By Robert Kitchen
Another church? Do we need another one?
This question has been asked over and over again, year after year, as new churches are planted across the country. The answer remains the same: “Yes.” Even in areas where Christian churches and churches of Christ abound, the answer is still “yes.”
The Right Question
Perhaps a better question would be, “Why not another church?”
There are millions of lost souls who need to be reached. Even if all our churches were filled (with multiple services) we would still not have room for all the lost. For the year 2000 the U.S. Center of World Missions reported there were 10 churches for every 10,000 Americans, down from 27 churches for every 10,000 in 1900. I pray that big churches thrive. However, indications are that younger people prefer smaller congregations, making innovations and future needs even greater.
New community planning in our area (called “new urbanism”) promotes designing subdivisions like small towns. Each of these needs a church.
Many years ago C. Peter Wagner said, “The single most effective methodology in evangelism is planting new churches.” Today about 40 percent of conversions occur through new churches.
Many established churches are shrinking and dying. The American Society for Church Growth reported there are about 1,500 churches planted every year while about 4,000 are closed. We are always pleased to hear of established churches that are growing or at least maintaining, but many are not. Too many have well-defined personality characteristics and traditions that cater to limited segments of the population. Some are just lazy or poorly managed. Some churches allocate resources only to the needs of those already attending. A sad truth is that many churches will not seek or accept help to regain a fruitfulness they may have once known.
In our society, we adore choice. The Bible allows many personal (good) choices in the exercise of our faith. No one church can possibly serve everyone’s preferences for all these choices. I do not believe churches should try to cater to every whim, but I do believe it is prudent to review Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 9:22 where he says he has “become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.” Dr. Richard Swenson’s book Overload Syndrome discussed choices and the acceleration of them coming to us. We need to understand the impact of choice and change. Many simply will not like my church, your church, or our choices.
Objections to Overcome
Well-intentioned people have many objections to their church mothering a new church or others planting a new church in their area. You’ve probably heard at least one of them:
• “If a new church is planted in our area, it will take our members and our prospects.” Experience shows churches that plant or support new works do not suffer; they grow.
Here are a couple of examples. The church in Petaluma, California, has given birth to two “daughters.” One of these is only about a mile from the mother and all three are prospering. In another case a survey was made of churches near a new start in southern Ohio whose opening-day attendance was more than 600. None of the nearby churches experienced a drop in attendance.
Churches that provide volunteers for new works usually experience attendance gains. God fills voids in abundance. It’s been observed that other churches in the general area of a new church apparently benefit from the excitement, advertising, and energy generated. New churches generally have a mission to reach the lost or inactive, not those people attending nearby churches. An important question is:
How well is the established church retaining members and visitors or reaching the area’s prospects?
• “We are not ready to plant or help a new church.” The sad truth is many will never be ready to mother or help a new church. On the other hand, there are many churches that will do this. One sterling example is Churchill Meadows Christian Church, Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, where planter Jim Tune ministers. Just three years old, the church is deep into the planning of a new work just 10 minutes away from its present location.
• “It costs too much. We can’t afford it.” We need to check our spending priorities. We need vision; God provides resources. Your church may not be able to do it alone, but it can join with others to get the job done. What is just one soul worth?
• “We already have enough.” By now you should be convinced. No, we don’t!
Overcome the myths and lethargy. Establish a church to evangelize, or establish a church because you have evangelized; but establish a church.
Another one? You better believe it!
Robert Kitchen has been a worker with several new church starts. He was the original loan chairman for the Ohio Church Development Fund, past treasurer of Georgia Christian Evangelizing Association, interim treasurer of the Ohio Church Planting Alliance, and currently secretary of the Christian Evangelizing Fellowship. He lives in Batavia, Ohio.