Do We Really Need Another Church?

Published on 11/24/15

Some years ago I was given the assignment of researching the New Testament and listing every verse in which we are commanded to plant churches. Initially, I thought that was an easy assignment and entered into it with gusto. A week later, I handed in the results of my research. The paper was blank except for my name! I couldn’t find one single verse in which we are commanded to plant churches! There are all kinds of verses in which we are commanded to preach, to witness and to make disciples, but not once are we commanded to plant churches!

That doesn’t mean church planting isn’t taught in Scripture. It is taught by example. It is illustrated over and over throughout the book of Acts, but it is never commanded. Church planting, you see, is the byproduct of preaching, witnessing and discipling. Jesus doesn’t send us out to build churches. He sends us out to build people who are disciples. When you do that you naturally end up with a local church.

We have all kinds of churches in this country. They are everywhere. All together we have somewhere in the neighborhood of 350,000 churches in the United States. It’s not hard to find a church. So, the question naturally arises, “Do we really need any more churches in America?” After all, this is the most churched nation in the world. If you want to hear the gospel here, you can hear it. So, why plant churches here?

That is a valid question and I want to answer it today. Let me give you six reasons why we should be planting more churches all across this great country of ours.

We need to plant more churches to enhance our evangelistic effectiveness – Thom Rainer has written a number of research books about how to effectively reach and retain unchurched people including: “The Effective Evangelistic Church,” “High Expectations” and “Surprising Insights from the Unchurched.” He defines an “effective evangelistic church” as one that has at least twenty-six conversions per year and a baptismal ratio of 20:1.

In other words, at least twenty-six unchurched people are being won to Christ, baptized and taken into church membership every year with an average of one baptism for every 20 members on the roll.

How many churches do you know that win and baptize twenty-six people every year? Research indicates that only about ten percent of churches in America are growing at all and reaching their communities either through conversion growth (winning new converts), through transfer growth (people coming from other churches) or a combination thereof. The fact is most local assemblies only have a fifteen to twenty year growth period. Ninety percent of congregations peak in attendance, outreach and giving by their fifteenth birthday and seldom grow beyond that point.

Second generation churches value edification over evangelism. Tradition begins to set in and comfort zones are established. Prosperity and success replace sacrifice and service. There is a subtle shift from multiplication (reaching new people) to maintenance (serving those you already have). Churches develop St. John Syndrome without even realizing it. They have lost their vision, their passion and their effectiveness.

In contrast, new churches are more effective evangelistically that older, larger established ones. One cross-denominational study in California found that established churches average four baptisms per 100 members whereas newer churches average sixteen baptisms per 100 people. Newer churches seem to have a higher degree of motivation to win their lost friends and neighbors to Christ than do older churches. They tend to be more innovative, more energetic, more growth-oriented and more focused. To put it bluntly, they have to reach people in order to survive. One church planter was right when he said . . .

“The single most effective evangelistic methodology under heaven is PLANTING NEW CHURCHES.”

Generally speaking, newer churches do a better job reaching people with the gospel, so we need to plant more churches to enhance our evangelistic effectiveness.

We need to plant more churches to reverse current trends of decline. The church in America is in serious trouble. If only ten to fifteen percent of churches in America are growing, guess where that leaves the other eighty-five to ninety percent? They are either plateaued (they’re not growing) or they are in a state of decline.

Like people, churches go through predictable life cycles. On average, most churches will experience about fifteen years of growth after they are founded. This is followed by a period of about twenty years of ups and downs before a slow decline sets in. In the past, the average life span of churches was seventy to ninety years. Today, the life expectancy of churches is considerably less because of the rapid changes in society. Some day your church is going to die because all churches eventually die. That is the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

Every day an average 3,500 professing Christians walk away from the church never to return again. That translates into 2.7 million members turning their backs on the church each year. The average church loses six to ten percent of its congregation every year to death, job transfers and attrition.

