Thursday, January 21, 2016

10 Reasons to Reconsider the 'Affinity Based' Model of Church Planting

I think we need to have a conversation as Southern Baptists. And I want you to know it's because I love church planters, lost people, the local church, and God's glory that I write this. 

What possible other motivation might I have? I don't consider myself old enough yet to simply be a stick in the mud for the sake of being a stick in the mud! So, I humbly ask that you hear my heart on this. 

Let me preface this with a few things:

First of all, I want to state that my goal in using this medium to address this issue is not to squabble or fight but hopefully bring awareness to a real issue we are facing as Southern Baptists, and particularly Arkansas Baptists. I don't want to beat each other up but to really consider these things based on God's Book for Churches and Church Planting, written by about 40 different authors with One overarching Author breathing out His Holy words.

Secondly, (to reiterate) I am not against church planting, nor am I against seeing people come to Christ! I just think that while a 'brick' may work as a hammer, there's actually something that works much better than a brick - a hammer (hopefully you catch the analogy)! In that sense, in a funny sort of twist, I may actually be the biggest pragmatist I know (not really, but see the point here)! See, I do actually want to do what works. But I believe that a biblically faithful local church is what works.

Thirdly, I am encouraged by men in our state and country with a burden for the lost. While I appreciate their zeal, I cannot condone their methods. I will also add here that their methods actually run counter to their zeal. Unbiblical methods don't help us reach people but rather create false converts and stifle maturity. 

Fourthly, in relation to what I just said,  I often hear the question "yeah, but if just one soul comes to Christ, isn't it worth it?" No it's not. We can think of countless testimonies from which people were rescued from sin once they had reached rock bottom (whether it was rock bottom in a life of fornication, drinking, drugs, etc). Who is going to say we ought to now promote these means so that "one more person" will get saved!? Furthermore, don't we believe more people will come to Christ when we use the proper means? I mean I think there were genuine conversions in the 2nd Great Awakening, despite the absurdity of various Finneyisms - but this doesn't mean people were saved because of these absurdities but in spite of them. Whether or not a person 'gets saved' is never a proper barometer for judging whether or not a particular method 'works'. It's heartbreaking to continue to see posts where '20 kids came forward and got saved' when recent history in our convention has shown that the majority of those same 20 kids aren't truly converted. 

Finally, a word on tone. I've had faithful friends tell me not to write because your time can't be judged. I understand that counsel but I am also convinced we must talke about these issues if we hope to ever change. 

Ok, here we go, here's 10 reasons to reconsider the 'Affinity Based' Model of church planting. This is by no means an exhaustive list and there is much more that could be said about each point:

1. It's contrary to Galatians 3:28, 1 Corinthians 1:13, and John 13:35 (and like passages) -

Why would we aspire to plant churches that intentionally separated people? The gospel unites Believers and this is a testimony to a lost and dying world. No one cares if Jews and Gentiles gather separately, but they start scratching heads when they are united.

It has been asked, "What is the difference between 'affinity' and 'culture'?" I'm not sure where you want to draw the line, but I am sure of this: planting 'sub-culture' churches is not a New Testament strategy.

What kind of love is it to just be around people like me? Even a ravenous wolf loves her cubs. There is nothing supernatural about that.

2. It misunderstands the purpose of the church as an evangelistic gathering - (see for example Heb. 10:24-25)

We think "church" is where people come to get saved. Can people get saved during a church service? Of course! But is this the purpose of the local church's weekly gathering? Absolutely not. You won't find that anywhere in the New Testament. It's strange to even consider how we came to assume this.

So, the idea is "we need to create a church for the 'unchurched'." Well, there's a reason men are 'unchurched' (not a biblical category btw) - they are lost.  How can we read the New Testament and come away with the idea that we need to plant churches that people will come to and get saved? Not one church in the New Testament was planted that way. Instead, the gospel was preached, people were saved, and a church was planted (no adjective before the church either). We don't "come to church". We are the church that goes to people (Mt 28:18-20 That's the great commission - GO! Not "ya'll come!")

