An Artisan Approach to Church Planting

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I would contend that most church planting today and over the past several decades has been thoroughly Fordist in approach. If we note the chart below (from Brew to Bikes) comparing the characteristics of the Fordist Economy with the Artisan Economy we would see church planting as being standardized, uniform, universal, with low levels of variation, work for pay, and hierarchical organizations, to name a few. Welcome to the way we do church planting today ... it’s Fordist. Even our training mechanisms, whether denominational or through a church planting network, are uniform and standardized regardless of the context of where one is planting a church. 

If we were to look at the measurables and the hoped-for or assumed results they too are uniform and universal. They are void of the contextual realities even if one is planting in a church-saturated culture or among the urban poor or in a post-Christian urban gentrifying setting; the results and the measurables are still the same. Most often church planters themselves are held to the same standards. In terms of work for pay, they probably cringe at that. I have sat through meetings where denominations have cut funding for planters in order to incentivize them to produce more so they can be rewarded with more money. I even saw a chart where if the planter got his church up to a certain number of people then his pay would increase by a corresponding amount, and so forth.

What would church planting look like under the framework of the Artisan Economy? What can Portland, which is a hotbed for this burgeoning creative / artisan class, teach us about church planting and the passion for gospel-centered innovation? My motivation in pushing this conversation forward is that I believe we need a reboot when it comes to church planting. We simply need to wrench it out of its Fordist framework and re-imagine it within the growing framework of the Artisan Economy. 

You see, there are many parallels between the changing global economy and church planting. As much as cities such as Detroit or Cleveland or Milwaukee or Pittsburgh might wish to reassert their status as world-class producers of steel and other manufactured products, that would be impossible. They have already seen the bulk of their jobs move either overseas or to the Sunbelt cities. Rather than hold onto their bygone status, it is imperative for them to aggressively move forward in a new direction. Even though there is some pushback among academics over the fact that Milwaukee is going all-in on wooing the creative class, what choice do they have? Globalization has shifted the geographic centers of economics and manufacturing. Time will tell if they will succeed or not and there are already signs of hope and change in cities like Cleveland and Detroit. They are rebounding.

Similarly, what I find today are denominations and church planting organizations and networks redoubling their efforts in hopes of regaining their former status as mass-producers of new one-size-fits-all church plants. Rather than yearning for what once was, what if instead they charted a new way forward in light of the changing economics of globalization? I believe that to do so would not only produce more churches, but they would also be more innovative and adaptable. Look again at the characteristics of the Artisan Economy in the above-referenced chart and imagine them being applied to church plants. 

Here are several examples:

  1. Similar but not uniform––While there will always be universal elements of church throughout history and across cultures (similar), artisan churches will not be uniform as they are influenced by context and culture.
  2. Variation is appreciated––There is much variation not only between the churches, but even in how training is done and carried out. It is localized and contextual.
  3. Improvisational––Artisan churches adapt to context and the church planters themselves are improvisational.
  4. Locally distinct––Contextualized to each setting in the city, not only will urban churches differ from their suburban counterparts, but they will also vary from district to district and neighborhood to neighborhood in the same part of the city.
  5. Work follows seasonal rhythms––Church planting is more of a way of life than a job.
  6. Less is more––Artisan churches are streamlined and minimalistic.
  7. Clustered, collaborative firms––Church planters embrace collaboration thus creating incubators for mission innovation.

A new era is upon us thanks to densifying globalization. The creative or artisan economy in the West is shaping and reshaping our cities. It is time that we let it do the same for church planting in North America.