The bad news is that over the next ten years thirty-seven thousand churches in America are expected to close their doors. The good news is that during that same timeframe approximately forty thousand new churches will be established. That is encouraging until you realize we need to start 7,300 new churches every year just to keep up with the population growth in America. While the number of churches will increase only slightly in the coming decade, the population will increase significantly meaning that the ratio of churches to population will continue to decline as it has since the beginning of the last century:

In 1900 there were 27 churches for every10,000 people.

In 1950 there were 17 churches for every 10,000 people.

In 1996 there were 11 churches for every 10,000 people.

In relationship to the population, we have 30% fewer churches today that we did in 1950. Not a single county in our nation has a larger percentage of churches today than it did a decade ago. If the current rate of decline continues for the next hundred years there will be few churches left in America unless we plant thousands of additional churches all across this great country.

We need to plant more churches to confront our culture. There is a cultural war going on in America and the enemy is you and I along with our Christian beliefs, our biblical standards, our Christ-centered value system and our Bible-teaching churches. Satan and the world hate the church. They hate biblical Christianity. It has always been that way. Jesus said, “Ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake” (Mark 13:13). Don’t get paranoid over that. Just understand there is a spiritual and cultural war going on for the hearts, minds and souls of the American people.

Know something? We’re not doing too well. In fact, we’re taking it on the chin. Christianity in this country is on the ropes. The ACLU and People for the American Way are aggressively seeking to remove every visage of Christianity from the public arena and they are having great success at it. The Bible and prayer have been taken out of our schools. Manger scenes have been removed from public property, the Ten Commandments have been banned from our courthouses, and the Pledge of Allegiance is being challenged as unconstitutional because it includes the words “one nation under God.” This is no longer a Christian nation (if it ever was). It has become a secular nation that increasingly denies its Christian heritage.

The vast majority of Christians are afraid to speak up about their faith in the public realm. As a result, Christian influence is rapidly disappearing. Religion is in. Spirituality is in, but Christianity is out. The fastest growing religion in this country isn’t Christianity, but Islam. There are seven million Muslims in this country with some 1,400 mosques, 3,000 Islamic centers and more than 300 student chapters on U.S. college campuses. There are more Muslims in the United States than are Methodists . . . or Episcopalians and Presbyterians combined!

The key to winning this cultural war is to plant thousands of Christ-centered churches that train their people to not only articulate their faith effectively in the public arena, but also to teach them to apply biblical principles to their lives on a daily basis in the work place, in the home and in the community. If it is to survive, Christianity must once again become a caring, compassionate, serving and sacrificial force that is willing to die for what it professes to believe. This will require thousands of new churches.

We need to plant more churches to reach the multitudes of unchurched people in this country. China has the largest unchurched population in the world followed by India and then the United States.. Thom Rainer defines an “unchurched person” as someone “who has not been in church, except sporadically, for at least ten years. George Barna defines an “unchurched person” as anyone who has “not attended a Christian church service during the past six months other than a special event such as a wedding or funeral or holiday service.”

There were 281.4 million people living in the United States according the 2000 census. At the end of 2015 that number stands at about 322 million people and is expected to almost double to 571 million by the end of the century. Most of those people will be unchurched requiring the planting of an additional 300,000 churches. Even today (2015), it is estimated that as many as 195 million people living in the United States are unchurched and unsaved.

The unchurched population in this country has grown by twenty-eight million people since 1990. It increased by eight million in just eighteen months during 1998 and 1999. One-third (31%) of the adult population (65 million) are unchurched. Let me break that down for you a little more:

• Forty percent of the residents in the Northeast are unchurched. • Over half of the residents of Maine, New Hampshire, West Virginia, Florida, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Nevada, Arizona, California, Oregon and Washington state are unchurched. • Yolo County, California where the University of California at Davis is located is seventy-two unchurched. • Menifee County, Kentucky is eighty-seven unchurched.

While forty-one percent of Americans say they attend church, new research demonstrates that only seventeen and half percent of Americans actually attend church on a typical weekend with each succeeding generation becoming more unchurched.

• Slightly over half (51%) of the “Builder” generation (born before 1946) attend church on a typical Sunday. • That drops to 41% of “Boomers” (born between 1946 and 1964) attend church. • That declines to 34% of “Busters” (born 1965 to 1976) who go to church. • And less than 30% of the “Bridger” generation (1977 to 1994) are affiliated with a church.

