Many view church planting as unnecessary at best and schismatic at worst. They raise these common objections:
- There are already enough churches to meet the needs of the community.
- The number of church-goers is decreasing and church planting will siphon away more of the market share from existing churches.
- Quality, not quantity, is the matter with churches, and therefore efforts should be directed at helping struggling churches and not to founding new churches.
These objections have an air of irrefutable logic, but they are simply inconsistent with the facts. The truth of the matter is that church planting is the single most effective way to fulfill the Great Commission by reaching the unchurched and stimulating growth in existing churches (Peter Wagner, Strategies for Growth, p. 168).
Church planting fosters authentic community and discipleship.
Jesus commanded us to “make disciples of all nations and… [baptize] them” (Matthew 28:19). Baptism signifies initiation into a community of believers (Acts 2:41-47), and discipleship requires accountability and guidance that only a community of believers can provide (James 5:19-20). Many traditional modes of evangelism (i.e. evangelistic crusades, outreach programs, etc.) are oriented around an individual’s “decision” to become a Christian, and sometimes this practice degenerates into a form of easy-believism that creates a false impression that the recitation of the Sinner’s Prayer is the climax of a Christian’s walk with God—when really, it is only a beginning (Matthew 13:3-23). Evangelism via church planting ensures that each new believer is nurtured unto fruition within a community of faith. In fact, church planting is such an effective method of evangelism that Apostle Paul considered his ministry of preaching the Gospel complete after he had planted churches by appointing elders in a given region (Titus 1:4; Romans 15:19, 23).
Church planting attracts visionaries and fuels innovation.
One may still question the relevance of the above arguments, since they pertain to the Apostolic era when there were no extant churches. However, the practical benefits of church planting are no less valid today. Older churches naturally develop congregational habits (i.e. order of service, length of service, liturgy, leadership style, emotional responsiveness, etc.)–a certain ethos that comes to define the congregation. As the church grows older, it becomes more and more difficult to deviate from these entrenched norms, and the younger generation, new residents, and emerging people groups often have trouble identifying with them. On the other hand, new church plants are more likely to adapt to the changing demographics. Furthermore, while older congregations emphasize tenure, tradition, and kinship ties in their leadership, new church plants attract entrepreneurial leaders that value risk and creativity. Thus, new church plants are far more effective in reaching new social groups and “outsiders,” and in empowering new leaders that otherwise would not have had a chance to serve the Church (Tim Keller, Why Plant Churches, p. 1-2).
Church planting reaches out to the unreached and the unchurched.
Studies have also shown, time and time again, that the average new church draws most of its new members (60-80%) from the un-churched (those who have no history of connection to churches) and the de-churched (those who, for some reason or another, have ceased going to church), while the church that is 10-15 years old add 80-90% of its new members by transfer from other churches (D. McGavran & G. Hunger, Church Growth: Strategies That Work, p. 100). Statistically, this means that a new church will yield 6-8 times more neophytes than an older church of the same size. While it may sound far-fetched, it is logical that a new church, which by necessity must focus on the needs of its non-members, is more effective at reaching the unchurched than an older church, which sensibly caters to its existing members.
Church planting promotes the renewal of existing churches.
This is not to neglect the existing churches that are struggling. It is surely a false dichotomy that says we must choose either church planting or church renewal. In fact, church planting is a highly effective way to renew existing churches for several reasons. First, older congregations are typically more wary of implementing new ideas and visions, but new church plants tend to be more innovative and daring. For this reason, the church plants serve as beta versions of sorts, and the older churches can emulate their successes and/or steer clear of their mistakes. Hence the new church plants provide opportunities for the older churches to reevaluate their vision and mission strategy. Second, new church plants expose and challenge self-centered churches. Sometimes churches, like Jesus’ disciples, are preoccupied with their own glory rather than the glory of God (Luke 9:46-50). When church plants attract some people out of existing churches (as they invariably do despite the fact that they gain up to 80% of their members from the unchurched), the churches that are not Kingdom-minded react defensively and betray their narrow self-interests, rather than rejoicing in the great number of new people that have joined the Church. Thus church plants are instrumental in challenging and renewing existing churches.
Church planting has historically increased the total number of Christians.
In 1820, there was a church for every 875 people in the U.S., but due to prolific church planting, there was a church for every 430 people by around 1914 (Lyle Schaller, 44 Questions for Church Planters, pp. 14-26 as qtd. in Tim Keller, Why Plant Churches, p. 6). Thanks to this effort, the percentage of “religious adherents” rose from 17% of the U.S. population to 53% from 1776 to 1916 (Roger Finke & Rodney Stark, The Churching of America 1776-1990, p. 16 as qtd. in Tim Keller, Why Plant Churches, p. 6). Unfortunately, the number of churches per 1,000 people has been declining since WWI. If we want the Church in the U.S. to start growing again, we need to start planting more churches.
That’s what excites me about church planting. I hope it excites you too!