New Lanes, New Pipelines

The future of church planting in the EFCA

George Klippenes’ first opportunity to pastor came in 1976 at Maple Ridge Evangelical Free Church in Stanchfield, Minnesota. From there, his connection with the EFCA blossomed and grew until he became director of church planting in 1998.

A little more than three years ago, George realized it was time to transition out of his role. He had long noticed Jeff Sorvik, who was pastoring Anchor Point Community Church (EFCA) in the Iron Range of Minnesota—an area that George calls “rocky, rocky soil” for church plants. In April 2014, Jeff took over full time for George with a dual role: church multiplication catalyst and director of church planting. Below is a Q & A with both men, chronicling where we have come and what lies ahead for church planting in the EFCA movement.

Jeff Sorvik (with microphone) and others pray for George Klippenes as he steps out of his 16-year role as EFCA director of church planting.

What will Jeff bring to this role?

George: He’s authentic, he’s a learner, he’s not afraid to try new things, and he has the ear of younger leaders. He listens and learns from them, but they also follow him. Jeff is good at confronting them when they’re making “young leaders’ mistakes” and having their backs when they’re taking “young leaders’ risks.” This is crucial, since the transitions of pastors who are aging and retiring is a gigantic issue facing not just the Evangelical Free Church but a lot of evangelical denominations.

Why is church planting important?

Jeff: I see church multiplication as an extension of us being passionate toward the mission Jesus gave us. What’s really important to me is the Great Commission. Throughout Scripture and history, the byproduct of going out and turning lost people into disciples requires the gathering together of new churches. I would say that we have historically been a church-planting denomination. That is our legacy.

George: God invests in the church. If you want to be where the action is, you need to be involved in church. Church planting represents the missionary spirit of starting new things. I’m doing missions; it’s just in America.

Where do you see the future of church planting headed?

Jeff: The gospel never shifts. The way we do what we do needs to continue to adapt. That’s our challenge. We’re in our next season of adapting, and that will position us well for the next 15-20 years of fruitful ministry. The future of church planting is dependent, ultimately, on our commitment and passion to multiplying disciples. It’s possible to plant churches and not make disciples. And that’s happened a lot over the years. It’s not possible to make more and more disciples and not plant churches.

George: I find most younger leaders tend to be more evangelistic than my generation, and they would use the word missional. Young leaders tend to be much more interested in multiplication and not just in growing larger. My generation was just focused on their churches getting larger and larger. A lot of young leaders are voicing, My marker of success will be if, in my lifetime, I can plant 10 churches. That wasn’t even a frame of reference when I was a young pastor.

But what keeps that goal from being prideful or simply bragging?

George: I think pride can be an issue, whether your goal is to grow the largest church in the community or to plant the most churches. Pride is no respecter of age. What I was trying to communicate is that I think young pastors understand better the power of multiplication vs. addition. Church growth is primarily a ministry of addition; church reproduction is primarily a ministry of multiplication. I think we understand the strategic value of multiplication better than we did 40 years ago.

What are some of the challenges for the future of church planting?

George: We have some gigantic challenges. The first one is the population explosion. Our church planting has gone up—nationally, we’re planting about 4,000 churches a year. But with our population, we need to be planting about 10,000 churches just to keep up.

Jeff: We must continue to innovate—open new lanes and approaches to church planting that will reach people we’re not reaching. We also need to figure out how to open up our leadership pipelines—to identify, equip and release more church planters. I hear pretty regularly from other denominations and networks that that’s one of the biggest challenges.

George: And we have the most liberal immigration policies of any nation. God is literally bringing the mission field to our backyard. Only the astute planters and church-planting leaders are seizing the missional opportunity. If you’re a Christian with any missionary blood in you, you’ve got to think, What an opportunity.

What would you say to those reading this article who might think, I completely agree with you, but I don’t feel called to church planting; I feel called to the established church?

Jeff: Not all of us are called to church planting, but I believe that multiplication is the heart of the mission Jesus left to all of us. Some have the role of going and others have the role of sending. But all of us are called to be active in the mission of multiplying.

George: Yes. It takes a certain type of leader to be a church planter, and God doesn’t wire all pastors to be planters. I am guessing about 60 percent of pastors should not become church planters. Reproduction takes a unique skill set and unselfish leaders. But we need all of our pastors to have a multiplication mindset—either planting, or leading their church in reproducing other churches.

The interest in church planting both inside and outside the EFCA has dramatically accelerated since 2006. We’re seeing church-planting movements all over the world. I fell in love with the Evangelical Free Church [in the 1970s]. A lot of old guys get cynical on denominations and churches, but I still think the EFCA is the place to be and the local church is a major instrument God is using to change communities.

Go online to learn more about EFCA church-multiplication efforts and resources.

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