"I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."
Nearly every church planter gets asked the question when he shares the new assignment God has given him. The question comes in various forms such as…
"What made you decide to plant another church?"
"Why do we need another church in this community?"
"Aren't there enough churches already?"
The question reveals both an assumption and misperception that many Christians have about church planting.
The assumption is: Our community already has enough churches. It's based on a subjective number in their mind of the quantity of churches it will take to effectively minister to a community and saturate it with the Gospel.
The misperception is: Church planting is needed overseas but not here in the U.S. If a church planter were to share with a Christian that he is leaving to plant a new church in China the response is usually enthusiastic support because the assumption and perception is that China needs more bible preaching, evangelical churches. (Both an assumption and perception that I agree with. China DOES need more evangelical churches.) But tell a Christian you are planting in their community and the response is generally: "Here? Really? Why?" Not realizing that there is still a mission field here in American too.
I'm not offended by the questions. In fact, I think they deserve good answers so that assumptions can be changed and misperceptions corrected.
Thus, this blog post.
Here's a few reasons why God is still calling pastors to plant churches in the United States.
1. Because Jesus promised to build his church. (Mt. 16:18) In Matthew 16:18, Jesus was not referring to a single local church, but instead the universal church (all believers everywhere) when he said this. However, one of the ways Jesus builds the universal church is by planting local churches that spread the Gospel.
2. Because no single church can meet all the needs of a community. (1 Co. 12:14-20) Paul's teaching on spiritual gifts using the metaphor of body parts is often interpreted microscopically as applying to individuals within the confines of a local church. While this is true, it can also be applied macroscopically to the roles various churches play in a community. Because of the way God has gifted and resourced individual churches, each church has niche that it fills within a community but no single church can fill every niche and meet every need.
3. Because many established churches are dying. Jesus is deeply committed to seeing local churches grow and exert influence on their communities (Mt. 28:18-20; Ac. 2:41, 47; 4:4; 5:14). Surprisingly, 9 out of 10 churches in the U.S. are plateaued or declining in attendance. This decline is then leading to another disconcerting number: over 3500 churches per year in America are closing their doors for good. Thankfully, the Lord is turning this tide by initiating the start of 4000 new churches per year.
4. Because new churches are more effective at reaching lost people. The older a church gets, the more relationships within the church tend to calcify (become closed to newcomers) and the more entrenched certain methods of ministry become. Lillian Kwon shared the following eye-opening research in a blog she wrote a couple years ago:
"Studies have shown that, in general, churches typically plateau in attendance by their fifteenth year, and by about thirty-five years they begin having trouble replacing the members they lose. Among evangelical churches, those under 3 years old will win 10 people to Christ per year for every 10 members. Those 3 to 15 years old will win 5 people per year for every 100 members. After age 15 the number drops to 3 decisions per year hundred members."
New churches on the other hand fare much better when it comes to attracting the unchurched and have a higher ratio of conversions and baptisms compared to more established churches. What does all this mean? As long as there is one person in your community that has not yet given their life to Jesus Christ, there is room in your community for a new church.
So, the next time you meet a church planter I want to encourage you to ask him questions such as: "How did God call you to plant a new work?"; "How can I pray for you?" or "How can I support you?" And take a moment to thank the Lord for calling a courageous soul to reach the mission field right outside your door.