Don’t Be an “Orphan Church Plant”


“If a genie gave you only one wish, what would you wish for?”

The wise man, of course, knows how to respond: “I’d wish for more wishes.”

“You’re not allowed to wish for more wishes,” the questioner says. And so the wise man knows how to respond again: “I’d wish for more genies.”

As a church planter, I get asked from time to time, “If you could give a young church planter only one piece of advice, what would it be?”

I always give the same response: “Make sure an established and healthy church becomes your sending church” (although I prefer the term “parent church”). This is a wise man’s way of wishing for more wishes because a healthy parent church will give a young church planter a lifetime’s worth of advice. It’s like having infinite genies!


When it comes to church planting, the metaphor of the church as a body (Rom. 12:5) is rich with real-life implications. 

A church plant is a body. It has all the constitutive parts, but generally speaking it’s a body that’s not yet fully self-sustaining. The parents reading this quickly remember just how needy newborns and toddlers are. Teens are less needy, yet only slightly more self-sufficient. They’re still largely dependent on their parents.

The God-given design for human bodies growing into maturity is applicable to Jesus’ care for his body, the church. In my own church planting journey, I can trace the growth of our young body much like I mark the growth of my own children’s bodies on the infamous growth chart next to our fridge.

Our journey to church planting featured many starts, stops, and detours. We wanted a healthy church to “send” us, but we found ourselves an orphan. Thankfully, the Lord cares for orphans (John 14:8) and so he eventually sent Open Arms Church to adopt us. I couldn’t imagine having to navigate those first two years without their generosity and wisdom. As our parent church, their help nurtured us during our awkward teen years. In reality, we’ve not quite graduated to full adulthood . . . yet. But we’re close, thanks in large part to their help!


I’m convinced that every church plant needs a parent church. Stated oppositely, no church plant should be an orphan. Here are five benefits to having a “parent church”:

Purchasing Power

Many parents give their growing children a weekly allowance. I start with the financial piece not because I believe it’s the most important, but because it’s likely the most well known. The young church plant is rarely able to generate her own operating budget. But she is growing into maturity and is entrusted with some finances as she begins to prove herself financially responsible. She’s got a degree of independence and autonomy, but still depends on her parents to pay the rent. Speaking of parents . . .

Provisional Plurality

You simply can’t put a price on this one. The amount of tasks and emotional toll church planting requires is so weighty I couldn’t imagine doing it alone. I cannot understate how helpful it has been to consistently meet with, pray with, and get counsel from the already recognized and experienced elder-team of Open Arms. As a new church plant is learning how to walk and flourish on her own, it will benefit greatly by having some time-tested parents in her corner to share their wisdom and experience, offer encouragement, and hold her accountable.


As the oldest of three boys I hated when my parents would make me drag my brothers along with me to an event. Now that I’m the planter of a younger church, I see why my brothers found it so exciting. While our church is taking baby steps on wobbly legs, we had generous siblings from our parent church that staffed our children’s ministry and served as greeters, musicians, parking attendants, and just about any other volunteer role you could mention. Open Arms was open-handed with their people. Together, we approached the folks that lived closer to our church plant and asked them to join us. In the end, only one of six families made the move, but the Lord gave us confidence that was his will. Their generosity in inviting strategic families to join us, however, is an example of nurturing a young church body toward self-sufficiency.


I remember my first car. I paid $250 for it. You had to occasionally wipe the inside of the windshield off while driving because the defrosters didn’t work. Dangerous, but necessary. Sometimes church planting feels like assembling a car while you’re driving 70 MPH on the freeway. There are seemingly infinite things that need to get done and only finite time in which to do them. Like adolescents heading out on their first road trip, it was helpful to borrow some road-tested maps from our parents. We saved countless hours and flat tires by simply modifying many of their operating documents for our own purposes (by-laws, children’s policies, statement of faith, church covenant etc.).

Propulsion of the Gospel

Finally, our adoptive parents are thinking about legacy—both theirs and ours. We aren’t the first church they’ve helped to plant and we won’t be the last. When Scripture calls the church a body, it implies it’s alive, it’s growing, it needs to be well-nourished, and by golly it should multiply. Just as Scripture tells parents that their children are like arrows whose influence will far surpass their own (Psalm 127:4), our church plant has an indelible imprint from Open Arms. The Lord will give us our own history and legacy, but we share in the same gospel and the same ministry of that gospel. Together, we’re committed to multiplying additional church plants because we’ve seen how it benefits the parents as much as the children. Grandchildren will ensure the gospel arrow reaches further into the future than we will see this side of eternity


My prayer for the young would-be-planter is simple: don’t be an orphan. May those who don’t have parents find a loving and healthy congregation to help them flourish and grow into maturity. At the same time, I pray that healthy, established churches would open their doors to an adolescent or toddler church plants and nourish them into a healthy adult. May our church bodies pursue collectively the command our first parents were given before sin entered the world: “Be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28).

Sean Nolan

Sean Nolan is planting Engage Church in Albany, New York. He is married to Hannah with four kids.

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