Many existing churches are not effectively reaching the third largest unchurched population in the world. The only hope we have is to launch thousands of new, vibrant churches which are often more evangelistically effective than older, established churches.

We need to plant more churches to win our ethnic neighbors to Christ. America is the most ethnically diverse nation in the world. Virtually every language, every culture, every ethnic group in the universe resides on our shores. The same God who sent us into all the world has brought the world to our doorstep. America is a vast mosaic of languages, cultures and ethnic backgrounds.

Of the three hundred twenty million people living in the United States, 105.3 million or 37.4% are classified as ethnic Americans. That is approximately two out of every five people. There are over five hundred ethnic groups speaking more than six hundred thirty languages and dialects in this country. Minority groups are now in the majority in fifty of America’s largest cities. Racial and ethnic minority groups are growing seven times faster than the non-Hispanic white majority. We are told that by the year 2056, white Americans will be in a minority group in this country.

Since the majority of people like to hear the gospel in their own “heart” language and to come to Christ without crossing racial and cultural barriers, our affluent, white, middle class churches will never reach the vast majority of these people by offering them an ethnic Sunday School class. We spend millions of dollars to send missionaries around the world to reach these people with the gospel message and to plant churches among them. We must do the same thing right here at home by planting hundreds of foreign language and culturally relevant Hispanic, African-American and Asian churches to reach these people with gospel and to disciple them for Christ. God has given us a unique opportunity to reach the world with the gospel in our generation without even leaving home. We must not miss it. The eternal consequences are too great.

I have one final pragmatic reason for planting new churches in this country. Here it is . . .

We need to plant more churches to promote world evangelism. I was twenty-two years old when I joined up and headed for the mission field. This year my wife and I completed fifty-one years of missionary service. Together, we will have over one hundred years of church-planting ministry and we’re not done yet. But you know what? My time as a church planter is drawing to a close. My life ministry is almost over. Who is going to take my place? Who will take my wife’s place when she, like me, is too old, too feeble or too sick to go any longer?

There are tens of thousands of missionaries scattered all over the globe, but if you attend a gathering of our church planters in North America, do you know what you will see? By and large, you will see a wonderful group of Seniors who are still young in spirit. You’ll see people who are bent over from years of toil in out of the way place and you’ll see dozens of people who are no longer able to serve on the foreign field, but who are still serving on THIS mission field. Missionaries and church planters today are older, grayer, and fewer than any time in the past hundred years.

A good friend of mine died a few years ago. Her name was Carol Peterson. She and her husband were faithful church planters, but she is now gone. Who will take her place? Will you? Will you take my place? Will you go for my wife? If you don’t go, who will? Replacements come from churches. The money to send them comes from churches and the prayer support needed to stay on the field comes from churches. THAT is why we must plant thousands of additional churches from San Diego to Boston, from Seattle to Miami and in ten thousand places in between.

Twenty Fatal Errors in Church Planting

Published on 10/29/15

Each year thousands of new churches are planted across North America—and each year about a third of them close. When this happens, the fallout can be great for the church planter, his family, and those who attend.

Avoiding common mistakes can improve the survival rate of new churches. Here are the top ten reasons why new churches don’t survive.

1. Not having a call. Don’t do it for any other reason than God’s call. However God speaks to you, make sure He has. A call is not a guarantee of “success.” In fact, the clearer God speaks, the tougher it often may be. But a call will get you through the rough times.

2. Not testing the call. So you’ve heard from God, but that doesn’t make you infallible. Allow others to test your call with godly wisdom and an effective assessment process such as the one developed by Dr. Charles Ridley or used in Project Jerusalem. Because they know you best, your home church should also be 100% behind you, affirming your call.

New attached image3. Not sharing a call. If you’re married, your spouse should join you full-time on the frontline. She must be a valued team member in addition to being at home with the kids or pursuing a career. Just make sure you share the call and understand and support each other in your respective roles or you’re in trouble.

