What is the difference between a campus plant and a church plant?
What is best? To plant a campus or new church?
We've been talking about both for years and yet, it is clear that the differences are not fully understood by all.
Dr. Jimmy Scroggins of Family Church in West Palm Beach recently hosted a discussion about this very thing at the Florida Baptist State Convention last fall. His honesty was refreshing as it became clear that the movement of Kingdom expansion that Family Church has embarked upon is the exact same strategy God has led our church here in Orange Park.
We are all in when it comes to church planting. While we would love to have planters in every focused area, God has clearly revealed our strategic partnerships over the years and we continue to serve as the sending church for Neil and Kaytee in Toronto and Mike and Carrie in Washington, DC. Additionally, we have been able to support others throughout the nation in cities such as Portland, Colorado Springs, Greensboro, and Tucson. Currently, we are seeking to partner with Cam Triggs in Orlando with a new plant launching this year.
We also have served as catalysts for local planters as we have served with Dr. Rick Wheeler and Dr. Josh Dryer and the Jacksonville Baptist Association in church planting assessment.
Church planting involves placing a pastor in an specified area, most often an urban area. The demographics reveal the unchurched reality of the community and the goal is to birth a new church where there is none.
The planter and wife embed themselves in the community for the sake of Kingdom growth. The strategies for engaging a community are as varied as the communities. Planters set off understanding the marathon that planting is, most often renting facilities and seeking to till up hard spiritual ground.
Our North American Mission Board has strategically focused on church planting over the past few years and we have seen many step into this story.
There is a difference between planting an autonomous church and a campus of an already established (i.e. legacy) church. The most recognizable difference is that the campus is not an autonomous church. This allows for some unique opportunities.
Dr. Scroggins shared the following realities of campus plants and what they offer. I offer my commentaries on his statements within the points as well:
- ADDITIONAL SERVICES. Campus plants are viewed as additional services, just meeting at a different venue than the church's traditional campus.
- MULTI-SITE IS LONG-TERM CHURCH PLANTING. In some cases, the campuses may grow into autonomous churches, but this is not true for all, and not expected.
- TAKES ADVANTAGE OF SYNERGY AND ECONOMIES OF SCALE. In other words, a campus may be launched in a relatively short amount of time where a church plant may require a year or more of preparation.
- ACCELERATES RATE OF CHANGE. No church wants to wake up one day to realize that they are too far gone to revitalize. There are fifty Baptist churches in our city (Jacksonville, FL) that will either close or sell off property within the next two years unless change among the internal church culture occurs. This is based on visible and recognizable statistics and realities.
- CAMPUS PASTORS ARE EXTENSIONS OF THE LEAD PASTOR. Therefore, there is no separate vision, doctrine, or leadership style. This allows for unity and consistency regarding programming, strategy, and vision. In many cases, campus pastors are men who were sent out from the church to serve and already have the DNA of the local church. This allows for quicker growth and launching.
- VIDEO OR LIVE? Though I prefer live, there are enough offering video venues that are working to discount this reality.
- THIS IS DIFFICULT! It is much easier to stay at one campus. Yet, if God opens the door for multi-site, it reminds us that he has not called us to easy service.
- THIS REQUIRES THE BEST! This means that campuses cannot be launched with those who are not already serving well. J.D. Greear has mentioned on many occasions about the uncomfortable stress that occurs when the "best" leave what has been deemed in the past as the "main campus" to serve at a multi-site venue. When faithfully and prayerfully done, God always "back-fills" the positions of service at the launching campus.
- THERE IS NO MAIN CAMPUS. This has been a challenging reality for me, but needed. We do not have a "main campus" in that regardless where a person attends church services, that campus, be it a school cafeteria or tent by a ball field, is their "main campus." To call the traditional site the "main campus" presents a Varsity and Junior Varsity idea.
- ONE CHURCH OFFERS MUCH. To remain one church with multiple sites offers one name (in our case firstFAMILY,) one budget, one leadership structure, one constitution and bylaws. These allow for quicker movement, safer structures, and long-term stability.
The Best Strategy
The question at the beginning was whether campus or church plants should be the strategy. The answer is BOTH. We believe that church planting is vital and that is why we continue to send and support many who have answered the call to do so. Yet, we also believe there are areas and situations where a campus plant (in our case, The Creek and IslandChurch) are the best options for community engagement. Therefore, we offer these as well.
There's the third option which would come under the "revitalization" heading, I guess. That is what we are doing at Oak Harbor Church now, but as we have agreed with the leadership there, we are treating Oak Harbor as a campus site with a pastor on site.
The end game is simple - love God by loving people well and making disciples. We know it is not easy, but these strategies allow us to move forward rather than stand still (which feels like moving backward.) It's risky. We cannot afford it. Yet, God has clearly called us to this story and we press on, trusting Him.