The research on church planting is often not very encouraging to those of us serving in established churches. For a good primer on the absolute importance of church planting, I would recommend Why Plant Churches by Tim Keller, published in 2002.
The fact we all must reckon with is that church planting is a crucial strategy. “Nothing else – not Crusades, outreach programs, para-church ministries, growing mega-churches, congregational consulting, nor church renewal processes – will have the consistent impact of dynamic, extensive church planting.” (Keller, 2002.) Many of us would like to believe that we should spend our effort revitalizing established churches rather than planting new ones. After all, they have plenty of seats, already have buildings, and it would put more Christians together with each other in unity.
But this lacks a sufficient connection with the reality of the human person that we are dealing with. New churches can much more easily try new things and adapt to ongoing cultural trends. They have to do evangelism for survival – while many churches treat it as an optional extra curricular activity. It’s much easier for new people in the area or people new to the church to have an impact. In new churches, there is no long-term mechanism for serving – they have to get you involved right away.
Church plants also allow younger church leaders to have more influence earlier in their lives. They allow new churches to try new things – making failure a smaller failure, and allowing success to spread once a model has been established. Many of the things that are working and being adopted by more established churches are in response to things they see working and church plants. Church plants cannot afford the lack of responsiveness, or other sets of traditions or policies, that make it difficult for established churches to reach new people and younger generations. Changing an established church’s culture can be much more time-consuming, expensive and difficult than simply planting a new church that can set its own vision and define its culture from the start.
Also, Keller notes that new sociocultural groups and communities are always reached better by new congregations. Keller gives this example: “if new white-collar commuters move into an area where the older residents were farmers, it is likely that a new church will be more receptive to the myriad of needs of the new residents, while the older churches will continue to be oriented to the original social group.” Similarly, it is also easier to reach new ethnic groups through building new churches that are intentionally multi-ethnic from the start. It’s just easier to get a church into a multicultural state from the first day – compared to moving from a mono-cultural church to a multicultural church. Taking this further, it’s often true that immigrant groups that do not speak the language of the majority are almost always reached better by a church specifically designed for their language needs.
Further, new churches are less guilty of growing through transfer growth than established churches. Keller notes, “dozens of denominational studies have confirmed that the average new church gains most of its members (60 – 80%) from the ranks of people not attending any worshiping body, while churches over 10 – 15 years of age gain 80 – 90% of new members by transfer from other congregations.” Though established churches may offer more resources in ministries – new churches of the same size tend to reach 6 – 8 times more new people. New churches have to be more focused on the needs of their nonmembers. Or, in Andy Stanley’s language, more focused on reaching people than keeping people.
Just as important, new churches and enrich established churches in the city:
Keller gives the following reasons:
- new churches bring new ideas to the whole body
- new churches surface creative, strong leaders for the whole body
- new churches challenge established churches to examine themselves
- new churches are evangelistic feeders for the whole community – they tend to lead more people to faith than they can keep. Since new churches can be fairly chaotic, some will eventually leave the new church for more established one that offers more ministries and is more focused on keeping Christians.
Therefore, in our current context, church planting seems to be one of the “best ways to renew the existing church in a city, as well as being the best single way to grow the whole body of Christ in the city.”
This is why I have been talking with our elders for the last three years, and with our congregation for the last two years, about the importance of High Point Church being a church planting church. I have met with numerous church planters in Madison. I’ve gone to church planter coach training. With the affirmation of our elders, I’ve encouraged us to begin to give meaningfully to carefully selected church plants in key cities with effective leaders.
Here are the profiles of the two churches we’ve selected this year:
Adam’s information from Alethea Church:
“In three years we’ve grown from a team of 12 to a church of 500.
In three years, we’ve gone from 0 discipleship groups to 19 discipleship groups.
This last year, we doubled in attendance, went from 1 worship gathering to 3 worship gatherings, and from 1 location to 2 locations.
In the same year, we’ve seen (guessing here, because we count baptisms, not just decisions…) around 100 people repent and believe the gospel. (Aggregate of baptisms, prayers with individuals, and reports from our groups.)
As the Fall ends, we have much to celebrate in all that God has done in Boston through our local church. This Fall, we’ve watched God do amazing work in our church. In the last three months, many people have met Jesus and stepped further into our discipleship process. So recently, we celebrated the baptism of 17 new believers, including my own daughter, Alanna. During the last year, our church doubled in size, with around half of that growth coming from people who weren’t previously connected to any church at all.
In the same season of time, we’ve also launched a new church service in a new location, downtown Boston. This congregation is just getting up off the ground, and already there are 40 people who regularly attend this newest congregation of Aletheia Church in Boston.
None of this would have been possible without your faithful giving. Thank you so very much for your incredible, faithful, and generous giving to this gospel work.”
Grant’s information from Radiate Church:
“Thank you so much for including Radiate Church in your year-end gift! What an honor!
We were led to Indianapolis, IN when we heard that 83% of the city was unchurched. Like Madison, Indianapolis is a very influential city. It’s Indiana’s capital, the host to numerous sporting events and conferences, full of college students and young professionals, and is growing 50% faster than the national average. Since planting Radiate in February 2013, God has done some amazing things. People are inviting their friends who don’t know Jesus. About 35% of the people on Sunday morning are unchurched. We’ve had the privilege of baptizing 14 people since February and have grown more than 300%!
Like any young church, we have many financial needs, and really appreciate your help. Your support will go to continued outreach, staffing, and discipleship development. Thank you!”