As theological debates on sexuality and marriage become more and more central, many Christian denominations are being asked to clarify their views.
This strategy does not seek out either receptive target groups, or the reproduction of a given church model or denomination; it does not try to impose a common methodology on the churches who adopt it.
Most of the stories that we hear about successful church planting involve a single congregation or denomination. They are often stories of churches planted in thriving cities or among a particular cultural sub-group. In many cases, these churches grow not as a result of new conversions but through transfer growth from other churches.
For this reason many church leaders have very negative perceptions of church planting, seeing it as divisive and inherently imperialistic.
Yet there is one church planting strategy that stands apart from the rest. This strategy does not seek out either receptive target groups, or the reproduction of a given church model or denomination; it does not try to impose a common methodology on the churches who adopt it; and it specifically takes a stand against “sheep stealing.” This is the strategy of collaborative church planting.
Murray has provided a very helpful definition of collaborative church planting:
What is envisaged by collaborative church planting is that local church leaders, denominational or regional church leaders, and representatives of mission agencies meet together to consider the needs and opportunities of their region or city. Their task is the identification of under-churched communities (geographical and cultural); the selection of appropriate models and methods to respond to the challenge of planting churches in these communities; the discovery of the personnel and resources. available; and the development of a strategic initiative which is owned by participating agencies.
The following case study tells the story of how the evangelical churches in one Spanish province did precisely that.
The story of the churches in Córdoba
Córdoba is an interior province of the Autonomous Region of Andalucía. The province had 804,498 inhabitants as of January 2012, with 328,841 of those living in the provincial capital of Córdoba. At the beginning of the sixties, there was just one Protestant church in the capital city, and Andalucia was recognized as one of the least evangelized provinces in the whole country. During the sixties and seventies, a handful of new churches emerged (Baptist, Independent, Pentecostal, Apostolic), and one of these churches, the Iglesia Bautista de Córdoba, approached the European Christian Mission (ECM) to see if they could send missionaries to work with them. The first ECM missionaries arrived in 1979.
During the ’80s, further missionaries arrived and began working in a number of the un-evangelized towns in the province, establishing churches in five locations in the area. At the same time the pastors of the city churches began to meet to pray, and in time they formed the Fraternidad Ministerial Evangélica de Córdoba (FRAMEC). Though focused on prayer, the fraternity also enabled inter-church issues to be discussed and occasional united events to be held. There was little common vision for mission, however, until 1992, when the Expo in Sevilla was held.
The missionaries from the province had started to become involved in the fraternity meetings and their presence encouraged the pastors towards a more provincial vision for mission. The fraternity decided to take advantage of the Expo to hold a series of united evangelistic events, and to distribute a piece of literature to every home in the province of Cordoba, more than 160,000 dwellings at that time. This proved to be a huge undertaking, but it had the effect of uniting the churches in a concerted mission initiative for the first time.
During the late eighties and early nineties, the ECM missionaries had been working toward a vision called 2000/30, the planting of thirty congregations in the province of Córdoba by the year 2000. As the year 2000 approached, the number of ECM-planted congregations remained in single figures, yet remarkably, when the all the provincial churches and mission points that were in existence were counted up, the total did come to thirty, a fact celebrated by a united meeting of the Córdoba churches in October 2000.
Rather than congratulating themselves, the FRAMEC adopted a new vision that there would be a church established in every town and city district of more than five thousand inhabitants by 2015. They took the decision to organize a first Missionary Conference of Córdoba in June 2002, with a view to stimulating the churches to new church planting, and a group called the Plataforma Misionera was formed to organize the event.
As part of the conference it was felt that a more thorough demographic study of the evangelical presence in the city and province was necessary, and this study proved to be one of the principal outcomes. After its presentation in the conference, churches were encouraged to consider planting in one of the unreached towns. New churches were planted, but many of the smaller churches (including many of those planted by ECM missionaries) simply felt unable to do this on their own.
The covenant for the evangelization of Córdoba
As one of ECM´s missionary church planters in Córdoba at that time, I became increasingly convinced that ECM´s strategy of church planting with teams of foreign missionaries had ceased to be effective. We were planting churches that, more often than not, displayed a chronic dependency on the missionaries. At the same time I saw huge potential for developing collaborative relationships with the strong national churches in the city of Córdoba that might be mutually beneficial. In light of this, I decided to investigate this topic for my master’s thesis.
The thesis presented me with the opportunity of engaging all the pastors and missionaries in the research so that they saw it as their own. They were involved in every phase of the study, from its design to the interpretation of the results. Nearly every pastor and missionary in the province was interviewed and their opinions sought on the strategy of ECM and the possibilities and potential pitfalls of church planting through collaboration. It produced some very interesting findings, but more importantly it prepared the way for the reconvening of the Plataforma Misionera and the organization of the 2a Conferencia Misionera de Córdoba in November 2010.
