Rod Koop: Planting New Churches

Rod Koop, director of church multiplication ministries for the Foursquare church, talks with us about the challenges and rewards of starting new churches.

Program Transcript

J. Michael Feazell: Welcome to Dimensions of
where we take a candid look at the opportunities, resources,
possibilities, and challenges facing Christian pastors in today’s multi-faceted
world. We’re talking with Rod Koop, National Director of Church Multiplication
Ministries for the Foursquare Church. Rod’s experience includes service as a
youth pastor in California and Oregon, as a senior pastor in Stanwood,
Washington, and as a District Administrator and Director of Church
Multiplication in the Midwest District of the Foursquare Church. Now as
National Director of Church Multiplication, Rod is in the final stages of his
Doctor of Ministry degree at Bakke Graduate University.

It’s a pleasure having you with us today, and we appreciate
you taking a few minutes out of this conference to spend some time with us.

Rod Koop: Thanks for having me, Mike. I appreciate

JMF: We’re talking about church planting in
connection with multiplication ministries. Planting is, for a lot of people,
kind of an ambiguous, mysterious, almost intimidating word. Is there a way you
could take some of the fear factor out of that?

RK: I think that it’s a term that a lot of people
struggle with. For me, it’s just starting a new church. It’s recognizing that
there is a group of people in a community who don’t know God. And church
planting, or starting a new church, is a way that we would use to be able to
reach them with the gospel. It happens best out of a local church or with
support from a local church that would support a leader who feels called to
that people, whoever they are, whether it’s a certain ethnicity or people group
or just a culture just within our own cities. But it is about starting a new
church and having that church have its own identity, its own calling, its own
sense of purpose in reaching those people and having a unique expression that
is contextually a fit for what it takes to be able to reach those people.

JMF: A lot of churches, they hear encouragement about
starting a new church. Their first question is, “I need to build up this
church and strengthen it and make it healthy first — this isn’t the time for me
to think about starting a new church.” How does that process work, and how
should churches look at that?

RK: I think all churches do a better job at assisting
the starting of new churches when they’re healthy and strong. So we’re always a
proponent of churches being built up individually. The part that I think that
sometimes gets left out is that planting a new church or starting a new church
can be a significant part of that strengthening process. Sometimes churches can
become a little bit inward, and it’s through no fault of their own. A lot of
times they’re just dealing with some issues of care for their own people.

However, the church is here on earth to reach people who are
in desperate straits — people who are hurting. Jesus loves those people, and he
put the church here to bring the gospel to them so that their lives could be
changed. There’s something healthy about a church that would look outside
themselves and begin to ask the question, “What is our responsibility to our

Sometimes when you’re looking around and you’re seeing
limited resources, those can be hard questions to ask, but it does involve
making disciples, and that’s probably the thing I would like to emphasize more
than anything. As a guy who oversees church planting for a denomination, I
often find myself viewed as the person who is after someone’s assets. It’s that
[the new church] must have a leader or they must have money or they must have

JMF: So there’s the sense you’re asking a church to
give up some of its leadership and assets to go somewhere else.

RK: Certainly. Whenever churches get started, it
requires all of those things. But to be honest with you, the thing that I think
I care most about is that churches make disciples. Healthy churches will do
that. That’s the command that Jesus gave. Here’s what I’ve discovered, is that
churches that do a good job of making disciples will discover that some of
those disciples will become pastors and some of those pastors will decide to
start new churches rather than to take over an existing one. So I’m a proponent
of health. However, as its natural outflow, one of the things that we want to
come to expect is that starting new churches is one of the ways, it’s designed
by God, that the church is advanced in our society.

JMF: So part of the process of starting a new church
sounds as though it has to do with leadership development, and some churches
have probably started a new church without even realizing it because they have
developed leaders and those leaders have perhaps gone off to study and then
they’ve gone and become a pastor of another church or started another church,
and the original church started that process and it didn’t really click that,
well, they were starting a new church by developing that leader.