4. Not building a team. Not even Paul planted churches alone. Recruit and build a team of workers who share the vision and your philosophy of ministry. Spend time together, dreaming, sharing your lives, praying, having fun, doing ministry. Church planting is a team sport.

5. Not having a good coach. A good coach helps you reflect on what’s been happening and refocus for the next stage. They raise awareness and help you take responsibility. You need someone who has been there and understands the planting process.

6. Not having sufficient funding. It costs money to launch a new church. Successful planters are those who can cast the vision for why this yet non-existent church is needed in this community and can motivate others to get behind them. If God calls, He provides. It’s not “fundraising;” it’s “people raising.” Don’t start until you’ve invested time in raising up a support team.

7. Not delaying public worship. Those who prematurely go public (i.e. – begin public worship services before they have a sufficient core group from the local community) often find their works struggle and remain small. For a healthy birth, you need adequate prenatal development. Plants that survive the first three years normally begin with a “big bang.”

8. Not reaching people. Church planting is not about “engaging culture” or “seeker sensitive” services or clever strategies. It’s about people discovering the love, truth and power of Christ in their lives. Get off the computer and get out among the people who need Jesus. Evangelize or fossilize! In many plants, recruiting ceases after the “grand opening.” The leader moves from an outreach role into a “pastoral” role. The majority of time is spent on those who come through the door, rather than those who are not yet in the door. Big mistake!

9. Not having a target and a plan. Attempting to plant a church that reaches everyone often means you reach no one. No focus, no strategy; no target, no plan. A well thought out and realistic strategy plan clarifying who your target community is, and how you’re going to reach them, is vital to keep you from a “shotgun” approach. It also tells prospective donors/sponsors you know where you’re going and enables you to better recruit a team that shares your vision/values.

10. Not taking spiritual warfare seriously. As a team you must spend time in fasting and prayer. Get God’s perspective. Realize it’s not our techniques but His power. He must grow His church. Realize this is “war” and those on the frontlines may get wounded, so adapt to a plan to deal with the wounded.

11. Not assimilating guests. What’s your plan for the other six days of the week? Visitors must be followed-up well or they’ll not be back. You must have a process where people are connected to each other and to the Lord during the week. Orient attendees to the mission and vision of the church.

12. Not multiplying groups. Whatever model of church you go with, New attached imageyou’re still going to need to gather people into disciple-making small groups. Make growth the by-product of multiplying healthy groups. Sunday worship services alone will not make disciples.

13. Not growing leaders. If you want to grow the ministry you’ve got to grow leaders. No better way to do this than to meet regularly one-on-one and in a group. Support each other, pray, cast vision, identify the next hill to climb and make sure everyone knows what their contribution looks like.

14. Not resolving conflict. Ouch. This one’s a killer. Recruit team members who share the vision and values and are loyal to each other. The best time to fire someone is before you hire them. You’ll still face conflict, often in the second year. Learn how to resolve differences biblically and how to grow through them. Ultimately it’s not what you do in conflict, it’s who you are that matters. 

15. Not becoming like Christ. Sooner or later God will want to teach you that effective ministry flows out of who you are, not what you do. So expect trouble and grace. Expect God to use this ministry assignment to refine your character and deepen your faith. Don’t resist his discipline. Ministry must come from the overflow of your daily walk with Christ. Neglecting your spiritual disciplines is a killer. 

16. Not refocusing on the target. Once the plant is launched you’ll need to modify what’s working and what isn’t. You’ll need to accommodate somewhat to those who come and adjust to what God seems to be doing. Don’t hold each other accountable to things which no longer matter. Be sure your ministry focus group (target) and strategy continue to match up. 

17. Not multiplying disciples. Nowhere does the Word commend us to plant new churches. It does mandate that we give priority to making and multiplying Christ-followers. Be sure your leadership team has defined biblically what a disciple is—and has a well thought out plan for developing converts into reproducers able to pass on their faith. What path for them have you laid out? 

New attached image18. Not counting the cost. When you plant a church, you can count on three things: It’s going to take longer, require more money, and be harder than you imagined. As church planters, we are often guilty of getting “drunk on vision.” We’re so intoxicated with the desire to plant that it clouds our good judgment. When we’re intoxicated, we fail to listen to others, think clearly, and make wise decisions. Jesus tells us to count the cost. It always pays to listen to Him.

