I just found Drew Goodmanson’s post on “Five Trends for the Future of Church Planting.”  His prediction #5 says that “More churches will be planted without the role of a preaching pastor.”

That brought me back to my musings on the nature of the church.  How big must a church be – or rather, how small can it be – and still be called a church?  What is the essential structure?  Are staff essential?

The trend in the past decade has been to send a preaching pastor out to start new churches.  He will begin with a Bible study in his living room or a cafe, and when there are half a dozen, he will form a small congregation, with himself as pastor.  Or he will simply rent space somewhere, bring in recorded music and preach for whoever shows up.  (I’ve done it that way.)

However, if you read David Garrison’s Church Planting Movements, you will join me in recognizing that in situations of exponential growth, there’s no time to hire a pastor.  Exponential church planting is where a person is trained in how to share their faith and then actually does it, winning his whole family, or a group of friends, and they agree to continue meeting together to learn about this faith.  In some situations, one or more from that group may share the newfound faith with another circle of friends, who accept the gospel and agree to begin meeting to study.  One of the examples Garrison gave us a few weeks ago was a man in Asia who did just that – started a church that started a church – before he came back to the second week of training on what to do next.

If a group of believers are gathered as a church, performing the essential functions of a church (see more here), but lack the theological training to provide one another anything more than shared ignorance, then it is perfectly fine to use recorded or broadcast sermons and teaching.  This does not, as one comment to Goodmanson’s post suggested, lead us into becoming  “less and less relational and relying more and more on technology.”   The technology is a supplement, but without the human-to-human connection in an accountable community, there is no church. (Just not a preacher.)