Biblical Principles of Church Planting

by Steven Shepard

“I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18b)

Church Planting International is dedicated to the planting and multiplying of churches around the world. But what does it mean to plant churches and how does it happen? In order to understand the answer to these questions, we must first understand what a church is. The Church is not a building. Nor is it a meeting of people who gather on Sunday. The word for “church” in the New Testament is “ecclesia” which means “called out ones.” The Church is the community of believers from all nations which God has called out of the world to be His people. It is the Lord who calls His people, who changes their hearts, and who indwells them by His Spirit. Jesus said, “I will build My church.” It is Jesus who builds His Church, and it is certain that He will do it. This has always been His purpose throughout history. Jesus loved His Church from all eternity. He came to give His life for His Church. And He is coming again to receive her to Himself. (Acts 2:39; Romans 1:5-7; Revelation 17:14)

When Jesus said that He would build His Church, He was referring to the universal, invisible Church which only He can see. Only believers that are in communion with Christ are part of this Church. The word church, however, is also used to refer to local congregations which are visible to others. Unlike the invisible, universal Church, local churches are usually made up of both converted and unconverted people. Church planting has to do with establishing these local congregations of believers. Local churches are the primary means that Christ uses to build His universal Church, which is composed of only true believers.

Here are some important principles about the planting of biblical local churches:

1. A biblical local church is simply a congregation that believes and proclaims the true gospel. The gospel is the message about the person and work of Christ as Savior and Lord, and His promise of forgiveness of sins for all who believe in Him.  (1 Corinthians 15:1-8; Philippians 1:27)

2. The planting of biblical churches is 100% the work of Christ, but His people are used as instruments in the process.

3. Biblical local churches do not result from man-made methods, such as appealing to “felt needs,” or entertainment. They are not the result of getting people to do certain external works such as praying a prayer or being baptized. Rather, biblical churches are the result of the inward work of the Spirit that alone can change the heart. (John 3:5-7; 6:44)

4. God’s method for establishing churches is for His people to proclaim the biblical gospel, through which God inwardly and spiritually calls people to Himself by His Spirit. (2 Thessalonians 2:13-14; 1 Peter 1:23-25)

5. In addition to proclaiming the gospel, those who serve God in the establishment of local churches should give themselves to prayer, worship, acts of compassion, and the love of the brethren. (Acts 2:42-47)

6. In establishing local churches, leadership is key. There must be godly and humble leaders who have a proper understanding of God’s message and a God-given ability to proclaim it. With these kinds of leaders, churches will be firmly established. Without them, they will fall apart. (Ephesians 4:11-12)

7. We must never lose site that the purpose of local churches is the calling forth of Jesus’ universal Church, and that this Church will be a victorious Church. Jesus said, “The gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” Hades refers to the realm of the dead. The gates of death did not prevail over Jesus and will not prevail over the church that Jesus is building. Local churches may come and go, but not one member in Jesus’ Church, whom He has called, will perish. (John 6:39; 10:27-29; Rom 8:30)