19. Not letting go. When you give birth to a new church, it’s your baby. The church you planted begins with the vision God put in your heart. When you first plant, everything begins with you. You have to do everything. However, as the church begins to grow, the longer you hold on to everything the more you become the bottleneck. There simply comes a time when we must let go and empower others.

20. Not observing Sabbath. Planting a church comes with a high price. Because of this you have to make taking care of yourself a high priority. A church planter must nurture his vitality. This requires taking regular time to refuel your emotional, physical, and relational vitality. Paying close attention to these gauges can add longevity and impact to your life and ministry.

Avoid common mistakes by starting with an awareness and practice of these biblical principles and ministry dynamics. Wise church planters are learners and leaders. They assess their failures and successes and build off of them. They surround themselves with wise counselors and coaches who help them stay on the path to success.

Let’s Make Disciples

Published on 09/03/15

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MATHETEUSATE! It reaches out and grabs our attention whenever we read our Lord’s Great Commission command in Matthew 28:19. The King James Bible translates it “teach.” The Greek word “mathetes” refers to a learner, a follower or a disciple. “Matheteusate” is the verb form and literally means “to make disciples” or “make disciples.”

This verse is one of the premiere passages in Scripture. It holds the key for the future of our churches. If we want our congregations to grow, then we need to understand this passage and implement it in our lives and in our ministries. Our churches will grow to the degree we do that.

The Lord’s Command DECLARED

The Lord’s command is imperative. There is a command, an order, a strong admonition to do something. If your Mother says, “Pick up your clothes,” you had better do it. She’s not making a suggestion. She’s giving you an order and you had best comply if you know what’s good for you.

In the same way, there is an imperative command in this verse. A lot of people look at the verse and think the command is “to go,” but it’s not. The word “go” isn’t an imperative at all. It is a participle which can be translated “as you are going” or “while you are going.” The imperative verb in this verse is the word “mathetusate” – “make disciples.”

Before returning to heaven, the Lord Jesus issued this command to his disciples. They were to go into all the world and MAKE DISCIPLES from among all nations or from among all people groups.

God wants all kinds of people in heaven. He wants Americans, British, Portuguese, Hispanics, Filipino, Chinese, African, Indian and Island dwellers in his heaven and in his church. A church grows to the degree that it makes disciples. Little discipling – little growth, much discipling – much growth.

The Lord’s command is intentional. Disciple-making doesn’t just happen. People don’t become disciples by accident. Pastors and churches wonder why their churches are not growing, why people are leaving, why they are not seeing people being saved on a regular basis.

In many cases, the reason is because they have not developed an effective disciple-making process to win new people to Christ and then to help them grow into mature followers of the Savior.

Disciple-making is intentional. It is done on purpose. Someone has to make the effort to talk to lost people, to share the gospel with them, to win them to Christ and then to teach them what they need to know in order to grow spiritually. It takes a significant investment of time, effort and energy to make disciples, but it can be done and pays rich dividends in souls saved, lives transformed and new people added to the church.

The Lord’s command is inclusive. When the Lord issued this command to make disciples, only the eleven remaining disciples were present. This has led some people to assume the command to make disciples was just to those eleven men and to no one else. A quick read of Scripture reveals this was not the way the command was understood by disciples, by other believers, by the church in Jerusalem, the church in Antioch or churches elsewhere. The command to make disciples includes all churches everywhere throughout history since that time up to the present day. Disciple making is the mission God assigned to us. That is what we are supposed to be doing as local churches.

The Lord’s command, however, does not apply to churches only. It applies to each individual Christian as well. It applies to YOU and to ME personally. The Lord was speaking directly to us when he issued this command. Each one of us is to be a discipler. We are to be sharing our faith with others, winning them to Christ and then teaching them how to grow into mature followers of Jesus Christ.

