This article looks at the advantages and disadvantages of the mother-daughter model of church planting.

Source: New Horizons, 2015. 3 pages.

The Mother-Daughter Model

I have trouble calling myself a church planter, because the way Trinity Church was planted — as a “daughter” congregation of a strong, established church — made it so easy, compared to situations faced by many of my colleagues. We started off with sixty to seventy people in our core group, including three elders besides myself. Thus, from day one Trinity felt more like an established church than a group hoping to become a church.

This is, I think, one of the great strengths of the mother-daughter model of church planting: it allows for significant personnel and financial resources from the start. I would like briefly to tell you our story, and explain how the strengths of this model worked for us. I would also like to tell you about some challenges we encountered along the way and lessons we learned as we worked through these challenges.

I came to the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Franklin Square, New York, in 2005 — first as an intern, then as the associate pastor. That church was in the middle of a growth explosion at the time, which continued for the next several years.

We were pretty much bursting at the seams and even had to experiment with two morning worship services. Space was not our only challenge. Long Island is an expensive area, and we began to find that, even with a strong annual budget, it was increasingly difficult to pay two full-time pastors. Both were needed to care for so many sheep, but both had families and required income accordingly. Without room for growth and a corresponding potential for increase in tithes and offerings, this presented a problem.

Both the session and the congregation in Franklin Square had church planting in their blood, having started numerous plants before. Discussions began in 2010 about a large group of families in eastern Nassau and western Suffolk Counties that could form the core of yet another plant. I had worked closely with these families in my five years as a pastor, so there was a comfort level on their part with my being the organizing pastor of the new work.

Eventually it was decided that we would launch in September 2011. The size of our core group, and the size of the congregation out of which we were coming, gave us two advantages during the year leading up to the plant. First, we had lots of available hands to help with logistics — for example, the all-important work of locating a rental space. It wasn’t just a lonely evangelist doing everything on his own. This allowed me to continue ministering to the entire flock in Franklin Square right up until our launch date. Second, we were able to split the tithes and offerings in Franklin Square for several months before the launch (the tithes of the core group members being designated for Trinity), which allowed us to build up some financial reserves before opening our doors.

All of these great blessings being noted, the mother-daughter model also presented certain challenges. Most of them can be summed up in a single word: expectations.

When forming a new group out of an existing church, it’s unavoidable that both those who join the new work and those who remain behind will have expectations about the character of the new work. It’s also inevitable that such expectations will be informed by comparisons of the daughter with the mother.

Some will want or expect the daughter to be exactly like the mother. Others will want or expect the daughter to be different (to varying degrees) from the mother. Some will want more change than actually occurs in the new work; others will want less change than actually occurs. Both sets of desires and expectations can potentially create resistance to the change (or lack thereof ) that actually occurs once the church plant is off the ground.

It so happens that in church life, as in biological life, no daughter is ever exactly like her mother. The goal for a healthy child is not to be a clone of her parent, but to carry the strength, wisdom, and virtues of her parent into her own life, in her own circumstances. There is always danger in the process of begetting (to use a different metaphor) that the one begotten will throw off the gifts of the begetter, or that the be-getter may not allow for the growth and uniqueness of the one begotten. We felt these inevitable tensions in planting Trinity. During this time, my mentor and father in the ministry, Bill Shishko, pastor at Franklin Square, kept clearly before us all that Trinity would not be exactly what people had come to expect and savor at Franklin Square. Rather, it would be a unique work of the Lord with its own personality, even as it continually drew on the rich resources, experience, and wisdom of its mother congregation.

An enormously helpful move made by the Franklin Square elders early in the process of planting Trinity was the formal organization of an overseeing session for the work. The session was composed of the four Trinity elders-to-be, including myself. This allowed me to work intensively with our future leaders for months before we launched. We had a series of meetings in which I introduced our men to the vision for the plant, including our form of worship (which would be different from what we were accustomed to), the focal emphases of our philosophy of ministry, and the sort of ethos or culture we would try to encourage in our body life. It was essential that we be of one mind about these things as leaders before we then placed our vision before the core group.

In August, we held three core group meetings in my home, laying out clearly the sorts of things (both familiar and new) that people could expect from the first worship service. We were able to practice our new form of worship, answer lots of good questions, and confirm that everyone was enthusiastically on board, so there were no surprises when we began.

I really can’t overemphasize the importance of this kind of careful preparatory work in a mother-daughter plant. Leaders in both congregations must foresee that the change for those joining the new work will be not only new (that’s true in all church plants) but also disruptively new. People will be shaken out of comfortably familiar patterns as they adjust to a new location, a new ministry context, different leadership, different ways of doing things, different needs, and a different congregational personality. They need time and help to anticipate the coming changes, to ask questions, and to start gearing up, not only mentally but also emotionally, for the new mission to which they are being called. It is a failure of leadership to downplay, ignore, or run roughshod over the expectations that people naturally have when coming out of a strong existing church—whether they expect less change or more change than will actually occur in the new work.

I should mention one other challenge we encountered after we launched Trinity. It’s a great blessing of the mother-daughter model to begin with a strong congregation. The challenge comes in allocating pastoral time between ministering to a large number of existing sheep and seeking the lost who have not yet been found. I’ve struggled in the four years since we planted Trinity to make time for seeking the unchurched and the underchurched. Unlike other contexts, in which an evangelist can focus almost exclusively on evangelism, it’s hard for a mother-daughter evangelist to spend lots of time with people who aren’t yet part of the church.

I don’t think this is a problem without a solution. If evangelism is in the DNA of the core group, then there are many sowers of the seed of the gospel. I continually tell our members that my job is to equip them to seek and disciple the lost. I’m not the star player on our team; I’m just a coach. They are the players who go out and gather in Jesus’ name.

It gives me great joy to say that they’re doing this, and our little flock is growing by God’s grace and largely by word of mouth. Last November we were able to move into a much larger facility (that is much less expensive!). We’re starting to fill it up, and are even in the early stages of talking about bringing on an intern/associate with a view to planting our first daughter church. God is good!

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