Tim Stafford writes in the September 2007 issue of CT on the growing trend of church planting in North America:
“North America is the only continent in the world where the church is not growing,” says Eric Ramsey of the Southern Baptist Convention’s North American Mission Board (NAMB).
George Hunter of Asbury Theological Seminary says, “Churches after 15 years typically plateau. After 35 years, they typically can’t even replace those [members] they lose. New congregations reach a lot more pre-Christian people.” Those who study churches say established congregations tend to turn inward, no matter how hard they try to resist the trend. But new churches must look outward to survive. Richard Harris, vice president of NAMB’s church-planting group, says that established SBC churches report 3.4 baptisms per 100 resident members, whereas new churches average 11.7. It’s not hard to conclude that more new churches would lead more people to Christ.
Read the whole thing.
Established churches (say, 1000 or more members) can often send out a church planting team of a hundred, and find that those hundred vacated seats are filled in a matter of months. Meanwhile, the daughter church has doubled. And while established churches tend to grow by transfers, church plants tend to grow by conversions. While most church plants go belly-up within the first five years, it is also true that the majority of churches (70%, within the Southern Baptist Convention) are either barely maintaining their numbers or are in decline. Either way, evangelicals are becoming a smaller percentage of the population by virtue of not growing fast enough to keep up with overall population growth. The need for steady, conversion growth is a strong argument for making a concerted effort to plant churches. Stafford notes that “America’s largest Protestant body (the Southern Baptist Convention) wants to double its number of congregations in the next 20 years, to 100,000.”
Dr. Mohler reminds us that while church planting is important, some young pastors should pursue the re-vitalization of existing churches:
“At the same time, we also need this generation of young pastors to go into established churches and revitalize a Gospel ministry through expository preaching and energetic leadership. Giving up on the established church is not an option. Some young pastors see church planting as a way of avoiding the challenge of dealing with the people and pathologies of older congregations. This is an abdication of responsibility.
Furthermore, many established churches are showing signs of new life, often under new leadership. As one pastor explained, this sometimes means planting a new church within an older church. On the other hand, only a fraction of newly planted churches exist as operational congregations five years after their founding.
Similarly, the passion to reach unreached populations is entirely laudable and urgent. The sad reality is that many of our established evangelical churches seem determined to reach only people who look like themselves — if they are committed to reach anyone at all. The danger on the other side is that many of these newly-planted churches begin to look like their founders and first members. A church of tattooed twenty-somethings in New York can be just as lacking in diversity as the aging middle class congregation at First Church.”