I’m a big believer in church planting, yet I have some concerns with some of our approaches. Today I want to outline some of my concerns. On Thursday I’ll suggest some tweaks in how we plant that address some of these concerns.
1. The greatest needs are outside of North America.
Paul said, “And thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation…” (Romans 15:20). While there are many people who have not been reached with the gospel in North America, I also agree with J.D. Payne who writes:
I am sometimes asked, “Where do we begin our disciple making and church planting activities?” My general response is, “The greatest needs are outside of North America.” It is in those locations that we find the greatest physical and spiritual needs. Most of the two billion who have yet to hear the good news live outside of our context.
2. Our methods are too expensive.
Many church plants start with a yearly budget of $200,000 or more, which means that before they’ve even planted the church, they need to grow the church to 200+ just to become self-sustaining. For many planters, especially in difficult contexts, this is simply unrealistic. Unfortunately, most don’t recognize the mistake until year 3 when their funding begins to run out.
Another problem with this approach is the sheer amount of money it will require given the number of churches we need to plant. Southern Baptists have a goal of planting 15,000 churches by 2022. Even if every plant only required $100,000 each, that’s 1.5 billion dollars. That’s a lot of money in a day when many of our churches are plateaued or declining.
Then there is the human cost. Truckloads of stage gear, chairs and childcare infrastructure have to be set up and torn down each week. It’s a ton of work and key volunteers can burn out easily.
3. Our casualty rate is high.
The North American Mission Board has found that the survivability rate of church plants in their study was 68 percent after four years. That means that almost a third of church plants fail. This is costly, both in terms of money and people.
4. Our models aren’t always healthy.
I can’t say it any better than J.D. Payne:
We do not need another flavor of church in the Baskin Robbins of North American Christianity; we need missionary bands to settle for nothing less than disciple-making that results in new churches…
Are there times when a church should hive-off members to begin work in another area? Yes. Is it okay for a congregation to send out a pastor with several church members to plant an “instant” church in a community? Yes, under certain circumstances.
However, such models tend to be difficult to reproduce (in view of four billion unbelievers), pose contextualization challenges, are costly, and often do not result in a great amount of disciples made. The weight of the biblical definition for church planting is not found here. Such models should be the exception when it comes to church planting. Today, they are often the expectation.
Again: I believe in church planting. We need to take seriously, though, that these four realities are keeping us from being as effective as we need to be. On Thursday, I’ll suggest some tweaks in how we can address these concerns.