Ron Johnson is the Senior Pastor of One Church*, a multi-site congregation in Orlando, Florida. For several years he has been planting one church a year, but he recently felt the call to step it up. As a result, he is embarking on an aggressive mission to plant one hundred churches over the next ten years. In order to see that goal realized, Johnson said, he knew he had to retool and move to a systems approach. “I know how to plant one church a year; however, now I am needing to learn new and innovative ways to plant if I intend to reach my goal.”
Johnson, who has served in international missions, says, “When it comes to church planting, both my philosophy and natural inclination is contextualization. That is, making ministry indigenous to the culture I seek to reach. Contextualization always demands a high degree of flexibility and a willingness to run with what is effective among a particular group or culture.” Johnson himself certainly meets those criteria. When I asked him what approach he uses to plant churches, he replied, “I remain extremely flexible with methodology. I do not believe there is a right or wrong model. The end goal is a life-giving local church, so we seek to find what works in a given situation. We believe the Holy Spirit is the fountainhead of creativity and will continually give us dynamic wineskins to hold what he is pouring out.”
Resources are always a challenge, says Johnson, so he is experimenting now with what he refers to as the “sustainable church-planting model.” This model differs from the more popular event-based approach. In this model a business is started alongside the church. The business serves as both an economic engine for the church and a front-line missional platform connecting the church with those they are seeking to reach. According to Johnson, “If a person can successfully run a business they can usually lead a successful church and the reverse is also true.”
One of Johnson’s current plants is built in direct connection to a CrossFit gym, another to a K-12 school, and another has an indirect connection to a coffee business & organic market. “We are finding that there can be a symbiotic relationship between church and business, each strengthening the success of the other. With five such plants and three more planned for this year, we are seeing real promise with this concept.” Many businesses, says Johnson, work hand and glove with a church. However, he remains flexible and insists that not all of his plants have to follow this model. “Whatever works in reaching unchurched people is what we are after. The model is not as important as the end goal.”
When it comes to apprenticing potential planters, Johnson uses a holistic approach in both formal and informal settings. He describes his approach as “transformational coaching,” giving both spiritual formation and practical tools. Through this process of leadership development they seek to build a culture of freedom that enables the planter to authentically live out a missional lifestyle. To accomplish this, they have four primary objectives:
- Identity: An identity firmly rooted in Christ and built on the grace of God, so that planters knows who they are in Christ and are secure in that relationship.
- Community: An understanding of how to relate to and connect with people.
- Authority: An understanding of the spiritual authority they possess in Christ and its application in ministry.
- Destiny: An understanding of who God made them to be and what His purpose is for their lives.
Johnson views his planters as a family, “They are my spiritual children,” he says, “and I want each of them to reach their full potential in Christ. I treat them as a father raising up his family, so I’m actually multiplying my kids.” Apart from transformational coaching, the church hosts regular one-day training events, gathering fifty to eighty potential planters designed to give practical tools from fundraising, to venue selection, to coaching tips.
- Plant whatever way works best for you and the surrounding community. Don’t be locked into one way and be ready to try another if the one you are using doesn’t work.
- Training potential planters takes time and energy; it doesn’t happen overnight.
- Be open to the possibility that anyone God sends your way is a potential planter and be willing to invest time & energy in those who show promise.
- A missional approach to ministry needs to result in some form of community-based public worship.
*One Church runs around fourteen hundred at all five of its campuses.