the shape of leadership

The Importance of Church Planting

Growing the Kingdom by opening new doors

Ed Stetzer on September 12, 2017

Sometimes the most seemingly complex problems require the simplest solutions.

I once had a financial advisor give me advice on managing a budget. He said “Look at how much money you have at the beginning of the month; look at how much you have at the end. You’re doing it right if you have more money at the end of the month than you did at the beginning.”

It’s a simplistic approach, but there is wisdom in it.

The truth is that many churches are shutting their doors, and we need more church plants to keep up and impact the world with the gospel. Consider these figures:

  • On average, 3,700 churches close their doors in the U.S. each year.
  • On average, 4,000 new churches open their doors in the U.S. each year.
  • That’s an annual net gain of 300 churches.

That’s not enough to keep up with population growth, as the U.S. adds nearly 2 million people per year. This isn’t a second-grade math problem. These are cold, hard facts. And while the sky is not falling around us, the figures are certainly concerning and point to a desperate need to plant churches. There are many reasons why these statistics should concern us. Here are three crucial ones.

Our population in America is growing at a faster rate than we can keep up. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 3,978,497 babies were born in 2015. That is 13,261 new babies for every new church planted. This is alarming considering the current and projected population growth and the increasing secularization of our society. Looking ahead, we know the growth requires more and more plants.

Since 1990, we’ve seen a huge growth in the “Nones,” or people who answer “none of the above” on surveys that ask their religion. People are becoming increasingly honest about what they believe, marking “None” in religious affiliation surveys. These people are not attending church as a cultural norm, and they are ambivalent toward institutions and structures. Religious Nones are the fastest growing group, and, over the last 30 years, they have remained the most consistent in their growth (now about 1 percent per year).

Many people who start attending established churches come from other churches. As a church ages, it moves from breaking new ground for the gospel to being a draw for other, established Christians who are transferring from other churches. This means a church statistically loses its missional effectiveness over time. Mission in the church has a shelf life if nothing changes the status quo.

But there is hope.

Across Christian history for 2,000 years, church planting has been the single most effective strategy for reaching lost people with the good news of Jesus. Author Tim Keller puts it this way:

“The vigorous, continual planting of new congregations is the single most crucial strategy for (1) the numerical growth of the body of Christ in a city and (2) the continual corporate renewal and revival of the existing churches in a city. Nothing else — not crusades, outreach programs, parachurch ministries, growing megachurches, congregational consulting, nor church renewal processes — will have the consistent impact of dynamic, extensive church planting.”

There is no doubt in the church culture today that church plants are needed and effective. In 2017, we are more focused on church planting than we have been in hundreds of years. We have denominations, church planting networks and support structures to aid new churches. But a good question to ask is: Why?

We need more church plants to impact the world with the gospel.

Why do we need more churches? Here are three reasons why church planting is of the utmost importance if we want to reach people for Jesus.

Church planting accommodates the growing population in America. Statistically, if we want to provide the space for people to join in an average-size church, four million babies being born every year requires more than a 300 net gain in U.S. churches to remain effective.

Also, as retirement ages rise and advancements in medicine cause the average life span to increase, people will need the services of a gospel-centered church longer.

If every church in America were filled up twice to capacity every Sunday, we would be nowhere near able to accommodate the population, much less positioned to accommodate the growing birth rate. We need church plants because we need more places for people to attend.

Church plants advance the gospel faster and reach deeper into the culture than established churches. Based on our LifeWay Research data, church plants report conversions that add up to half their attendance. This means that new churches do indeed multiply disciples by reaching out to those who don’t currently believe in Jesus and drawing them to Christ.

Part of this is simply the momentum of a new gospel work. People who don’t naturally come to church are more drawn to a place where something is new or feels new. It creates a sense of openness and transparency when it feels like “we are all in this together.”

Additionally, early adopters and high-capacity leaders love to join new churches and help them in their infancy. Catalytic leaders can smell when something is new, and they desire to shape it. This can be incredibly helpful for driving momentum in missional engagement. Organizational newness attracts and propels apostolic leaders who desire to help grow something from infancy to adulthood.

Church plants must be creative and simple. In the absence of resources, churches are forced toward simplicity. The lack of funds or people creates an incubator for ideas that must be creative to work, and the seemingly difficult early seasons in a church’s life cycle often produce the most fruit.

The nuts and bolts of discipleship, small group community and minimalist church services can bring a greater focus on Jesus, with fewer distractions. Pastors devote more time to evangelism and equipping rather than big budgets or church buildings.

This can encourage other existing churches to reexamine their methodology and missional engagement as well. Church plants catalyze from within and without.

Do you want to make church more accessible to a growing population? Do you want to advance the gospel to more people who don’t know Jesus? Do you want to see church growth that arises from conversions rather than just transfers? Do you want to raise up leaders quickly and effectively? Do you want to keep things simple and focus on the basics of the Christian faith?

Then plant more churches. It’s as simple as that.

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