Here are four stages of rural church planting that I've been thinking through and developing over the past several months. Although I find it hard to confine ministries to pigeon holes, and the lines are often overlapping, most church plants will progress in a similar manner.
1. Upward Stage: This is the vision stage--where it all begins. The upward stage includes the survey of the field, developing the vision and goals, raising support, and moving to the field. It begins with the call of God to plant a church and ends with establishing a residence on location. In agricultural terms this would be parallel to tilling the field.
2. Forward Stage: This is the action stage. It is a move from planning to planting. This is time when the first seeds of the gospel are sown. Relationships are built, Bible studies are held, sinners are saved. If the first stage was to design the ministry, this stage is to deliver the message.
3. Inward Stage: This is the focus stage. Here, we're moving from planning and planting...to people. New believers are growing in grace and maturity as they're watered by the word of God. Discipleship. Leadership is being identified and developed. Practical considerations (such as a meeting place) to a growing body are being considered. Biblical community is happening in a scriptural sense (think Acts 2). Often, this stage is a prolonged and difficult process. It takes time for the crop to grow and mature.
4. Outward Stage: This is the intention stage. We are beginning to bring this process full-circle. Now, as a functional body of believers, we are looking at our purpose or intention...duplication. The expansion of the gospel is moving believers to new areas where the harvest will continue. There is an emphasis on moving the message from Jerusalem to 'the ends of the earth'. Faithful followers of Christ are being developed and sent.
Each of us probably has a favorite area of church planting. They're all important, but I like the outward stage best. I enjoy forming relationships with people, sharing the gospel, and getting people on-board. Where do you best see God using you in this process? Are you the analytical type that enjoys thinking through strategies and developing vision? Or, do you like the long days of developing leadership and unity in the body? Where are you now (as a church), and what are you planning to accomplish this year? One thing I've noticed after 15 years of church planting is that one of the stages is not called the Neutral Stage. We're always going somewhere!