church planting leader randall tonini

The Church is global, the body of Christ as expressed by his followers, around the world. A church is local, a group of people who are Jesus’ hands and feet in the community where they live. Too many times the conversation has gone like this. “Tell me about the church you want to start.” “It will be missional, incarnational …” “That’s great. Tell me about the people God’s calling you to reach.” Silence.

Jesus never told you to start a church. He told you to make disciples. The clearer you are about who he wants you to make into disciples, the more effective you’ll be in both making disciples and starting a church. Given the billions of people not following Jesus, you’d think any people would do.

In his wisdom and providence, it seems as though he calls certain leaders to reach certain people. Paul wanted to plant a church in Bithynia, presumably because people there had never heard about Jesus. The Holy Spirit wouldn’t let him. The next church Paul was called to start was in Philippi and people there were already waiting to hear the Good News.

It’s so important for you to find your place, or more correctly, the place where God is sending you. You can’t start a church until you find your place and the people God is calling you to reach.

A whole generation of American church planters parachute dropped into cities they’d never lived in to start churches over the last few decades. Often, they relied on relevant teaching, contemporary music, great kid’s programs and marketing to reach people in rapidly growing new communities.

For a season, it worked. Millions of people are following Jesus today because those church planters were willing to go to a place they didn’t know. Yet as culture and generations have shifted, church planting relies as much, or more, on relationships. Starting a church in a city where you have no relationships is a daunting task. God is big enough if he’s behind it. Be as confident as you can be that he’s the one sending you before you go.

The next generation of church planters seem as likely to stay home or go home to plant. There’s something about “my people” that inspires mission and creates the kinds of natural affinities that lead to reaching people far from God. All of those people you’re still friends with from high school, back when Facebook was still a thing, become the people God can use you to introduce to new life in Jesus.

Apart from hearing an audible voice say “go” or having a dream of someone begging you to come (both still happen), the critical question is, “who does your heart break for?

Unfortunately, if you start with church, you may or may not ever make new disciples. If you start with people far from God, and a focus on introducing them to Jesus, you’ll always get new disciples and a new church.

”It’s a simple prayer. “Lord, show me who you want me to reach.” Your calling starts with them.


This post is excerpted from Craig Whitney’s “Be Next: How to Become a Church Planter.” This e-book would be a helpful tool for someone considering starting their church planting journey through a Church Planting Residency. If you are interested in talking about residency opportunities or know someone who is, fill out our Church Planter Residency Form. We’ll send you the book download link and contact you with next steps.

Craig Whitney, Director of Training

Craig is a strategist, teacher, leader and coach. Having started a church himself, he is passionate about developing the next generation of leaders who will start, grow and multiply even more effective churches.  He lives in Sacramento, California with the cutest girl in his 4th Grade Sunday School class who he has now been married to for over 30 years. When he is not reading, writing or talking about ideas for developing leaders, he likes to spend time roasting and drinking coffee, cycling in the Sierra Foothills and cheering on his favorite Formula 1 driver.