I used to promote church planting….
As a church planter, I used to promote church planting as the solution to the growth! My emphasis has changed to focus on making disciples as the core activity for believers. It is the core command of Christ in the Great Commission (Matt 28:19). The imperative is to make disciples and the participles baptizing and teaching form part of the process.
New believers are only properly discipled when they will make other disciples, which is the basis of the amazing growth of the early Christian movement. Early Christianity was a movement, more than a “church organization,” at least as we understand “church” from our experience.
So is the church unimportant? No – the church is the body of Christ of which Christ is correctly the head (Eph1.22). When disciples are making disciples, there is growth and disciples naturally want to meet and gather with other disciples in the name of the Jesus. It is the presence of Jesus through his Spirit that is central to a true expression of the church (Matt 18:20, Eph 2:4).
The emphasis in church planting so often has been on the gathered church meeting and having a building and a pastor and the focus has often been to establish these features as the core goal, and as quickly as possible. However this does not usually result in many new disciples being made, but often attracts people who are already Christian. The energy of the Group quickly becomes focused on the weekly “worship service” and other activities of “the church” instead of on “making disciples” as Jesus commanded.
At its best, the church as a loving faith community will be attractive to people whom it is in relationship with. However we need to focus on the core command of Jesus before anything else. In this order I do still promote the formation of faith communities as a consequence of making disciples.