Why would we plant a church?

The basis for church reproduction.

  Allow me to make a bold assertion. Every church needs to plant churches. God implies this in his description of the local congregation as a Body, the needs of North America for churches demands it, and it will improve the health of your body at the right time.

Healthy mature bodies reproduce. Christian Schwarz records in his book Color Your World with Natural Church Development notes a conversation he had with the “father” of the church growth movement, Don MacGavran. Don asked Christian, “What is the true fruit of an apple tree?” “An apple, of course” Christian replied. “Wrong,” Don replied. “The true fruit of an apple tree is not an apple, but another apple tree.”

Think of that. We want the apples. God designed the tree to produce trees. If God had only designed apple trees with only the apples in mind, then after the first apple tree died all the apples would be gone. By designing apple trees to produce apple trees, God insured that no matter what happened to the first tree, His apples would be spread around the world.

Applying this to churches, we tend to think the fruit of churches to be church members. Outside of reducing the idea of making apprentices of Jesus to names on a church roll, this approach assumes that no churches need ever be planted after ours. Had the apostles taken that approach, the church would have remained in Jerusalem.

Of course, some of us think that “other people” (denominations, dynamic pastors, etc.) plant churches but not local churches. Why? When Paul went out he was sent out by a local church, the church in Antioch. (Acts 13: 1-3) And Paul depended on the local churches he planted to maintain him in planting further churches. (2nd Corinthians 11:8-9)

We don’t have enough churches in North America. And we are falling behind. I have heard pastors say, “We don’t need more churches. We need fewer. We need to merge churches to make them stronger.” David Olson in his book The American Church in Crisis notes that from 2000 to 2005 Americans plant about 4000 churches and closed about 3700 churches. During that same time the American population grew by 26 million people. 300 more churches for 26 million more people. Something has to change.

Local churches can plant new churches in innovative ways and do it more effectively and quickly.

Planting churches benefits the Mother Church. Ed Stetzer and Warren Bird in their book Viral Churches note:

Church sponsoring Benefits the Sponor as Well:
A study of church-sponsoring churches showed
that the typical sponsor fared quite well from the
experience. Worship attendance increased 22 percent
for the five years after sponsorship of the church plant.
Financial giving to the local church likewise increased
48 percent over that same period, and designated gifts
such as toward foreign missions giving increased 77 percent.”

Now add to this news the facts from the Leadership Network (leadnet.org) that churches under 200 members plant churches more frequently than larger churches. A church does not need to be a megachurch to plant churches and they can reap real benefits.

Finally, New Churches draw more new people to following Jesus than older churches. According to Olson In their first 5 years average churches grow 5-12% per year. By the 11th year the average church’s growth had dropped to 1%. By the 31st year growth has halted. By the 41st year decline has set in.

My own experience affirms this. As the secretary of a home missions committee for the regional body of an evangelical denomination I helped oversee a church plant. Over the first 3 years of the new church plant the congregations of this small body of 15 faithful, and some of them, growing churches had each made at least one new apprentice (disciple) for Jesus. In those same three years, the new church plant had drawn 3 times as many new apprentices as all the other churches combined. This is not unusual.

Your church could plant a new church in a variety of ways.

  1. Join or create a church planting network, a group of churches that pool their resources to plant a church.
  2. Plant a satellite church, a separate worship center at a distance from your church, such as in the next small town over.
  3. Plant a house church, a separate congregation founded in the home of a member of your congregation.
  4. Hive off a significant portion of your congregation with some of your staff to set up a separate congregation.

There are many other possibilities. I encourage you to prayerfully consider this move.