Planting churches

Planting Churches, Together

Partners with the President with Scott Sterner, Kyle Eaton and Andrew Ward.

“Autonomous but interdependent.” This is how the Evangelical Free Church of America’s Articles of Incorporation describe the congregations within our association. Most of us understand autonomy—we are Free Church people who appreciate congregational governance—but in what ways are we interdependent? Where and how is this interconnectedness formed and expressed for God’s glory? 

One of the best places to see the interdependence of EFCA churches is within church multiplication. When churches are planted, support is essential for them to thrive. Without support, they too often become isolated, struggle and, sadly, close their doors. Support plays a significant role when we multiply transformational churches.  

The strongest and most impactful support comes from local churches. Church planters and church plants have an increased chance of success when local churches come alongside them, providing financial, relational and spiritual support. When local churches create a valuable relationship with the church plants they send, not only does the church plant thrive, but the local churches benefit as well. This is a clear example of interdependence and partnership in the gospel. 

To help unpack this, I’ve invited Scott Sterner, director of operations of ReachNetwork, to describe the importance of partnering and sending churches within our association. And, to hear more from sending church pastors and church planters, I’ve invited Kyle Eaton of Rock Hill Community Church (EFCA) from Duluth, Minnesota and Andrew Ward of Arise Church (EFCA) in Cloquet, Minnesota, to talk with me about their experience in church planting. Several years ago, Rock Hill sent Arise Church and have seen God’s blessing on that partnership. I encourage you to take a moment to read Scott’s article and watch the video interview

Kevin Kompelien 

EFCA President 

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After planting our church, we vowed that we would never do it that way again. Our planting call was born in a season when planting was fashionable. Planting networks were filled with stories of maverick planters who’d left for their city with nothing but the call of God and an iron will to turn back the darkness. And so, we began our planting journey with a similar sense of resolve and purpose. Though we received the blessing and support of the EFCA, we parachuted into our community with no sending church and only a few local acquaintances. While God was gracious to establish and multiply our work, many of our scars and regrets from those years cemented our conviction that orphan planting doesn’t work! Our new commitment was to a family multiplication model; a model we believed would help us create a healthier and more sustainable culture of multiplication and growth.   

Our story is not unusual. While it’s true that qualified planters will continue to come from faithful seminaries and network recruiting, one of the primary indicators of success for a planter is not their formal education or network affiliations but their deep and meaningful connection to a family of sending and partnering churches. The urgent need for family models of multiplication has become even more urgent as most Bible colleges and seminaries have struggled with continuing declines in enrollment.  

Planting networks were filled with stories of maverick planters who’d left for their city with nothing but the call of God and an iron will to turn back the darkness. And so, we began our planting journey with a similar sense of resolve and purpose.

With traditional pools struggling to meet the growing need for missional leaders, churches and institutions are being forced to revisit with fresh eyes the ancient rhythms of the early church whose evangelism, discipleship and sending was not outsourced but internal, not relegated to specialists but embraced by every disciple-multiplying leader. In light of this new reality, seminaries and associations are increasingly committed to answering the question, “How can we better come alongside churches to help them to flourish in their call to multiply disciples, leaders and churches?” ReachNetwork, the EFCA’s church planting ministry, is committed to answering this question. Here is how we’re doing it.    

Over the last several years, the ReachNetwork team has worked with partners and teams to build and implement new pathways designed to help planters flourish in the difficult task of church planting. These pathways include assessment, training, coaching, care and establishing. Each pathway is continually developed and refined by a team of staff and leaders intent upon providing what planters need to flourish, no matter their context or culture.  

The essential shift we’ve fully embraced is that the church planter can no longer be our primary focus. For the sake of Christ’s mission and His kingdom’s advance in this world, our primary focus has now become the multiplying church! Borrowing from the family metaphor, we now recognize that the path to a flourishing child is not their connection to an institution, but their presence and participation in a healthy and flourishing family.  

For this reason, our growing and dynamic pathways are now being released into the hands of every district and every multiplying church. Multiplying church leaders are now…   

  • Invited to participate in our planter assessments 
  • Welcomed to use our training cohorts for their own internships and residencies 
  • Encouraged to license their own planter coaches through our coach training pathway 
  • Supported in their responsibility to provide quality support and care for their daughter churches and their leaders 

You might ask, “How can our church participate in this family of multiplying churches?” The answer: To assess and to grow.  

Assessment requires you to identify where your church is in the church multiplication pipeline. Is your church a cooperating church that gives to the mission of the EFCA and your district, a partnering church that gives time and resources to support church planting, a sending church that raises up and sends out a church planting team or a multiplying church whose very culture and priority is the ongoing multiplication of disciples, leaders and churches (see diagram below).  

Church multiplication pipeline graphic

Once you have assessed where you are in the multiplication pipeline, the next question to answer is, “What is your next step of growth?” If you are a cooperating church, this may mean you set aside money and resources toward helping a church plant in your region. If you are a partnering church, this may mean you develop and host a church planting residency. If you are a sending church, this may mean you refocus your vision and strategy to become a network, a family of multiplying churches. ReachNetwork is building pathways to help churches progress through this pipeline. These pathways include:  

  • Discovery and Development – a pathway helps you identify and develop potential leaders, missionaries and planters within your church.  
  • Transformational Churches – a pathway which helps your church progress in your goal to multiply disciples, leaders and churches. 

Our transformational church team recently launched “Cultivate Cohorts” as our first formal resource focused upon helping your church and teams identify your missional strategy, develop a disciple-making pathway and build a vision frame that will empower your missional focus and future.  

This last year, our first cohort in Northern California helped participating churches reinvigorate their missional strategy by clearly identifying who they are trying to reach and how to reach them. The experience refreshed their vision and sharpened their strategy for transforming their community with the gospel! 

And this is just the beginning. The work God is doing in and through the EFCA will, by His grace, continue to build His church and advance His mission through the multiplying of transformational churches among all people.

Additional developments in these pathways will include new resources and training for internships and residencies, for leadership pipelines and for the development of a network identity. Our dream is to become a network of networks, a family of families who are thriving and multiplying disciples, leaders and churches locally and around the world. 

And this is just the beginning. The work God is doing in and through the EFCA will, by His grace, continue to build His church and advance His mission through the multiplying of transformational churches among all people. 

The question for you to consider is what is your next step in this mission? If you are ready to get involved as a partnering, sending or movement church, please click on the link below so we can connect you to the resources to activate your congregation in growing to become a multiplying family of disciples, leaders and churches! 

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Learn more about how your local church can become a partnering and sending church.

Give to the EFCA to support church multiplication.

Scott Sterner

Scott Sterner is the church multiplication catalyst for the Forest Lakes District of the EFCA and the church multiplication systems catalyst for the EFCA. He lives in Madison, Wisconsin.

Kevin Kompelien

President, EFCA

Kevin Kompelien is president of the Evangelical Free Church of America, serving in this role since June 2015. He previously served more than 20 years as a local pastor in the EFCA and then nine years as international leader of the Africa division with EFCA ReachGlobal. He and his wife, Becky, are members of Hillside EFC in San Jose, California.

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