Territorialism, Elephants, and Church Planting
Does it make sense to plant new churches that are close in proximity to one another?
Does it make sense to plant a new congregation that is in the same community as its sending church?
Is this wise?
Won't these churches be competing to reach the same people?
Couldn't this potentially hurt both churches?
Do you fear that folks from these two congregations may feel the need to compete with one another?
These are good questions that I have been asked by other pastors and friends over the years. Perhaps you have too.
Now, the way one might answer these types of questions does depend on the particular context you find yourself in. For example, if you live in a small, rural community of 400-500 people, it might not make a ton of sense to plant a completely new congregation two streets over. In fact, to be blunt, that would probably be a really dumb move. In this type of community, it might be much more strategic and make much more sense to put your energy and resources toward leading and growing one healthy church. In a small town, like this, perhaps trying to reach different neighborhoods in this community through the multiplication of new community groups/missional communities would be far more effective in making disciples than planting an entirely new congregation.
However, if you live in a larger town or city, like me, I believe planting churches near one another is not only more effective, not only more fun, not only more sustainable, but both wise and God glorifying. Let me briefly share two reasons why I believe this.
Reason #1: We need more churches, not less. Living in Denver, where we have a population of 4-5 million people, 85-90% of whom are not Christ-followers, there are many men, women, and children to reach with the Gospel...far more than a handful of churches can reach. In fact, we need hundreds and hundreds more churches in our city! Within Denver, I live and minister in the Littleton/Englewood community. We have roughly 80,000 people just in this community. And as is the case with Denver as a whole, we need many more Gospel-centered churches in the Littleton/Englewood area. We have many people to reach. We need more churches, not less.
Reason #2: There's no place for territorialism in church planting. While some churches get territorial about their church, feeling threatened by other congregations in their community (sad but true), we need more and more churches that don't. I am so thankful for many amazing congregations in our city that despise territorialism, just as we do at Calvary. Radical cooperation between churches is needed more than ever. In fact, this type of "church to church" cooperation is a core, convictional value shared not only by myself and the other pastor/elders at our Calvary Churches, but by many in the Gen-X and Millennial generations who are now members of or leading congregations throughout our country and world. This is a generational value that differs greatly from some of what came out of the church growth movement in the 70's, 80's, 90's and beyond. The value of building THE Kingdom rather than MY kingdom ("my church's" kingdom, that is) is a huge value in younger generations and in many of the fastest growing, most healthy church planting networks. In fact, and much has been written on this, church plants are far healthier when they are working tightly with other churches. Not when they are trying to do it all on their own. Not when they are in competition with other congregations. Jesus calls us to work together to make Him famous and it should be a joy to do so! No lone rangers here. As both individuals and churches, we need one another. The mission field is too hard.
This is precisely why our very first church plant out of Calvary Englewood was Calvary Littleton...right down the street! At first, some people thought we were nuts. They wondered why we would plant a church so close to the sending church. It's because, for us, the value of working together to reach people is stronger than trying to do ministry all on our own. We can do more together when we are in closer proximity. This is true as individual Christians and it is true as congregations. This type of humble cooperation for the sake of the Gospel and the Kingdom has been a huge ingredient the Lord has used in bringing health, life and vitality to both Calvary Englewood and Calvary Littleton. Again, when churches can set aside the sin of territorialism, it is amazing to watch what God does for His glory!
In my mind, churches that are territorial, that feel threatened by other churches, are the equivalent of a group of ants fighting over who gets to eat the elephant. Uh, sorry guys, but that elephant is pretty darn big. Territorialism in the church and in church planting is flat out silly. Crazy. Foolish. We have a lot of work to do. We must be in this thing together. We must be WITH each other and FOR each other as congregations!
The bottom line is we as churches are BETTER together! Millions in our city and around the world need to be reached with the Gospel. One church can't do it. We need different churches made up of, and reaching, different types of people. This is a good thing. This is a beautiful thing. This is a God-honoring thing.
So, let's put territorialism to death. Let's plant churches together. We have an elephant waiting for us.