The Lord’s Command DESCRIBED

Before you can make disciples, you have to know what a “disciple” is. What does a “disciple” looks like? How does a “disciple” act? What is a “disciple” supposed to know? The words “disciple” and “disciples” are found more than two hundred seventy times in Scripture. They refer to a student, a learner or a follower of a particular teacher. He sits, listens, learns and applies the teachings of his master to his own life. Slowly he begins to take on the lifestyle and the characteristics of his master. In Luke 6:40 Jesus said, “The disciple is not above his master, but every one that is perfect (mature) shall be AS (or like) his master.” In Matthew 28:19, Jesus described a “disciple” as someone who had been identified with him through baptism, and is “observing” or doing the things he commanded us to do.

In Luke 14:26, Jesus taught that in order to be his disciple a person must love the Lord Jesus more than he loves anyone or anything else including parents, children or siblings. In Luke 14:27, he taught that in order to be his disciple a person must take up his cross and follow him wherever he leads. In Luke 14:33, Jesus taught that in order to be his disciple a person must forsake all that he has and put the Lord first in his life.

From a practical standpoint, what does that look like?

If you don’t know the answer, you can’t produce it in your own life, much less in the life of someone else. So, let’s ask ourselves, “What qualities or characteristics do we want a disciple to have?”

Among other things, we want him to be honest, truthful, and dependable. We want him to love God, other believers and the lost around him. There are undoubtedly a number of other things we might want to add to the list of characteristics we want him to have, but these will do for a starting point.

Then, let’s ask, “What changes do we want to see in his life?”

We might want him to stop his sexual sin and be faithful to his spouse and children. We might want to see him get a job and to become a dependable employee who supports himself and his family. We might want to see his language cleaned up and his temper tamed so that he is able to exercise self-control.

Third, let’s ask, “What do you want a disciple to know?”

We want him to have a basic understanding of the key books of the Bible such as Genesis, John, Romans, Ephesians and James. We might want him to know how to resolve conflicts biblically rather than getting angry and saying things he will later regret. We might want him to have a basic understanding of Bible doctrines as well.

And lastly, let’s ask, “What do we want a disciple to be able to do?”

We might want him to know how to show the love of Christ with no strings attached. We want him to be able to share his faith story with others who need to hear the gospel and even how to disciple those he wins to Christ.

If our local churches are going to be effective, if we want our churches to grow and to mature, then we have to stop long enough to ask what a “disciple” looks like and what characteristics we want him to have.

The Lord’s Command DEVELOPED

Making disciples requires intentionality. The word “intentional” simply means to do something on purpose. You do it because you set out to do it.

We get up in the mornings and go to work, school or church. We end up where we wanted to end up because we planned to end up there. In the same way, we have to be intentional developing a plan for sharing our faith with others and for deciding what characteristics, insights, behaviors and knowledge we want them to have as disciples. Then we need to implement that plan to make it happen. People don’t become disciples by accident or by happenstance. It doesn’t just happen. It happens because someone was intentional in making it happen.

Making disciples requires planning and preparation. You can’t get from where you are to where you want to be without a plan (strategy) for getting there. If I want to go downtown to Manhattan, over to Brooklyn or up to Yonkers, I need to have some idea of how to get there. I can’t just start walking down the street with no idea of which direction I need to go and which trains and buses I need to ride. I would never get there without a plan for arriving at my destination.

The same is true when it comes to discipleship. You need to know where to start, what to teach and how to lead that person through the various levels of spiritual growth from infancy to spiritual maturity.

Making disciples is required for growth and maturity. There are two things that are glaringly absent in the majority of American churches: very few people are getting saved, and very little discipleship is actually taking place. Consequently, the vast majority of churches in America (85%) are not growing and nearly 4,000 close their doors every year. Many of the churches that remain are populated with people who have been in church for years, but have never been discipled. As a result, they lack the spiritual maturity needed to disciple othes.

If we want our churches to grow, both numerically and spiritually, if we want them to become bigger and better, then we MUST make the Lord’s priority our priority. We MUST make disciple-making the hub around which everything we do as a church revolves.

It takes work to do that. It takes intentionality to do that, but THAT is what our Lord commanded us to do. THAT is supposed to be our primary objective as local churches and as assemblies of believers.