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Developing a Church Planting DNA

The coolest thing about 1984 wasn’t just that I was born, but that it was the year of the greatest comedy-horror film of all time: Gremlins. In case you haven’t seen it, the story begins with a man who buys a strange creature called a mogwai that he names Gizmo. Along with the purchase come some important rules: never let Gizmo come in contact with water, and never feed Gizmo after midnight. Of course, Gizmo eventually does get wet and spawns five more mogwai. Then those mogwai are given a bucket of leftover KFC, and they chrysalise into the blockbuster-worthy little monsters called Gremlins.

What could this possibly have to do with church planting? Well, in short, blockbuster-worthy things don’t just happen. Just as the mogwai had to be given certain things to multiply into something memorable, churches must cultivate a particular DNA to multiply themselves. If a church is to be endeared as a "sending church," then it must intentionally nourish itself with the right “water” and “food.” The question is, What exactly is that water and food? Five things come to mind.

Develop a Priority Rather than a Forecast

This may not make sense, but the most likely church to develop a church planting DNA is . . . a church plant. That’s not simply because it is giving birth to every part of its DNA, but also because it can decide early on to make church planting a priority. The mentality of many churches is to forecast church planting—“We can do that when we have a certain number of members, or a certain amount of budget, or a certain medley of staff.” Even though that may be true, and even appear to be a wise management of resources, it makes the church growing itself the priority instead of the church multiplying itself. The churches I know of that have the richest church planting DNA are church plants that have already planted a church within the first several years.

Develop a Hermeneutic Rather than a Preference

The lens through which we see the Christian life is our “hermeneutic”—how we interpret the Christian life. In order to foster healthy church planting, the proper hermeneutic must be in place and inform all aspects of the church. You might expect me to suggest that the proper hermeneutic is evangelism and mission; after all, having that as the focus would naturally lead to church planting, right? However, I would argue that the most biblical hermeneutic is actually union with Christ. The reason is not simply from the cause of biblical theology, but also from the effect of such a hermeneutic. If union with Christ is chief, then it holds our ecclesiology and missiology in tension rather than putting them in competition with one another. Healthy church planting requires a high view of God’s church and a high view of God’s mission. The only way to hold those views is to have a high view of Christ.

Develop an Identity Rather than an Activity

One of my favorite exercises to do with church leaders is to look at well-known missional passages of Scripture (such as the Great Commission) and ask, “Is this about identity or activity?” Inevitably there are hearty shouts of “Activity!” Mission, after all, is about getting out of the pew and into the neighborhood, right? But consider how the Great Commission both begins and ends: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore . . . And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt 28:18, 20). Apart from the mantle of Christ’s authority that is placed upon us, and apart from the promise of his ongoing presence, we have no right or hope in his mission. That speaks to our identity in Christ. Teaching the church about their role in making disciples and planting churches should always begin with their unique, inherent identity in Christ. Doing so will help every single member of the church—not just core team members—see their part to play in church planting.

Develop an Antioch Rather than a Babel

The church in the New Testament that gives us the clearest sense of a sending church is that of Antioch. Acts 11–15 describes (not necessarily prescribes) how a small, Spirit-filled church can multiply and change the world. If we were to look for a contrast to Antioch, the most informative one is not Corinth, or Ephesus of Revelation 2, but Babel of Genesis 11. There the people are concerned with building a tower that reaches the heavens and making a name for themselves. Unto what end? To resist God’s command to be fruitful and multiply throughout the earth. When a church is compelled to make a name for itself, it is unlikely to plant healthy churches. Launching more services, building bigger buildings, and increasing the budget will be the concerns at hand. This is not to say that churches should remain small, only that church planting should be its sacrificial offering, in the same way it was for Antioch to send their best leaders.

Develop a Culture Rather than a Ministry

One of my favorite analogies for developing a church planting DNA comes from my coffee-loving friend, Larry McCrary. In his article “Slow-Brew Missions,” he says that focusing only on building a missional ministry is like drinking espresso—it’s quick, automated, and packs only a short-lasting punch. But seeking to build a missional culture is like drinking slow-brew, pour-over coffee—it takes time, it draws out the full flavor of the coffee beans, and it has a long-lasting effect. Practically, this looks like “dripping” God’s mission into every facet of the church. Prayer and casting vision. Vision trips and vetting partners. Heralding vocation as mission. Teaching missiology and offering local “mission trips” for every age group in the church. Taking small groups through Tradecraft: For the Church on Mission. In other words, drip, drip, drip.

After all, nothing this good just happens.

This article originally appeared on Great Commission Collective under the title "5 Ways to Develop a Church Planting DNA." It has been republished here with the permission of the author.


Bradley is a missiologist, pastor, and trainer. He has been at Upstream since 2014, producing blog and social media content, authoring The Sending Church Defined and Receiving Sent Ones During Reentry: The Challenges of Returning "Home" and How Churches Can Help, and serving as a board member. He is also the lead pastor at Antioch Church. As a former global Sent One, Bradley reflects on missions and formation at Broken Missiology.


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