This second conference had three significant outcomes. First, there was a much more explicit commitment to plant, with specific towns being prioritized by certain churches, and others highlighted more generally for concerted prayer. Second, and perhaps even more noteworthy, the pastors signed a covenant, which was an agreement to not compete against each other for growth, but rather to work together in reaching the province with the gospel. A framed copy of this document, the Pacto por la Evangelización de Córdoba, hangs on the wall of many churches in Córdoba as a permanent reminder of the commitment to work together in mission.
Third, the Plataforma Misionera ceased being merely an organizing committee for the conference, and became a permanent commission of the FRAMEC with the focus to encourage and facilitate this initiative.
Present and future
The Plataforma Misionera continues to meet on an almost monthly basis in pursuit of the following stated objectives:
Perhaps the most significant statement that can be made regarding the churches of Córdoba is that their commitment to a common vision for mission continues and deepens. A more recent development is the interest of engaging in common reflection on thinking regarding Missional Church and what that would mean for the relatively traditional churches of a province like Córdoba. And the Plataforma Misionera is now thinking about holding another conference, both to celebrate what has been achieved and to stimulate a final push towards the goals that were set at the turn of the millennium.
Collaborative church planting, a model for Europe
Collaborative church planting is not a common approach in Spain. Nevertheless, it appears that the pastors and missionaries of Córdoba would agree with Murray in saying, “The church planting needed in rural and urban areas will not be achieved by individual churches operating independently.”
However, a more critical assessment of the experience of the Córdoba churches would highlight the strengths and weaknesses of the approach. In fact, during the aforementioned field research prior to the Seconda Conferencia Misionera, all the pastors were specifically asked what they would see as the advantages and disadvantages of church planting through collaboration. The pastors and missionaries of Córdoba all agreed that collaborative church planting would have many advantages. It would contribute to the unity of the churches, release human and material resources for the evangelization of the province, and be mutually enriching. The missionaries also felt that it would help to ensure the full identification of the church plants with the Spanish culture; it would clarify the role of the missionary, and also give new training opportunities for young leaders. In addition, it would help to resolve many of the dependency issues that were affecting the churches that the missionaries had established.
An honest assessment of the disadvantages of collaboration highlighted that the main disadvantage of closer partnership between churches, and between the churches and ECM would be denominational or doctrinal issues. Though theological differences were raised as a potential problem, they have rarely proved to be so. Addicott’s observation would seem to be the key,
In the area of differences in ecclesiology, church-planters run into practical difficulties as our ecclesiology defines the nature of the churches we seek to plant. Can a Pentecostal cooperate with a Conservative Baptist to bring a church into being? The answer is “Yes.” There are many examples of where this is happening, but in every case it requires a high level of mutual trust and understanding as well as grace of God to enable them to recognize the appropriate nature of the church in the host culture in which it is being planted.
There was a general recognition that, though doctrinal differences may emerge from time to time, given the respect that exists between the pastors and missionaries, there is a good foundation for building consensus and working arrangements. Fundamental to building this trust is time for prayer and honest dialogue about the realities of collaboration. Prior discussion of all aspects of the collaborative effort must take place if conflict is to be avoided, as others have also found. Additionally, the research found the pastors and missionaries in Córdoba considered that it was essential to build a Kingdom vision in the churches through preaching and teaching on the essential unity of the body of Christ. This has been fostered through the annual church united meetings and as one of the stated objectives of the Plataforma Misionera.
While pastors and missionaries were candid about the challenges of collaboration, there was a sense of expectation, which is perhaps best reflected by the words of one of the young Spanish pastors, who said, “If this works, it is because God is behind it. It would be spectacle, a spectacle for the glory of God that would bless the whole country.”
Could the example of collaborative church planting in Córdoba inspire other European cities and provinces to consider the strategic benefits of collaboration for the greater glory of God? My prayer is that it might.
Jim Memory is church planter and lecturer.
Used with permission from Wipf and Stock Publishers.
 Murray, Church Planting, 287.
 Instituto Nacional de Estadística, Municipal Register: 1 January 2012.
 Clark, Sharing Christ´s Love in Europe, 29.
 Memory, El estado actual de las Iglesias de Córdoba.
 Memory, “The Church Planting Strategy of the European Christian Mission in Córdoba, Spain.”
 Conclusiones y Delimitaciones de los objetivos de la Plataforma Misionera, FRAMEC, 2013 (unpublished).
 Murray, Church Planting, 286.
 Memory, “The Church Planting Strategy of the European Christian Mission in Córdoba, Spain,” 49–50.
 Addicott, Body Matters, 137.
 Rickett, “7 Mistakes Partners Make and How to Avoid them,” 309. Taylor, Kingdom Partnerships for Synergy in Missions, 21.