3. It perpetuates the problem we already have in many churches -

The argument has been made that "most churches are already affinity based!" Most churches in Arkansas are the "white middle class" affinity. No argument there. Don't we all agree that's a problem?

You really need to ask yourself that question. Is it a problem that many Arkansas Baptist churches only reflect the white middle class? I say yes since Arkansas is represented by more people than just that. 

But how can we say that the way to fix this problem is just to create more churches with the same problem? This only perpetuates disunity and the consumer driven mindset held by many church members.

4. It neglects the solution we need in many churches - (Revelation 3:3)

The solution we need in many churches is reformation and revival. But when we don't confront these issues and instead say "Well, we need to create different churches! That will be the solution to this!", we don't really fix anything.  It's uncomfortable telling the people of a particular local church their issue is that they need to repent. Parachurch leaders have no issue telling churches they need to give more to the cooperative program, but when it comes to telling a church they need to repent the "We can't do that because the local church is autonomous" card is played. Shame, shame.

Look, I am 100% on board saying that we are not being as effective as we need to be, but the problem isn't that we aren't being innovative enough. The problem is we need a heart check and to repent. If a cowboy, or biker, or tattooed person, or clown, or outdoorsman doesn't feel welcomed in my church then the solution isn't to plant a church for them but for our local church to do a heart check and change.

5. It is potentially comforting people on their way to hell - (Hebrews 3:12-14)

Now, let me follow up the last point with this: The reason a cowboy, biker, tattooed person, clown, outdoorsman, or any person may feel uncomfortable or unwelcomed in my church could be because they hate Jesus. Gathering on Sunday is too troublesome, or singing gospel rich tunes is too boring because they don't love God. So, then we plant churches that will accommodate these desires. Then, there are people, who because of Bible Belt culture, feel a burden to go to church to assuage their guilt. Now they are able to go to a church that is tailor made for them when in reality it is a possibility they never have repented and believed the gospel and now they will have a way to keep their guilty conscience at bay. 

Let me stress very strongly here that the solution we need in many churches is a 'recovery' of the gospel and its effects on our lives. So many Southern Baptists are (rightly) against the Liberal mentality of "if we can just fix this or that outward problem the world will be better"! So, the idea is if we can just take away guns or redistribute wealth or give everybody a free education, we can make the world a better place. We know that's not true! People don't need their actions changed but their hearts. And yet, we think when it comes to church planting that what people need is just outward change. We got to change the 'atmosphere'. We need deer heads, horses, or lattes! That'll fix the issue! No. People need the gospel. They need God's saving grace to regenerate their dead heart. Furthermore, by planting 'come join people already like you' churches, we take away a serious effect that the Gospel has on us, namely horizontal reconciliation. Read Genesis 11 and Acts 2 and see God separating the nations and then through the gospel reconciling them.

6. It teaches us that we don't have to deny ourselves - (see Philippians 2:1-11)

If the church doesn't fit my tastes all I need to do is pack up and head to a different one. I don't have to consider others as more significant. Instead, I can keep looking out for number one and find an affinity that best suits me and my family.

7. There are some churches that actually run contrary to the BFM (2000) -

I didn't even know this was a possibility! Call me naive but I thought for a church to receive Cooperative Program dollars it had to align fully with our doctrinal statement. So, we are actually planting churches were people don't meet on the Lord's Day in the name of hunting and family time. Whose day is it again?

A church planter just the other night (4/20/16) jokes about how they didn't meet on Sundays because they like to hunt. Again, I'm just going by what oit confession of faith says. 

So, what I want to know is, which points of the BFM are binding and which aren't? We are saying "It doesn't matter what the BFM says on the Lord's Day". Fine. Does it matter what it says in other areas or not? And if not, why do we even have the thing?