RK: Yeah, it’s a proven fact that our seminaries do
not prepare pastors. They can give them a credible theological command of the
Scriptures, and there’s a lot of great things that seminaries can do. However,
a pastor is really born in the local congregation. It’s been my experience that
pastors who care about making disciples and investing their lives into leaders
that are being saved in the church, that are finding a place of ministry and
discipling those leaders — that those who have a call in their life actually
begin to work their call out into ministry in the local church. If they go to
college and they end up getting a seminary education, that’s great, that will
help prepare them for the pastorate. But again and again, what we find is is
that those leaders who excel in the pastorate really cut their teeth on real
ministry under the direction and the care and mentoring of a pastor who cared
about spiritual formation in their lives.

JMF: So in one sense, developing leadership is not
just for the benefit of the local church (even though it is immediately)…but
there comes a time when some leaders need to move out and start something

RK: Oh sure.

JMF: On their own.

RK: Yeah. The
nature of the gospel and the kingdom of God is that it expands, it grows. Life
finds a way.

JMF: Yeah.

RK: And one of
the things that we’ve noticed is that a lot of these pastors who sometimes view
themselves as, you know, they haven’t really had anything to do with church
planting. They very likely have been involved in ways that they were unaware
of. I guess a church planting guy like me though…I have noticed the kind of
acceleration that happens when you have within a movement some of those
apostolic leaders who have a particular gifting to stimulate the idea in the
minds of up-and-coming leaders that their life can make a difference in an
extraordinary way and that they can begin dreaming in that environment about
how they might make that difference. Starting new churches, without question,
the planting of new churches, is the most effective evangelism tool that we
have. Study after study has proven that to be true.

JMF: You mentioned apostolic leaders. Can you define

RK: An apostolic leader in the church sometimes is
more and more an accepted term. In Scripture we see that apostles are to be a
part of the church. However, in the church that you and I are a part of,
sometimes calling someone an apostle makes other people uncomfortable. But I
think we can be comfortable with the term that somebody has apostolic gifting.
An apostolic leader is somebody who sometimes is viewed by others as restless.
They’re not going to be your type that’s going to settle in and pastor a
20-year pastorate.

JMF: So apostolic in the sense of apostle, one sent,
that kind of a…

RK: Exactly…and also one with a gifting to begin
things in an entrepreneurial way, to launch new things, to see the
possibilities that exist maybe where other leaders might not see those things.

JMF: In your church and mine, the sense of an apostle
has a history, but apostolic leadership is a description of a kind of
leadership that’s entrepreneurial.

RK: Hopefully it’s a term we can be comfortable with.

JMF: Yeah — like evangelistic
and other terms. And maybe even church planting at some point.

RK: Yeah. In our phraseology, I know that we use
apostolic leaders as leaders that, like the apostle Paul, would open up new
fields of ministry.

JMF: Now tell me about new fields of ministry. You
have written about growing up in a small California town of Bodfish, or near it

RK: I have.

JMF: And how the soil was so bad there…and you’ve
compared the work your father had to do with the soil to get it to grow
anything, to soil preparation that a church has to do to bring in disciples. I
think it would be interesting to hear about that.

RK: Well, out of Matthew 13, there’s the parable of
the sower. In that parable, it talks about four different soil types. The
church tends to focus on good soil. I want to make it clear: good soil doesn’t
happen by accident. It gets there because someone took the responsibility to
roll up their sleeves and go to work. When we’re talking about our communities,
I think all four soil types exist. There’s going to be the rocky soil, there’s
going to be the thorns, the pathway, and there’s going to be some good soil. It
just requires of our pastor to take a look at the community that they live in
and to just ask God, what is my responsibility? Because I don’t think that
we’re going to be held accountable to anything God hasn’t asked us to be
responsible for. But in that responsibility there’s going to be some tough
soil. That’s when I think that it’s okay for pastors to have a vision for not
what the soil is but for what it
could be.

