Why plant new churches?
That’s a big question…and I could probably talk about it forever! 🙂 But I will do my best to answer the question (and a couple of objections) as briefly and hopefully clearly as I can. So two main reasons we plant new churches:
1- It is Biblical
I do not mean to say that the phrase “church planting” is found in the bible. It is not. But the principle of church planting most certainly is. There are plenty of starting points I could go to in the scriptures…but I will begin with a simple, well known one:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19, 20 ESV)
This verse is known as the great commission. It was spoken by Jesus to His disciples prior to His ascension into heaven, as described in the first chapter of Acts. It is the command that set into motion the redemptive plans of God to call out a people for Himself and using His called out people to do it. It is a plan that is still in motion and applicable to us today. All believers everywhere, individually and corporately, are commanded to participate in this disciple-making endeavor.
The rest of the book of Acts describes how the initial group of followers in Jerusalem participated in the commission and then describes the spread of the gospel outside of Jerusalem by men, like Paul, who travelled city to city making converts and organizing them into local churches that were then tasked to continue the process of disciple-making. Back in the day- Paul was quite the church planter! Most of the rest of the New Testament are letters he wrote to these fledgling churches and their leaders, encouraging them and guiding them. So, the idea of church planting is all over the scriptures!
This process of disciple-making church planting has continued throughout history and it is the very method that brought the Christian faith all the way here to our little corner of the world in Evansville, Indiana! Every single church you step into here in our city was at some point in its history…a church plant. All of us, came to faith through a process of church planting. (Please don’t misunderstand…salvation’s power lies with God! I am just speaking of the methods used in our conversion.)
2- It is effective
Church planting is one of the most effective methods of evangelism.
Consider this quote from the Acts29 Church Planting Network:
“Dozens of denominational studies have confirmed that the average new church gains most of its new members (60-80%) from the ranks of people who are not attending any worshipping body, while churches over 10-15 years of age gain 80-90% of new members by transfer from other congregations.”
New evangelistic churches planted into cities and communities are well suited to reach the unreached. They have a unique ability to strategically reach people groups that existing churches are not able (or will ever be able) to reach. A dynamic, missional church planted into a community can exponentially impact souls as each church represents a unique entry point to the kingdom of God.
“Church planting is the single most effective evangelistic methodology under heaven” – C. Peter Wagner
As with any methodology, there are always those posing objections to its use. That being said, I would like to specifically address a couple of the ones I have heard over the years.
Aren’t there enough churches in this city already?
First of all, in a larger context…there are plenty of places in the world where there aren’t ANY Christian churches so surely this objection does not apply there and we should all be in agreement that church planting should be done in those places. Unless your strategy is to fly them to your church regularly. Hey…bus ministry on steroids!
But I will agree, in my context (Evansville), there seems to be a lot of churches! Why do we need another one?
I will address this question from a practical standpoint. There are approximately 117,000 people currently living in the city of Evansville. The local association of my denomination (not abomination of desolation…different thing…maybe), Southern Baptist, lists on its website that we currently have 26 churches in the metro Evansville area. Now just for funsies, let’s say the average seating capacity for worship in these churches is 300. Some are obviously higher…some are obviously lower. If these churches were absolutely full on any given Sunday (and I assure you they are not), that would mean we would be reaching 7800 people. Sounds like a lot – but there are 117,000 people living here! So, what do we say about the approximately 109,000 we are not reaching or even have the capacity to reach. Are their souls not important? Surely we don’t believe that.
I understand these numbers are off because there are a lot of other churches in Evansville, not just us! But again, using the maximum capacity of 300 idea, we would need 390 churches in Evansville that were absolutely full to be reaching the current population! That population is also not static…it’s growing! Our churches are not keeping up with that growth either. According to Thom Rainer, in research done a few years ago, approximately 94% of churches in America are losing ground (population growth vs church attendance) in the community they serve!
More to chew on: According to the book, Church Planting Movements in North America – 80% of churches in America are not even growing, they have reached a plateau or are in decline. According to research quoted by James MacDonald, 4000 churches close their doors every single year and since 1950 there are a third fewer churches in America. No matter how you slice it…there are people who are NOT being reached and there will be even more in the years ahead if we are not planting new churches to reach them!
With so many dying churches, why don’t we revitalize them first before we plant new ones?
Sounds like a valid point and seeing as most of my personal ministry experience has been in traditional, established churches it definitely resonates with me. I agree with it- to a point.
There is certainly a vital place for church revitalization in our current situation. We should be spending time, energy and resources to attempt to reinvigorate some of our existing churches. I say “some” of our churches for the following reasons. While the universal church is eternal and will never fade away, that is not true for local churches. Every local church has a season of life. Some of them last for quite some time and some not so much. For reasons only known by God I believe it to be true that local churches have a life cycle and “run their course” for a season and then die. I hope the church I pastor, The Bridge Church, has a long fruitful life, but I hold out no expectations that we will just exist in our community forever. If The Lord tarries, one day we will close our doors as well. I think that’s just how it is. So what I am saying is…no matter how hard we may try…some churches just will not be revived! Their passion, vision and energy has dissipated and it is time for the people to move on to other kingdom endeavors. It is sad…but nonetheless it is a reality.
But- some churches certainly CAN be revitalized and can embrace a hope for continued future ministry. Maybe they just need a recharged and renewed commitment to a compelling vision and while this is a difficult process, it can be done and there are those that are called to this very ministry (just not me). It should not be neglected or ignored, but neither should church planting. They are not mutually exclusive endeavors! And the truth remains, even if every dying church could be revitalized…we still couldn’t reach everyone and everyone should be important to us. Should we delay engaging in church planting until we get every already established church running on all cylinders and at capacity?
For me, the answer is clear…we must plant churches!
I am a church planter currently pastoring a planted church that has church planting in its DNA. It is our calling and command to make disciples and hopefully I have shown in some way that planting churches is one of the best methods. If I still haven’t convinced you…let me encourage you to just visit The Bridge some time and simply look around the room. Just a few short years ago…our church was just a dream. Now it is full of people and full of God stories. Ask the people and they will tell you how God has used church planting in their lives. God uses it and as long as we are allowed to minister in Evansville as a church…we will be involved in church planting! Journey on my friends!