For years missional leaders have repeated the refrain articulated by Dr. C. Peter Wagner that "The best means of evangelism under the sun today is church planting." I myself have even quoted Dr. Wagner in some of my earlier resources. This statement has become a banner for church planting in the US for the past 20 years.
The reason given for this statement is that new churches tend to be hungrier, evangelistically speaking, than their more established sisters. The very survival of the new church depends upon her outreach ability, so the people are more motivated to do evangelistic work. Statistically this is proven to be true as well. New churches do win more converts than long standing ones, but does that make the quote right?
In the past few years I have come to realize that Dr. Wagner got it backwards. We need to make a shift in our missional understanding:
The best means of church planting under the sun today is evangelism (gospel sowing).
You see, we have a great many people starting churches today but not necessarily doing any true gospel work. There are a number of fast growing churches that simply draw Christians from other churches to form new ones. I do not believe that such a practice is indeed the best form of evangelism or of church planting--but it can still fly the banner quoted by Dr. Wagner.
No, we must get back to seeing church as a fruit of evangelism not the other way around. The Bible never commanded us to plant a church or even instructed us in church planting. The gospel (the good news of the intimate reality, redemption and rule of Jesus daily) is the seed we plant, not a church. If we sow the gospel much, we will reap many more disciples and a whole lot more churches will be started as well.
Of course we must also shift to a more holistic understanding of the gospel and the kingdom of God than we have had. Simply throwing out a lot of tracts or shouting at people on a megaphone is not likely to reap spiritual disciples or churches. Jesus brought the kingdom with him to the people who needed it most in a very incarnational and transformational manner. That is what He instructed us to be about.
Stop planting churches, start planting Jesus. Don't build churches, that is not your job or mine. Jesus said, "I will build my church." What He told us to do is to "Preach the gospel," and make disciples (or followers) of Jesus. To risk being cliche: the horse must come before the cart. The seed must come before the tree, and the fruit will follow. Plant Jesus, and let him start the churches. Frankly, He is better at it than we are anyway.