Paul’s Church Planting Practices



Examining Acts for Church Planting Guidelines and Principles

In Acts 13 through 21, the activities of Paul and his coworkers establish the first church planting movement, and demonstrates a church planting methodology that is flexible, financially lean and operates under a surprisingly brief timeline. Their work was taking place among very similar cultures and times to our own. We can look to their methods to re-examine and revise the church planting models we use today, and especially to increase our expectations of what God can accomplish through His people as He builds His Church.

Here are some thumbnail overviews:


The Galatian Churches

Paul was probably sick (Gal 4:13, perhaps from beatings and stoning, II Cor 11:24,25) during much of the time he proclaimed the gospel and taught new believers over the course of a year in the Galatian region. He spent from two to six months in each of the cities of Iconium, Lystra and Derbe (Acts 14:1-23). The newly planted churches were left for months at a time on their own.

Paul and his coworkers returned to each city on their departure from the region to ordain multiple pastors in each church. Most of these new pastors had only six months experience as believers in Jesus Christ. These churches, in much less than a year from their launching, had their own local leadership teams and were able to function independently under difficult oppression. Paul would visit again in about 18 months to two years (Acts 16:1-3), only staying a few months in the province. Another three years would pass before Paul visited for the last time, again for only a few months (Acts 18:23).


  • Three churches planted in an average of four months each
  • Left largely on their own after that for months—without any leadership in place
  • Local leadership teams emerged from within the startup churches
  • Pastors were appointed within six months of their salvation, on average

Further, consider this:

  • Paul is planting multiple churches regionally
  • The key church planter was in poor physical health, and the team left the area altogether within one year
  • New churches functioned independently (and indigenously) in less than a year


The Macedonian Churches

Paul and Silas visit the churches in Galatia on their way forward, sharing with them all the letter from the Jerusalem council. As a result, these young churches were established and growing, “so were the churches established in the faith, and increased in number daily,” Acts 16:5. At Lystra, they decide to add Timothy, a believer now for perhaps two years, to the church planting team. While they had targeted Asia, they are redirected by the Holy Spirit to Macedonia. At Troas, Luke rejoins the team.

The itinerant team of church planters again spends a brief time planting new churches, somewhere between two to five months at Philippi and Thessalonica, as little as one month at Berea (I Thess 2:17). Silas and Timothy stay on for a bit longer in Berea (Acts 17:14). At Philippi, Paul, Silas and a local worker (Justin) endure severe persecution (I Thess 2:2) and amazing deliverance. Philippi becomes Paul’s, “dearly beloved and longed for, my joy and crown” and the only church from which Paul receives personal support, “no church communicated with me as concerning giving and receiving, but ye only” (Phil 4:1,10,15,17). Women are prominently mentioned and associated with the work in these churches (Acts 16:13; 17:4,12; Phil 4:2,3). The work here is also associated with converting whole houses, not just individuals (Acts 16:15, 31-34). Paul was not what we consider a “full time” minister today; He was functioning as what we call a bivocational church planter, working full time (“night and day” I Thess 2:9; II Thess 3:8).


  • Three churches planted in an average of two to four months each
  • The newly planted churches are left on their own for a time without formal leadership
  • They function on their own in a relatively short period of time (months rather than years)

Also note:

  • Paul was functioning bivocationally
  • Whole households were being converted, not just individuals
  • Paul is planting multiple churches regionally


Paul is likely very discouraged by the reactions and opposition he has encountered so far (I Cor 2:3, “I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.”). This may be why he would later be so appreciative of how the churches at Philippi and Thessalonica flourished after his departure.


The Churches of Achaia

In Corinth (and briefly in Athens), the team spends as much as 18 months, and while there, do some followup work in Thessalonica and Berea. Unable to visit them though he wanted to do so (I Thess 2:18), Paul writes I Thess during this time and sends Timothy to deliver it (I Thess 3:1,2). Paul then sends again for Timothy and Silas to join him (Acts 17:15), which they do at Corinth (Acts 18:5). Timothy had likely left Thessalonica after delivering the letter to rejoin Silas in the work at Berea.

Paul is again functioning as a bivocational church planter in Corinth (Acts 18:1; I Cor 9:6-15; II Cor 11:6-10. We also see again that whole households are being converted (Acts 18:8, household of Crispus; I Cor 1:16, household of Stephanus). We also learn that Paul is giving responsibilities for ministry to others in the work (Paul only baptized the first converts, Stephanus’s household, plus Crispus and Gaius, I Cor 1:14-16, though many were baptized there from the beginning, Acts 18:8).