The story I write about and talk about has to do with the
way I was raised, Bodfish, California. We were actually raised in Bodfish
Canyon, seven miles out of a town of about 300 people, Bodfish. It was famous
for the soil. We referred to it as Bodfish clay. When my dad moved us up there,
he staked out a garden plot. In that plot was the hardest ground I had ever
seen in my life. It was like concrete. And he said we’re going to have a garden
here. I’m one of 11 kids, and I was realizing we needed to come up with a lot
of vegetables to feed that many kids. And he contended it was going to be that
dirt…and it did happen. It took a couple of years. I remember chipping it
away, watering it down, mixing the sand. We would go across the road and find
mulch. And we had a small farm, so we had cows and we had a horse and some
pigs. We all would muck out manure and add that to the garden. Over a couple of
years it finally began to produce, and eventually it completely fed our entire

When I think about that experience, I think about the man
who raised me and who had the vision to look at a plot of ground and see
something more than Bodfish clay. And I think that that’s what the church was
born for. When you consider hard ground in our communities where it might be
difficult to reach people for Christ, the real question isn’t “Can that happen?,”
the real question is “Has God put that territory into our care? Has he asked us
to do something about that soil?” Because if we will, and we put our hand to
it, God will call others. My dad had 11 kids to help him and eventually, in the
same way that that garden produced plenty enough for our entire family, I think
that we will see an amazing crop come from our communities because our pastors
become those vision-filled people. They’re already hardworking, but to work in
fields that they maybe hadn’t been in before — I think they’ll find it
especially fruitful.

JMF: What are some examples of way that pastors have
done that, have prepared the soil when it wasn’t a productive soil?

RK: It really is important that a pastor, personally,
and then as a leader of a church also, finds ways to get into their community.
Because what we’re talking about is connecting with people. In Matthew 9 we see
that Jesus did that. Jesus was ministering throughout the towns and the
villages. He wasn’t confined to a building or an office. What marked Jesus’
ministry was that he was elbow-deep in people’s lives. Pastors do that. They
come into contact with real needs. They come into direct connection with the
pain that people experience. Part of what happens is that their own ears become
sensitized to that.

I don’t think that you can really think about starting a new
church unless you understand why you’re doing that, because otherwise it’s just
an exercise in theory. A new church needs to be practical and it needs to be
targeted. When a pastor gets out of their, kind of out of their office and out
of the four walls of the church, and especially with their people…and there’s
lot of ways to do that. If it’s just inviting people in their cul-de-sac to
come over for a Saturday housewarming barbeque, that’s one way to begin. That’s
something that my wife and I have done. On the other hand, it could be
ministering in shelters, it could be, just…I’ve heard of churches just
handing out water to people who are involved in one of those fun runs on a hot
Saturday afternoon…whatever it takes, just getting out.

JMF: So it’s just making yourself present in the
community, in a sense, keeping us humble…making ourselves present in the
community is like spreading manure around and helping the soil become more
ready for the gospel before actually putting out seeds.

RK: Yeah. And can I say this? The soil that really
needs to be prepared first is the soil of our own home.

JMF: Yes.

RK: It really is. I have discovered that my
insensitivity to people who don’t know God is directly connected to a
separation that I have from them. It’s very hard in my job, very possibly in
yours, to orchestrate times whenever I’m with people who haven’t made a
decision for Christ. In my case, my wife is constantly involved in that realm
and so I kind of hitchhike on that. Most of our friends have come because of
her relationships that way. If I didn’t have that, there would be a certain
separation, a certain hardness, that it can’t be attended to any other way. Just
by pastors getting out and doing those kinds of things, finding ways to be with
people, the tilling of the soil in their own hearts begins to happen.

It happens the other way, too. There are people who…they
don’t know what to do with a pastor who will come rub shoulders with them, that
will come to the county fair or come to the adopt-a-block that the church is
doing and just rub shoulders with people like them. In the minds of your
typical unsaved person today, they see such a separation with the church that
there’s no relevance in their thinking. And by churches getting out of their
walls and stepping out into their community and trying to make a difference, we
can at least attempt to close that gap.

