Reptilian or Mammalian Church Planting

This is a re-post of something I blogged elsewhere in 2009. EAI recently reduced membership fees for church plants and small congregations . We aim to periodically post articles and other resources for church planters.


About five years ago I read “The American Church in Crisis” by David T. Olson. A lot of it touches on the need for American churches to learn how to do ministry in a postChristian society – something that we in Europe have already had to do.

The thing that really struck me was where Olson talked about two different kinds of church planting. ‘Reptilian’ church plants are where a denomination starts as many congregations as possible in the knowledge that many of them will fail. But some, as the survival of the fittest, will take root and become new churches. Think of it as the ecclesiastical equivalent of all those baby turtles that hatch on the beach all on the same night. a lot of them get eaten by predators, but enough of them survive to ensure the sea stays stocked with future generations of turtles.

Mammalian church planting is where a denomination plants fewer congregations, but provides them with more nutrition, protection and support.

Baptist and Pentecostals tend to employ reptilian methods of church planting, but statistics show that this method is less fruitful in areas that are the most challenging to Christianity. It also leaves a trail of failed church plants and disillusioned pastors, and frequently produces small churches which display less long term numerical growth than congregations planted by the mammalian method.

Most of us probably feel uncomfortable with the label ‘reptilian’ because it reminds us of horror movies about lizards invading earth. But I have to admit that our church was a reptilian plant that survived the carnage of baby turtles on the beach! I also have to admit that my ‘encouragement’ (the inverted comma are deliberate) of other church planters has been largely reptilian. I’ve tended to point them in the right direction and then say, “God bless you, now go for it!”

Yet, in a postChristian environment, mammalian church planting may yet prove to be the most effective option. This may not just mean financial support – in fact, statistics suggest that bivocational church planters grow churches faster than those who are financially supported to work full time. But what can those of us that are already pastoring churches that have made it to adulthood do to provide more nourishment and support to struggling church planters?

I feel like I’m offering more questions than answers here, but I’d love others to suggest ways in which our church planting can become more mammalian.


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