During the Corinthian work, Paul relates that they are presently glorying about the Thessalonians “in the churches (plural) of God” (II Thess 1:1-4). Paul makes mention of a church in Cenchrea (Rom 16:1), a nearby port city to the capital Corinth. It seems quite likely that Paul and his team, perhaps along with workers from Corinth, were busily planting several other churches in the region during this 18 month period (see Paul’s statement about the firstfruits of Achaia, not just of Corinth, in I Cor 16:15 and his mention of the dedication to the ministry of the saints demonstrated by Stephanus). This inference is also supported by II Cor 1:1 “unto the church of God which is at Corinth, with all the saints which are in all Achaia” and Rom 15:26 “it hath pleased them of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor saints.”


The Dangers of Elevating Notable Men

Subsequent visits to Corinth by the recently converted Apollos (the great orator) and by Peter (the flamboyant miracle-worker), divide the church into parties who elevate and follow men. This danger is one we need to take seriously today. It is a common inclination among men to associate with an elevated person who then becomes the rallying point. This is divisive to the church and dangerous to the worker, and has nothing to do with Christian pursuits. It is destructive, and not simply “good branding,” to have a big name in front of a work (though the world system consistently uses this practice, we should not follow their example).

While Paul follows up with a series of letters, he does not return again for three or four years (Acts 20:2).


  • While Paul stayed in Corinth for 18 months, it is likely that several churches were planted in the region
  • In a relatively short period of time, these churches are able to stand on their own
  • The church planters leave the region after the church is planted

Also note:

  • Paul is planting multiple churches regionally, this time from a base camp in Corinth (we will see this repeated in Ephesus)
  • Paul was functioning bivocationally
  • Whole households were being converted, not just individuals
  • Paul enlists additional workers from among the new churches

Enlisting new workers

Paul leaves Achaia with additional workers: Acquila and Priscilla (whom he leaves in Ephesus, Acts 18:18), Erastus (Acts 19:22), as well as Gaius and Aristarchus (Acts 19:29). At some point, Sosthenes travels from Corinth to join the work in Ephesus (Acts 18:17; I Cor 1:1, Corinthians being written from Ephesus), as do Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus (I Cor 16:17). In all, Paul names more than 80 associated workers. These were not men under his control, but men also involved in the work, all of whom at one point worked alongside Paul.


The churches of Asia

Paul begins working in Ephesus. During this time, Paul and his team are also ministering to the troubled church in Corinth (Acts 19:22; 20:1-3; I Cor 4:17; 16:10; II Cor 12:18; 13:1). As to timelines, Paul is likely there for three years (depending on how you take Acts 20:31, perhaps for only two and a half years). Paul is clearly proclaiming the gospel three months in the synagogue, and holding discussions for two years through the school of Tyrannus. We also see Paul continuing his practice of bivocational ministry (Acts 20:33-35; I Cor 4:11,12).

During this time, “all they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greek,” Acts 19:10. We also learn from the trouble with Demetrius the silversmith, that Paul and his team had widely spread the gospel in Asia, “not alone at Ephesus, but almost throughout all Asia, this Paul hath persuaded and turned away much people, saying that they be no gods, which are made with hands.” Philemon with his slave Onesimus is one of these converts from Colosse, as is Epaphras. They are likely responsible for the work in Colosse, Laodicea and Hierapolis (Col 1:6,7; 4:11-13; Philemon 1:22-24).

The churches of Rev 2 & 3 are the likely result of Paul’s work and workers in Ephesus. It is also likely that because of Paul’s concerns for Rome (Acts 19:20-22) that he may have sent Pricscilla and Acquila there as he sent Timothy, Erastus and others into Macedonia. Priscilla and Acquila had fled Rome under persecution, and had worked alongside Paul in Corinth and Ephesus. Paul greets them preferentially in Rom 16:3-5.


  • Paul is planting multiple churches regionally, this time from a base camp in Ephesus
  • In three years, Paul not only plants the church in Ephesus, but the many churches of Asia are birthed
  • Paul was enlisting, training, and sending out additional workers

Also note:

  • Paul established multiple pastors in Ephesus
  • Paul was functioning bivocationally
  • Paul was continuing to support churches previously planted by visits and letters



Consider the practices of the Apostle Paul and his teams in your church planting strategies. Especially, increase your expectations of what God can do with new believers in a relatively short period of time. We may be placing entirely too much importance to our labors and oversight, compounded by grossly underestimating God’s power and place in the church planting process.