How Geographically Based Church Planting Works

Chad Harrington

The Association of Hill Country Churches in Austin, Texas is doing something that everyone in church planting should understand: planting churches based on geography. Their vision is to reach every man, woman, and child in Greater Austin area with the life-transformation that comes from Jesus. They’re doing it.

They’ve planted over 20 churches in the Austin area already, and things are just shaping up.

For Exponential’s new podcast series, “My Journey to Multiplication,” I interviewed one of the Hill Country church planters, Keith Ferguson. You can listen to his story, which includes interviews with his wife, Barie, along with Nick Shock and Danny Box: “E02: Keith Ferguson’s Journey to Multiplication.”

I was astounded by their movement’s laser focus on regional planting. What interested me in particular was their relational cohesion. That is, Ferguson is now able to keep up with his sending church, along with their other church planters. I asked, “What’s your relationship with Danny Box now?” (Danny sent Keith out.) Keith said,

“Because we are geographically based (which is kind of unique to our movement), we meet as a group of pastors every month. We have lunch together, we strategize, we pray together, so I see Danny every month at that meeting. Beyond that, on a personal level, it’s just a friendship. It’s still probably two or three times a year where I hit something weird. I’ve been pastoring for nine years, but there’s still those moments where you’re like, I’ve never heard this before, I’ve never seen this in counseling, I’ve never seen a staff member do this. So you still need that person you can pick up the phone and call and say, ‘When you hit this, what do you do? Got any wisdom for me?’ So those are the moments that coaching relationship and friendship is really important.”

Knowing Whether or Not to Plant

Keith Ferguson: “My advice to anyone interested in church planting: You really do need to have a clear, divine call. You really have to have a sense that God wants me to do this, and if I don’t go plant a church, I’m being disobedient to God. People get to that place differently: Sometimes it’s in personal devotions, prayer; sometimes it’s through conferences or gatherings or worship services where God speaks. But I just wouldn’t move forward unless you have clarity on that. It’s so hard, so difficult, so much opposition spiritually that there’s days where you don’t have anything but your calling. There’s days where that has to be sufficient, so you’ve got to have clarity on that.”

Exponential: What are your top three pieces of advice for those who want to multiply?

1. Live it out personally.

Keith Ferguson: “My first piece of advice–and this comes a lot from Tim and our movement–is we have a high, high value for incarnational leadership. Meaning an elder or staff (whatever is your highest level of leadership), you have to model for your people what you expect them to do. So one of the weaknesses we all have as spiritual leaders is to teach better than we actually live. So Tim really presses into us, Do you have personal stories to share of how you are living this out with your neighbors? With your kids school? With your little league baseball team? In all those environments, do you have stories you’re sharing with your people, that they can latch onto and say, Oh, now I see what he means when he talks about that.

I would encourage anyone who’s pastoring a church and trying to become a level five or multiplying church, they’ve got to start living it out personally in their lives.

2. Be open-handed.

“If we’re going to be level five churches, we have to be open handed. When you’re small, sending people out really hurts. When you’re our size (500 adults, 250 kids), sending out people hurts really significantly when you’re our size. When you’re sending out some of your best ministry leaders, your best evangelists, your best givers to go be part of a church plant. I would just encourage guys that being open handed is essential to me to get there.”

3. Be humble about stuff you don’t know about.

“I think too many times we as pastors feel like, Oh, we have to know everything. We just don’t. There’s so many guys doing great work, let’s just go listen to them. Wherever you’re stuck, pick up the phone, call somebody. Go take somebody to coffee and say, ‘I’m really stuck here, what do I do?'”

Exponential: What’s next for you in becoming a level five church?

1. Planting different styles of churches

Keith Ferguson: “We try to saturate our city with the gospel. I think a big part of it is planting different styles and forms of churches that are going to reach different people groups in our city. We have a very diverse city racially, economically. Thinking through that lens is a next step for us.”

2. Raising up people who want to plant and then plant out of those churches

“But also a next step for us is to make sure that the people we’re raising up to plant, plant with a planting mentality themselves. We’re starting to see that, but it’s an organic, long-term process. It’s about our health, it’s about their health and the whole time, just depending on God. Because the Holy Spirit’s got to move through this thing or we’re just doing church. He’s got to really breathe on this thing. I think for us, that’s a big part of it.

3. Not just planting churches, but discipleship and evangelism

“It resonates with my heart too, to make sure we’re not just planting churches but we’re making disciples, we are leading people to Christ, not just rearranging Christians. A lot of people are talking about that, and I think it’s a big part of level five leadership and level five multiplication: Is your church planting movement actually leading people to faith and are those people becoming leaders in your churches?

“I was telling my staff that I feel like we’ve got the church planting DNA, I feel like we’ve got to turn up the temperature in our church more on evangelism and on discipleship. You just come back to the basic things; it’s not complicated.”

How it Works

Geographically-based church planting is working for the Association of Hill Country Churches not because it’s a some silver bullet technique. It’s because geographically-based relationships offer planters the type of personal training, sending, authority, covering, and nurture that they want for supported the hard, long work of church planting. It’s not about the method in and of itself, as if geographical church planting was a magic pill. It’s about the heart, the lives, and the movement of God among his people who will humble themselves, plow the land given them by God, and rally together around the work of the kingdom. That’s how it works, and it’s producing fruit.

Chad Harrington is a reader, writer, and redemption artist. He’s the Chief Storyteller for Harrington Interactive Media, and having worked in the church and nonprofit world, he tells stories at to encourage redemptive action. He co-authored Dedicated: Training Children to Trust and Follow Jesus, holds a MA in biblical studies from Asbury Seminary, and lives in Nashville, Tennessee.