PlanterMatch: No One Plants Alone
No one should plant alone. Church planting is one of the most difficult and lonely callings there is. Over and over I meet aspiring church planters who have a heart to plant but are isolated. They’re not being sent out by a parent church and don’t have a band of brothers and sisters to walk with them. They have little or no awareness of the vast army of church planting networks and denominations eager to partner with them in starting a new gospel outpost. It’s as if a thirsty man doesn’t realize he’s standing atop of a deep water well.
On the other hand, there are over 300 church planting networks and denominations that play a crucial role in accelerating church planting. They want to expand their Kingdom impact by creating a thriving community and ecosystem for their planters. But they also find themselves spending a fair amount of time with aspiring planters who ultimately aren’t a good fit for their theology or model or ethos. So there’s a lot of fruitless first dates. At the same time, when planters realize how many options there are, they can get paralyzed by the sheer number of choices.
What if we could help each Paul find their Barnabas? What if there was a way that these disconnected planters could find a church planting organization that prayed, trained, and walked with them? What if there was an eHarmony for church planters?
PlanterMatch was birthed out of the conviction that helping planters find the right partner(s) to plant with is essential to multiplying churches and to ensuring the health and fruitfulness of both the planter and the plant.
It Takes a Village
We’ve all preached sermons on biblical community, so PlanterMatch helps ensure that our planters are experiencing it as part of their planting process. To paraphrase Genesis 2:18, “It is not good for the planter to be alone.” Jesus sent out the disciples two by two, never alone. Paul had Barnabas and Timothy. Priscilla had Aquila. If we want to plant churches that model biblical community and missional impact, we need to be creating that kind of community for the planters themselves.
So PlanterMatch helps match planters with organizations based on three criteria – geography, theology, and methodology.
Geography is listed first because connecting planters to organizations with a heart for particular areas matters. God doesn’t call planters to a generic call; God calls them to specific people and places. So finding a match often starts with knowing where you’re called to plant – whether that’s an urban, suburban, or rural context. Finding a theological match means that you can find a tribe that shares your convictions regarding your theological or denominational tradition, and stances regarding women in ministry and sexual ethics. Lastly, we match planters based on the church planting model and worship style they feel called to.
While there’s still a relational chemistry that really matters in finding an organization where a planter really feels a sense of belonging, if we can help them find the right geography, theology, and methodology, then there’s a good chance for a fit.
Church Planting Organizations
There are typically three kinds of church planting organizations – denominations, networks, and support organizations. Denominations tend to be strong at bringing a historical grounding and theological tradition, potential funding, and organizational oversight. Networks (which are essentially parachurch organizations) tend to bring deep expertise in planting since that is typically their sole focus, while giving planters a safe place to learn and grow. Specialized or support organizations tend to provide resources in one specific area such as support raising or project management services leading up to launch and beyond.
Because each type of organization brings unique strengths, I encourage planters to be “promiscuous” in the sense that they partner with not just one but two or even organizations. Even planters who are part of a strong denomination may be geographically isolated from other planters in that denomination. They still want and need a local fellowship of planters to learn with and draw support from.
Fuller felt like an ideal place to create PlanterMatch because we are multi-denominational and international. We have a missional theology that affirms the significance of church planting, convening power to bring lots of great organizations together, and terrific IT folks who created the back-end technology for PlanterMatch. We wanted PlanterMatch to be global because God is working in church plants around the world, and Fuller sends its alums to so many of these countries. In the future, we envision expanding PlanterMatch to connect planters to internships or residencies, and maybe even to match donors to church planters through a crowdfunding process.
The rate of church planting needs to double or triple in order to keep pace with the churches closing, the increase of “nones”, and the population growth. We are hopeful that God will use PlanterMatch to catalyze life-changing relationships for planters that result in hundreds or thousands of new churches.
Soli Deo Gloria!
Len Tang is the director of the Church Planting Initiative at Fuller Theological Seminary. Len received a B.S. from UC Berkeley and an MDiv from Fuller Seminary. He has planted two churches: Cedar Creek Church in 2004 outside of Portland, Oregon, and Missio Community Church in 2018 in Pasadena, California.