A “Church Planter” is, quite simply, someone who has responded to God’s call to plant, or start a Church. And although one would think it is obvious, I think I need to also say that a “Church Plant” is actually a Church. Not “almost a Church,” not a “wannabe” Church, not a “one day you might become a real Church,” Church – but a real, live Church.
And because a Church Plant is a Church, a Church Planter is a Pastor.
But aside from the newness of the church being led and gathered, there is no Biblical distinction* between a Pastor who is leading a new church and a Pastor who is leading an established church. Both Pastors, in the end, have the same basic responsibility to lead their churches to love God and People while fulfilling the Great Commission of reaching, baptizing and teaching.
Even the strategies of one can apply to the other. The biggest difference between the two is that the church planter must be active in gathering the initial members of the church or launch team. Aside from that, the differences (in substance, anyway) are that one is newer than the other and that one may meet in a temporary, mobile meeting space.
Once the church in Ephesus or Corinth or anywhere else in Scripture was established, it was then referred to as “the Church in” wherever – not “the Church Plant” in wherever. I’m not trying to “split hairs,” here, I’m only trying to say that a new church has all of the DNA of an established church – it’s just newer.
It has nothing to do with how small or large it is. I’m aware of established churches who have fewer people gathering on the weekend than some “church plants” had before they closed their “doors” and moved on.
The truth is, all churches, large or small, established or new, should be doing the kinds of things that most church plants are attempting to do: Honor God by joining Him in His mission of reaching people in their communities and world with the life changing message of Jesus Christ.
So to everyone who supports a Church Planter, first of all, God bless you for understanding how important it is to start new churches. But second, understand that you are supporting a real Pastor and a real Church.
And if you are a Church Planter, see yourself as a Pastor who is leading a real Church. It’s not a club. It’s not a cool new ministry fad (although it may be cool). It’s not a stepping stone out of Youth Ministry. It’s a Church. And as the Church Planter, you are the Pastor.
That said, I do need to add that although Church Plants are real Churches and Church Planters are real Pastors, based on the best research across denominations and geographical areas, there are definitely some qualities and traits that need to be developed or sharpened if a church planter is going to do well over the long haul. These initial skills related to getting started are slightly different than leading an established Church and Ed Stetzer discusses several of these issues that Church Planters face here.
* Side note: I understand the apostolic role of the missionary church starter. I’m referring here to the role of the pastor who is leading once the church has started, regardless of the person’s ultimate role or gifting. Once the church has started having worship services (and possibly even before that) and that person is leading and teaching the congregation, they are serving in the role of pastor.