JMF: I found that you can be in the community in a
pastoral kind of way, but you can also be in the community just as a human
being where people don’t know you’re associated with the church, but as you get
to know them and then a crisis comes up in their lives and then you meet them
in a pastoral way, you’ve already established a friendship or a relationship.
It’s like you’re… “I had no idea…” And there’s an immediate response to the
pastoral care that’s available from somebody who they consider a friend at that

RK: At the core, starting new churches is about
opening doors where Christians can reconnect with people who don’t know God,
and then begin to gather those people, begin to introduce those people to the gospel.
Those groups of people become churches, you know? It’s not rocket science, but
it doesn’t happen by accident, either. It’s one of those kinds of things that if
there’s an environment of care for the communities we live in, where our
churches reside, then out of that environment of care, has the possibility of
new churches being started.

JMF: We’ve been seeing different kinds of churches
start in the last number of years. Can you talk about some of the different
sorts of churches you’ve seen? In other words, as opposed to the standard structured
sort of church we’re used to, different forms of churches have met the needs of
some people.

RK: Yeah, it takes different things to reach
different cultures. We know that by missions. We would never think about taking
a method that works in China and trying to deploy that to Eastern Europe. It wouldn’t
even cross our thinking. And more and more in the United States, cultures have
become widely diverse. You don’t have to go through a missions agency to do
missions. You can do it right here in the United States. What we found is that
we had to help prepare church planters in a different way.

In essence, we just ask that our leaders would engage church
planters in trying to help them answer this question — what does it take to be
able to plant a life-giving, biblically faithful, Foursquare church in my
context? You’re referencing different models. That’s where the contextual
issues come in. In some cases it would be a house church. In Manhattan we might
see simple churches take root in office buildings or apartment buildings where
there are recreational centers, but where it’s prohibitive to try to lease or
buy a piece of property for a traditional church. We might see in other
settings that it’s going to take a different model to be able to reach
Hispanics than it is going to be able to reach African-Americans. And then we
have the 20-somethings today that…we don’t really know all the models that
it’s going to take to reach that group. But what I’m discovering is that every
time one of our church planters who is of that age group launches a new church,
we see a new form of church that is still, and this is important, still biblically

JMF: When you’re going about starting a new church,
what are some of the typical mistakes that a new church starter makes?

RK: The primary mistake, I think, that we have seen
is that church planters would go out without a compelling sense of calling. You
can’t go anywhere without a sense of calling. We really believe that that’s the
first thing. And that needs to be confirmed by leaders who are in oversight. That’s
a biblical value. So that’s the first thing — premature launch. The enthusiasm
of a church planter — sometimes they want to go public. They want to start
reaching people. They want to notify the whole city that they’re a new church
long before they’re ready to do so. They need to give adequate time for their
leadership core team to be discipled into roles of leadership, that they’ll be
competent and able and confident to minister to people when people come. So
those are two things — premature launch, I think, and launching without a sense
of genuine calling. You know, launching with too few people is connected to
premature launch. Not gathering the right kind of resource space to sustain the
church plant. Those are all kinds of things. There’s a half a dozen others, but
I think those top the list.

JMF: Let’s finish with one final question. What is
one thing that you would like everyone to know about God?

RK: That is a great question. We’ve been talking
about activity in ministry, planting churches, discipleship. Most of the people
watching will be people who have a sense of calling on their lives. I know for
me, it’s about my life making a difference. When this is all said and done
with, I want to be able to look back and know that I gave it everything and
that it mattered.

But along the way, I discovered something that matters even
more, and that is something I’d like to communicate, and that is, that whether
I did another thing for God, whether we planted another church or discipled
another person, it’s not going to change his love for me. It’s not going to
change his delight that I’m his son and his creative genius in making me was a
good thing and that God is pleased in that. That turns my service into a free
gift that I get to offer him, not something that I try to extend as a way of
earning that love, because it can’t be earned. And that’s a pretty amazing

JMF: That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?

RK: Yeah, it is.

JMF: Thanks for being with us.

RK: Thank you, Mike.

JMF: We’ve been talking with Rod Koop, National
Director of Church Multiplication for the Foursquare Church. I’m Mike Feazell
for Dimensions in Ministry.