By Ken Howard
In yesterday’s post, I identified seven common myths about church plants and church planting and did a little myth busting.
Today I’m going to go the other direction. I want to share with you 14 Facts about church planting.
While I made an editorial decision not to clutter up the narrative with data and sources, please rest assured that all of the statements of fact in this series based on solid research from a variety of sources. I will provide the sources on request.
FACT #1 – Church plants tend to show more vitality than other churches. Church plants tend to have above average levels of vitality: higher percentages of attenders valuing the outreach emphasis of the church, higher percentages of attenders inviting others to church, and higher levels of belonging and commitment to the vision and directions of the church.
FACT #2 – Church plants tend to be more effective at outreach. Church plants have a greater percentage of newcomers than churches engaged in street evangelism, churches conducting “seeker” services for the unchurched, churches conducting mission activities at schools, and churches offering social services such as training or support programs.
FACT #3 – Church plants tend to be more effective in reaching newcomers to church life. Church plants reach a significantly higher percentage of newcomers to church life (i.e., the unchurched) than churches generally.
FACT #4 – Church plants tend to more effective reach younger people. Attendees at church plants tend to be significantly younger than churches generally.
FACT #5 – Church plants are more likely to reach more non-Whites and non-Anglos. Church plants have a higher percentage of non-white and non-English speakers than most established churches. (Obviously, historically black churches, multi-cultural churches, and language-specific churches are exceptions.)
FACT #6 – Church plants are more likely to grow. Churches grow faster in their first five years than any other time in their lifecycle. Over time the difference tends to decrease, as the church plant grows more established, though it can be maintained to some degree if the aging church plant intentionally works to maintain the qualities it had in its youth. Of course, this means that established churches can work to maintain those same qualities.
FACT #7 –Church plants may be the only strategy with the growth capacity to reverse the decline in TEC membership. It almost goes without saying that The Episcopal Church has declined drastically since WWII: a nearly 40% drop in membership, which resulted in the closure of more than 400 established churches. Meanwhile, of the 99 new churches planted in the same period, 69 survive (a 70% success ratio – better than business startups.), with an average Sunday attendance (ASA) of 95. Even more impressive, the ASA of top 10% of the churches planted in that period is 359. TEC’s most recent study of church growth show that more than 50% of church plants were growing vs. less than 20% of those established for more than 100 years.
FACT #8 – Church plants are good for their dioceses. Church plants tend to serve as their dioceses’ R&D departments. They are much more willing to experiment than established churches. They tend to do what the business startup entrepreneurs call Rapid Prototyping (or RP). Think Big – Start Small – Learn Fast (Repeat PRN). Sure much of what we try doesn’t work and what does may have to be tweaked a lot before it works really well. Most importantly, we are less resistant than established church to let things that don’t work die. In fact, my congregation calls it Rapid Iteration Prototyping (or RIP) to remind ourselves that it’s a good idea to let bad ideas die. It’s not that established couldn’t do this kind of experimental thinking – I wish that more of them did – perhaps they just feel they have too much too lose.
FACT #9 – Church plants are good for the established churches around them. It works like this: new church attracts attention. People check it out because it’s new. No church is “one size fits all,” so not everybody finds the new church to be the best fit for them. They may want high church, low church, broad church, want a large church in which they can disappear into the pews. Or the may just not have the energy needed to set up church in a school auditorium every Sunday. Whatever the reason, if there is a good relationship between the church plant and the established churches around it, one of them will benefit. There is almost always a net positive flow (as much as 2:1) from church plants to the established churches surrounding them.
FACT #10 – Church plants are good for the established churches that plant them. Established churches currently involved in the planting of other congregations experience a significantly higher growth rate (more than 10%) than churches generally. Apparently, having children is good for you.
FACT #11 – Church plants tend to be more nimble and adaptable to change. Why? They have to be. They are running lean. They don’t have the luxury of continuing to do something that is no longer working.
Fact #12 – Church plants tend to be more vision guided, mission focused, and purpose driven. Leaders of church startups can not afford to be complacent. The must constantly as themselves why are we here, what are we trying to achieve, and what are the best ways to get there?
Fact #13 – Church plants tend to be more context sensitive and context responsive. As above, they have to be aware of and responsive to their contexts simply to survive. And the same thing that enables them survive also enables them thrive.
Fact #14 – Church plants are more risky but also more rewarding. It’s true. Church plants are inherently more risky than established churches, but only in the short-term. About 30% fail in their first 10 years. But the ones that survive their first 10 years are healthier than established churches in almost every respect. Meanwhile, the long-term rate at which we are closing established churches is much higher. Church planting is an investment in the future of our church. And as any investor will tell you, you can’t eliminate risk without also eliminating reward.
There were actually more than 14 facts about church plants that I could have shared with you. But I’ve got to get back to my day job (leading a mature church startup).
Clearly, church planting is not only a good for the plant itself, but also the established congregations who support it, the dioceses that engage in it, and TEC . I leave it to you to do the cost benefit analysis to decide whether the amount of funding resolution D005 proposes is worth it.
Some of you may think I am a one-trick-pony: that I’m a “church planting or bust” kind of guy. But I’m not against established churches at all. I care about established churches as much as anyone. Many of them are vital and healthy. Many of them grow. But many of them aren’t and many of them don’t. I’m not saying that established churches are bad or can’t be healthy or can’t grow. I’m only saying that if more of them acted like church plants, they’d be a lot healthier and we’d have a lot more growth in our church.
And a Parting Question
I end with this question: If church planting is as effective as it seems, why is it that church planting continues to attract either criticism or passive indifference from our denomination (and others)? Have we lost our passion for the Gospel? Have we lost our dream of the kingdom of God? Have we lost our courage to follow God’s dream?
Note: This article is based on research gathered by a number of people: Kirk Hadaway, Frank Logue, Susan Snook, myself, and others.