Dear Atheist Church Planter
Welcome to the world of church planting. When we at Christian Church Planters Inc heard that you were getting on board the church planting train we decided to offer you some useful tips. After all, we’ve been doing this for some 2000 years and we’ve grown from a bunch of people in a room, to billions of people, millions of churches, and a way of understanding the world that has gone global. So, we offer our services from a position of actually knowing what we are talking about.
Of course we recognise that there are some differences between our two groups, not least of all our belief in a personal, all-powerful and revelatory deity, and your abhorrence of this perspective. And whilst we recognise that the dislike of a deity is, how shall we say, more anti-theism than atheism – in that the idea of a god angers you – we are still confident that we help be of assistance in your endeavours. To that end, in this, our first correspondence, we offer you five tried and tested tips for planting a church.
1. Identify Your Target Audience. It’s frustrating when you are trying to pitch to a saturated market. When we plant churches we are looking to plant in areas of greatest need. Places in which there are few, if any, Christians, or at least few people who practice Christianity. In fact, that’s more it. Many claim an allegiance to faith, but never practice it, a fact your very own Richard Dawkins has pointed out about his home country, England. Whilst, at first, this sounds encouraging, it is not as helpful as it sounds. With literally millions of people living as practical atheists, regardless of what they claim to believe, your problem will be to convince them that they need to add an event into their lives that makes no difference to their current way of life, and which may even suck up more of their precious time, for no palpable benefit.
2. Find a Good Motivator. So you have your crowd. That’s just the start. How how are you going to keep your crowd? How are you going to motivate them to belong? Through a series of trial and error we have found that grace is a fantastic motivator. Now there are plenty of churches that attempt to motivate through guilt, but if our aim is for people to be conformed to the image and likeness of Christ, FIRST and, as a happy byproduct, to grow in commitment and concern for his people SECOND, then we must be driven by grace. You, however, and it is a weakness of your model, have no such luxury, but then again since you have no desire to see people conformed to the likeness of Jesus, then guilt is an excellent motivator. A word of caution; guilt tends to burn people out, so change up your message from time to time, as this allows guilt to sneak under the radar.
3. Gather Around Someone Greater Than You. We have Jesus. We gather around him. In fact, community is simply a byproduct of our greater focus – Jesus. And to be honest, he is pretty impressive. I mean, have you read the documents? Community is an abstract ideal without a centripetal force drawing it together. Some churches have attempted to do this in the past, leaving Jesus and his gospel out of the picture, and creating what we call, “Donut Theology” – a way of doing church with a hole in the middle. People eventually tire of it, so if you can find someone more magnificent than you, someone eternal perhaps, or who rose from the dead and now rules the universe, I would suggest that person be your focus. Otherwise it’s you!
4. Conflict Resolution. All church plants face conflict in their ranks at some stage. It’s just the way it is when you are what we like to term “sinners”. Don’t kid yourself, with the type of crowd you will be attempting to reach – middle-class, well-educated, white people used to getting their own way – conflict will not be far below the surface. We have found that the most effective way to resolve conflict is to point people to Jesus and his loving, serving, humble, sacrificial death on the cross on behalf of those who not only didn’t love him, but actively hated him. We have seen sworn enemies embrace on the basis of this truth, so it’s an effective strategy. Apart from that, I have nothing.
5. Avoid the Christian Bookshop Bargain Bin. Just a final note, the 90s are not coming back. Having seen your church planting efforts so far, there is a strong impression at Christian Church Planters Inc that you are utilising our older material because it is cost effective. We suggest you update your reading list and avoid books with pastel coloured covers.
Looking forward to seeing you at a church planting conference one day.
Yours with utmost sincerity
Christian Church Planters Inc