Church Planting Innovation

A friend of mine, named Kaz Sekine, planted a successful church in the heart of Tokyo where real estate costs are among the highest on earth. With nowhere available to rent they had to innovate. Kaz and his friends planted the church in a park, during a typhoon.

Flexibility comes from understanding that form follows function. You needn’t do what you’ve seen done, in order to accomplish whatever God put in your heart. There is no “right” way to plant a church. You study the New Testament, your situation and go with what works.

The function is to gather people so you can equip them for ministry. The best form is “whatever it takes to accomplish the task.”

Church In A Typhoon

With no permit, they set up folding chairs and held services outdoors in Shinjuku Park, near thousands of coffee shops and nightspots that attract thousands young adults. That first Sunday found the new congregation meeting outdoors during a the first phase of a typhoon. The church was born under umbrellas while everyone braced themselves against high winds.

Eighteen months later, the congregation moved into a nightclub. However, on the last Sunday in the park, like the first, umbrellas were again necessary. This time they popped up to protect worshipers from a snowstorm. Flexible thinking allowed my friends and their congregation to prevail in an environment where others often fail.

Not everyone can plant a church. New ventures always risk failure, so they demand a high level of operational faith. A journey into uncharted waters requires a resourceful and flexible team. Sometimes it even requires umbrellas.

Church On The Beach

Before we started Hope Chapel in Hawaii, we negotiated an agreement to lease an entire floor of a new office building. Just two weeks before we moved, the management reneged on its verbal agreement. Our team had already quit jobs and shipped our household belongings to Oahu so there was no turning back.

My partners and I immediately flew to Oahu to make new arrangements. We searched public schools, parks and even a banquet room in a Chinese restaurant. Everyone turned us down. Our new church was born under a tree at the beach. We made it look like a large picnic (with a guy preaching) and constantly feared the worst as churches are not permitted in parks where we live—the policeman eyeing us each week only made it worse. He never got out of the car but we were certainly aware of his presence.

The litany of rejections simply made the task more exciting. We chose to be flexible and enjoyed watching God provide an innovative solution.

A Community As A Church Campus

I currently pastor a church in a movie theater. We have no building fund and no plans to build. We see the city as our campus. One beach park is our baptistry. We train people in a conference room at a public library. We keep a virtual office via technology and coffee shops. We’ve learned that form must subordinate itself to function if we are to successfully extend the kingdom of God (Adapted from Starting A New Church by Ralph Moore).

What would you do if you had to find new facilities on very short notice?

Please comment (below). How do you respond to unexpected changes? If you are flexible, then sudden challenges can’t blow away your plans… Any stories like the ones above would help others.



16 thoughts on “Church Planting Innovation”

  1. We are a 7 month old church that has been meeting in a school. They didn’t let us rent for the summer…so we will be meeting in the park across the street.

    1. Must be tough but fun. One of our churches lost a building which forced meetings in a park. Attendance nearly doubled in about four months. Situations like this are whatever you make of them.
      Thanks for the comment!

  2. I have held sermons in our living room and at the park. We’ve held small groups at member’s homes and at the park too. It’s hard when the weather is not too “user-friendly” but the concept of the community as being the church seems so natural. Considering how the 1st Century Church got going, I don’t think we’re far off base when we reach into the community in this way.

    Your message is so encouraging! Thank you for sharing!!


  3. Michael Alonzo

    My senior year at life you challenged our class to
    Plant churches… 1993 I left LA to plant a church on Kauai, just after hurricane Inikki…1992… the only place to start was in a park, Wailua Homestead park…. under a busted up Lani New Hope Kauai was started …..With the help
    Of a generator from an RV we were able to produce electricity for instruments and some time an overhead projector….after 6 months we moved to a school and till today the Church is alive and well…..No longer with new hope I’m
    Now helping a ministry that meets in an outdoor barn at Kealia farms….chickens, roosters, and dogs are welcome…..Oh and druggies alchololics and the homeless are there Experencing Gods grace….All God ask is for someone to answer the call with a yes, He’ll add to the Harvest. In. Christ Michael Alonzo

  4. Janelle Ibaven

    Thank you so much for sharing these stories! I church planted in LA with two college students with every intention to rent a facility and “do” church until I met Alfredo. Alfredo was my Starbucks trainer and as he inquired of what I was really doing working at Starbucks I told him I am a pastor who is church planting in LA. Perplexed and a bit embarrassed, he asked me how one “plants” a church followed by a more jarring question …. what is a pastor? Needless to say at that moment I knew I was looking at my new church and my church facility . We met (and the church still continues to meet) at various coffee shops and university campuses in LA. It is not what we planned or invisioned but it has taught me so much about our people, context and the soul of our city.

    Two months ago I moved my life to the east coast to be a Chaplain at Harvard University. These four years have been a training ground of flexibility and creativity. I am so grateful for Alfredo and how he, with two simple questions changed my life and paradigm. I am so grateful.

    1. Hi Janelle,
      Please follow up on this comment using the “Contact” button at the top of the homepage. I want to know what happened to the church after you moved. I’m getting a fair amount of negative pushback that says churches like yours don’t last. My answer is “Even if they close, would you want to miss out on the lives that were changed while they existed. But, I want to hear stories about what happened after the founding leader left. Did the church survive? If so, who led it? How did you disciple them?
      Any answer, positive or negative, will be a blessing.
      Ralph Moore

  5. So inspiring and encouraging. Reminding us again and again church isn’t a building, but God’s people on God’s mission. So the church can be at all places at all times. Thanks for this.

  6. Kenneth Makuakane

    I did not plant this church on Maui but I soon became one of the legions of workers. It was planted in a golf cart barn. Each Sunday we stripped the barn empty, cleaned it out, got all the chairs, tables, sound system, and other things from the storage to set up our church. I was on the worship team. We had a vibrant community of residents, hotel workers and hotel guests. It was hard work, especially when you had to reverse the process after the service was over. But oh what rush I felt each week from the smiling faces of all who came to experience the grace of God.

  7. We are a 4 month old church plant that is launching out of my apartment’s community room. The outdoor pool is available for baptisms. We have a local coffee shop that makes a conference room available for small groups.

  8. Through every failure that I have had in doing church there are way more successes. So I continue to do what I’m called to do evangelize. I get up everyday knowing that someone needs Jesus. Don’t need no office because the community and the streets are my office. Meetings are held having meals together, discipleship is part of our every day lives, our DNA model is Jesus. We tend to make church the building, buildings do not contain the Holy Spirit we do, people do. Our role is to leave a legacy of who Jesus is building no building, under a tree, in a park, in an RV, in a barn. I was with Ralph for a few years on staff and I was very rough around the edges. I learned unorthodox thinking from this man which is a big part of who I am and what I do. Break free from what you might fail from and do it. Remember form follows function. If your form is Jesus the function of the church will follow no matter where it is.

    1. I am honored to be part of your life. You’ve proven that “pocket churches” can infiltrate and penetrate a culture–even the SoCal surf culture. I understand you now oversee a couple of hundred small, free-standing churches. Your example is new to the rest of us. Would you elaborate in another comment? Maybe email me through the “Contacts” tab on the webpage. Would love to ask you to write a guest blog.

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