Wednesday, June 6, 2007

25 Years of Church Planting Results in America: A Change in the Tide

For at least the last 25 years church researchers have consistently reported there were more churches closing in the US than new churches were opening. This year, both Warren Bird and Ed Stetzer, experts on church planting and growth in America, both announced that in 2006 the best estimates are that 3,500 new churches were started while only 3,000 closed. There are several reason for what we pray is a tide shift and not just an anomaly.

One reason for the positive shift is that there is a better understanding of what it takes to plant new, contextually appropriate churches. Through research and experience a defined process has been identified for selecting and equipping as church planters that is leading to better results. Kairos continues to train and learn as a beneficiary of the work of many others in the US who have pioneered this process.

A second reason is there is a greater awareness of and commitment to the need to strategically and deliberately plan where and how to plant new churches. Groups are planning church plants by the hundreds. The Southern Baptist Convention, for example, plans to plant over 1,500 new churches in 2007 and they have 400 full time people whose job is to strategically engage the work required to meet this goal. This strategy challenge may be particularly problematic to us in churches of Christ with our practice of what often amounts to a radical congregational autonomy. While autonomy of congregations is certainly a biblical concept, we must also ask ourselves if the radical autonomy we practice may also be a major hindrance to us. Perhaps a conservative autonomy that would let us strategically join forces for kingdom benefit would serve us better.

A third reason for the planting of more churches than closed in the US in 2006 is that there are now second and third generation new churches being started by a generation of Christians who were converted in and/or matured in their faith in the context of growing, new churches. This new crop of church planting evangelists understands the challenges of church planting through personal experience. The demands of church planting are second nature to them, thus they do a better job than those who must learn the demands of church planting for the first time. We found this true in our work in Kenya. We missionaries did OK planting new churches, but the national Christians were much more effective than us.

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