people group will have access to a local church fellowship that accurately presents the gospel to them in a way they understand. Revelation promises that this time will occur! This is the culmination of the command in Acts 1, the culmination of the Great Commission in Matthew, and the culmination of God’s covenant with Abram in Genesis. This is why God created mankind, that He may be glorified! This is the great work of the Church.
This is the goal believers are working toward, but there is still much work to be done. Today, there are thousands of unreached language groups who have no access to a viable church. In order for those tribes to worship and glorify God for eternity, the gospel must be proclaimed by the global church to the ends of the earth. (Romans 10:14-17) In order to reach unreached language groups, the global church must continue to send out church planters who will establish local churches. This is the end goal and the Great Commission.
- As Frank Houghton wrote in 1931, “We bear the torch that flaming fell from the hands of those who gave their lives proclaiming that Jesus died and rose. Ours is the same commission, the same glad message ours!” https://hymnary.org/text/facing_a_task_unfinished
Name withheld for security purposes
Alumni of Radius International
This blog post was written by one of our Alumni based on what they learned while at Radius.