8. It denies the sufficiency of Scripture - 

In the name of "winning people to Jesus" it denies a lot of what the New Testament teaches us about the nature, purpose, and function of the local church. Again, the New Testament doesn't speak of churches that set out to attract unbelievers to their services. So, if we are creating a particular style of service in the name of reaching the lost, we are doing church all wrong. Do we get to define what the local church is and does based on contemporary concerns, or does Scripture?

9. It neglects several ministries that the local church ought to be doing -

If a local church is not feeding the hungry in Her community, the answer is not to plant a Hunger Church. The church ought to work on ministering to those in need.

Similarly, if there truly is a sub culture of cowboys or if there is a community of Hispanics, African Americans, or other ethnicity, the answer is not to plant churches "for those people" but to intentionally minister to the cultures around them. To just go plant an affinity church lets the local church off the hook of what she should be doing.

10. It misuses Cooperative Program dollars - 

As long as we continue to pour money into these things, we miss areas that money could be used more biblically and effectively. What if, when approached by a man who wanted to plant an affinity church, State Conventions sat down with the man and the pastor of a local church in the man’s desired area to plant and encouraged them, trained them, equipped them to partner together to create a ministry to reach the affinity that the planter feels lead to reach under the authority and leadership of a local church. Hey, what if the ABSC actually paid for a staff person for a local church! (If approved by the church of course). What if money was used on strengthening existing churches (who desired to be faithful and biblical)?

I am not against evangelistic ministries within the local church focusing on reaching youth, or strippers, or addicts, or cowboys, or Native Americans. In fact we can and must increase these evangelistic efforts in areas of the state where there are these specific needs. But, we have no biblical warrant to tailor make a new church just for these sub groups.

11. BONUS: Numbers lie - 

A biblically faithful church may appear to 'win' less people to the Lord, but you can be assured that a church faithful to Her King in all ways is going to be more effective than one who is not. We should all be concerned about numbers but numbers should not be our chief concern. Our greatest concern is gospel fidelity. As a good friend of mine has said "the true conversion rate may never surpass the false conversion rate so if the opponents are just counting decisions they are never going to see that this is actually more effective in fulfilling the great commission." The point of course is that if all we look at is 'numbers' we would be forced to conclude that what we need is more Joel Osteen churches. And surely no faithful Southern Baptist would approve of that.

One other thing about numbers is that you will see in a decade or two this falling by the wayside and something other taking its place. My proof of that is we see this right now. "Contemporary" churches aren't enough anymore are they? Affinity churches are taking the place of the 'contemporary' movement. And in a few decades something 'new and innovative' will take the place of affinity planting. How long will we be picking up the pieces of the harm caused by this sort of mentality? Finneyism "worked" 200 years ago and we are still dealing with the negative effects. Brothers, let's scrap this and get back to planting and revitalizing gospel churches.

So, I really think we need to keep this conversation going.  I think we've bought into this affinity methodology under the guise of "it works!" But, is it really worth it based on the above objections? I maintain that if God can save people with unbiblical means, He can save even more when we seek to be wholly faithful.

Let me also suggest two books and a blog that I've found helpful on this issue. I'm thankful for men more mature than me that are thinking through these issues:

1. Prodigal Church by Jared Wilson

2. The Compelling Community by Mark Dever and Jamie Dunlop

3. Slick Card-itus by Jim Elliff


  1. I think many of the points brought up are very valid. None are more important and more telling than the fact that scripture teaches the exact opposite approach. If any denomination relies on this for their future, they will soon be grasping for the next best idea, along with a defibrillator.

  2. Thank you Anonymous. And for being so bold as to put your name out there ;-)

    But seriously, thanks for taking the time to read it.

  3. Please define affinity based church.

    1. Churches intentionally planted around an affinity. "Cowboy" "Biker" "Race Car" "Outdoorsmen" etc