USA: Planting churches that follow the New Testament pattern

BILD desires to see churches strengthened and growing around the world. While we partner with international church leaders to help establish and expand their networks in 43 countries around the world, we also steward church planting initiatives in North America.

In the past year, BILD has introduced an accelerated church planting initiative for those looking to plant churches that look like the early churches of the New Testament. Potential church planters were invited to a Come and See weekend in November 2023 and again during our Global Summit in February 2024 to participate in the Ames-Des Moines CityChurch network (ADMCC).

ADMCC is a network of 19 house churches in central Iowa that is modeled after the complex network of churches seen in the New Testament and patterned after the Book of Acts. For the church leaders visiting, it was a time to make connections, build relationships and ask questions as they pursue the next steps in planting churches in their own communities.

While only a handful of leaders were invited in November, a broader group was present at the Global Summit. Randy Beckett leads BILD’s North American partnerships, and said the idea is that events like this would be held quarterly in order for more potential church planters to network, make connections, and get the coaching they need to strategize a course of action to make the most impact in their ministries.

During these events, families from ADMCC opened their homes to visiting leaders, a key biblical principle of practicing hospitality. Visiting leaders met with Apostolic team members, who are focused on church planting and expansion; elders from our whole network, who oversee the care and guidance of the churches and senior leaders within one particular cluster of our house churches. Our guests were also invited to attend a meeting of our emerging third-generation leaders (recognized as those born between 1990 and 2015) who are currently working through The First Principles Series.

“We gave them a cross section of exposure to the different elements of our leadership, how the work is fleshed out here in our churches and in our clusters, and the vision and commitment behind it,” Randy said. “What they see here in Ames-Des Moines is a vision of a possible future.” 

Meeting with a cluster of house churches was intentional as it was the start to building an ongoing relationship with those interested in moving forward with the church planting initiative. The idea is that through these relationships it would be a connection for church planters to seek guidance and have questions answered as they create and implement their church planting strategies.

Meeting with our network elders culminated in a powerful way as our guests could see the shared commitment of our elders to uphold biblical principles and the importance of being one-minded in Christ’s teachings. It was emotional hearing the testimony from those who have served together for nearly 45 years and how they have remained faithful to their stewardship of shepherding our house churches.

The strong leadership of elders is one key to successfully implementing a church model that follows the New Testament pattern of planting and establishing churches. Jay Staker, who is a senior elder in our Des Moines cluster of house churches, said the model laid out by Christ through the Apostle Paul relies on the elders to oversee the churches, which is at odds with a lot of the traditions seen in western churches today. “The elder model of the West is one of a business board that mostly defers all spiritual leadership to the pastors,” Jay said. “They could benefit from hearing the realities that are faced by the elders and the level of work and the maturity they need to stand strong and not crumble.”

Jay said for our guests to be able to hear our story and have a question and answer session with the elders was a bit of due diligence. “An example of the type of question that shines a light on the contrast of western elder boards and [our] elder board was, ‘how long do you serve on the board before you are able to rotate off?’ Elders are elders for life except for disqualification from sin issues that would disqualify them.”

Just as the Apostle Paul warned Timothy and Titus about those who would come in and upset households, they were to install leaders and elders to protect the churches against false teachings, shepherd the church, and see to the maturation of every believer within the church. For potential church planters, understanding the importance of strong leadership is critical to laying the groundwork for a successful church plant that follows the New Testament pattern.

There was a lot of enthusiasm from our guests as they could see the dedication from our leaders and how our entire network acts as a family of families. The participation from young to old was seen in all aspects from housing, providing meals, and participating in our Sunday evening gatherings.

Leaders from one of our CityChurch partners in Mendon, Michigan, were present at both events. They were able to encourage other church leaders in helping build their own church planting teams and efforts and create new relationships with others interested in planting churches. “We came home convinced and convicted that we need to be a part of planting churches and that we can’t be stagnant,” they said. “Not just that Mendon needs to plant churches locally, but that we as a network need to plant churches. Not just fragmented, individual churches, but church clusters and networks that work amongst each other like we see in the Book of Acts.”

In addition to coming and seeing and connecting with a church cluster, another step is being equipped and learning the New Testament design for strong churches that will multiply. Randy said this includes coaching from the BILD team and following a pathway that will deepen their understanding of the first principles of church and family life, creating a life development plan, and a strategy for planting churches.

The execution of their strategy is the final step as potential planters launch their plan. Some of the strategies created by those visiting included looking at neighborhoods or groups, such as college students, that could be most impacted. Practicing hospitality was a focal point, with one strategy utilizing young people or couples within their church that can gather people together and open their homes to neighbors or others in the community. Another mentioned opening their home to serve a meal or go through the Walk-Through or a BILD resource like Lifen. Each strategy is different but all follow the same patterns for church planting, establishment and growth while fitting the needs of their ministries.

Randy said each church planter is being encouraged from the outset to envision over the next five years that they plant a home church that multiplies into a cluster of three, four, or five home churches, so the vision of a cluster and an emerging network is there from the beginning. “They got to see and hear what a possible future could look like [from ADMCC]. Not in the near future, but the trajectory that they could go down,” he said.

The Come and See weekend and time during the Summit was beneficial for those interested in planting a church and participating in a house church model. Mendon leaders said they were blessed and encouraged to be a part of it. “The work goes far beyond one weekend,” they said. “We look forward to seeing how the Holy Spirit will continue to align our fields of work locally and across the network. We are excited for this stage of Christ’s Church and how He will use all of us as we follow the way of Christ and His Apostles.”