By Kent Fillinger
From Late Night’s Top 10 lists to college sports’ Top 25, almost everything imaginable has been ranked. Americans love lists, and the number of lists generated seems endless. Outreach magazine recently initiated a new list—“America’s Top 25 Multiplying Churches.”
Researcher Ed Stetzer said, “Among churches today, the conversation—a long overdue one—is moving from church growth to kingdom growth.” The 25 churches were selected from more than 300 surveyed and were ranked based on the total number of church plants over the life of the church, the average number of churches planted each year, dollars and percentage of budget dedicated to church planting, the number of daughter churches that have planted a new church, and the church’s influence on the church-planting community. Included in the top 25 were five Christian churches. Each of the five churches has a unique story of impacting the kingdom through church planting.
No. 6: East 91st Street Christian Church, Indianapolis, IN (www.east91st.org)
Total Church Plants: 43
In 1984, East 91st Street embraced a vision to plant 20 new churches in 20 years. By 2004, it had exceeded its original vision and launched 30 new churches. East 91st expanded its vision in 2000 and established a sizable goal of planting 65 churches by 2010. By year’s end, 47 new churches will have been planted and the church anticipates reaching 55 plants—10 short of its goal—by 2010.
Jim Penhollow, church multiplication director for East 91st, estimates the church has invested $4.5 million directly to church planting since 1984, not including the salaries for three church-planting staff positions.
The East 91st church-planting ministry exists to reach people with the gospel of Jesus Christ by planting reproducing churches in highly unchurched areas. Therefore, the church is strategically focused on the Pacific Northwest and the north-central states of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota where unchurched populations are higher.
East 91st has challenged her church plants to become “regional impact churches” that continue to multiply. One example is Our Place: Your Christian Church in Portland, Oregon, which has supported four plants in its first six years of existence. Since 2001, 18 churches have been planted by East 91st plants.
East 91st’s vision includes regional impact churches establishing “strategic church-planting centers” that function as regional resource and training centers to equip other church planters. Centers have been established in Portland and Toronto.
To support its planters, East 91st provides encouragement through the regional directors, matches each planter with an experienced planter who coaches them for two years, and invites all planters and their wives to return to East 91st every May to network and celebrate with the congregation. East 91st has also developed a volunteer ministry team that recruits classes, families, and individuals within the church to consistently pray for each of the church plants and planters.
No county in America has a greater percentage of churched people than it did a decade ago. Since church planting is the most effective means of evangelism, Penhollow encourages churches to look with “church-growth eyes” beyond their own geography to see what God wants to do in growing communities.
No. 7: Community Christian Church, Naperville, IL (www.communitychristian.org)
Total Church Plants: 16
In 1989 when Dave Ferguson (www.daveferguson.org) and four friends from college visualized Community Christian Church, they dreamed of launching a high-impact church that would become a reproducing church that would serve as catalyst for a movement of reproducing churches. In 18 years, Community Christian has realized its vision. With eight multisite locations in Greater Chicago and plans for seven more locations in the next five years, plus 14 affiliate churches across the country, Community Christian has started a multiplying movement.
Ferguson created the NewThing Network (www.newthing.org), a subsidiary organization, to provide coaching, training, and resources for multisites and church plants. The affiliate churches are autonomous churches in a collaborative partnership to develop creative content. The affiliate churches meet twice a year for accountability and inspiration.
The NewThing Network sponsors a Reproducing Church Experience three to four times a year for young leaders who have an interest in church planting. The experience is limited to 30 participants and is designed to identify future church planters in an intentionally relational environment. Contrasting East 91st’s regional approach, Ferguson said it is more about selecting the leader than the geography. New Thing’s goal is to find the right church planters and to support them in their passion for a particular geographic location.
To be a multiplying church, Ferguson said, “a church needs to have a shift in values and come to value the edge over the safety of the center, to value seeking the lost more than the found, and to value going more than staying.”
No. 13: New Life Christian Church, Centreville, VA (www.newlife4me.com)
Total Church Plants: 5
As with Community Christian Church in Naperville, New Life also had a vision for multiplication before the church began in 1993. Senior pastor Brett Andrews, noted, “We knew what God wanted us to do before we knew how we were going to do it.” Andrews stressed that God often reveals the “what” long before the “how,” and our journey is to be obedient to the “what” and trust God for the “how.” Andrews said, “Churches are afraid of the ‘how,’ so they avoid church planting.”
Studies show that if a new church does not plant again within the first three years, then it probably never will. Therefore, New Life has launched two multisite locations, five new churches, and played a role in planting many more churches through a church marketing company and several 501(c)(3) organizations.
Other church planters recognized New Life’s marketing materials and came to them for help, so they established Church Marketing Solutions (www.church-marketing.com), a brand identity development company focused on assisting churches in their communications effort.
Andrews realized the marketing attracted an audience, but a solid structure was still missing. A team from New Life developed a 500-question checklist for church planting that has evolved into Passion4Planting (www.passionforplanting.com), a new 501(c)(3) ministry. Passion4Planting provides free tools, resources, and information to church planters. More than 1,500 churches a year download the free comprehensive checklist.
Andrews is working toward a “show-and-tell” model of church planting based on principles in Matthew 25. Church planters will enter a community to serve the needs of the community and establish relationships for the first year. Then they will market and launch the church. Andrews sees the need to start as a serving church that goes to the community. This passion for serving the community has spawned another 501(c)(3) organization, Passion4Community (www.community-impact.org), that establishes community centers focused on life skills development to initiate conversations with people.
No. 14: Owensboro (KY) Christian Church (www.owensborochristian.org)
Total Church Plants: 13
In 1988, when Owensboro hired Ben Davis as an associate minister, Davis shared his long-term vision of going home to Wisconsin at some point to plant a church. Seven years later, the elders went to Davis and challenged him to plant the church he had envisioned. Owensboro partnered with East 91st to launch RiverGlen Christian Church (Waukesha, Wisconsin) in March 1996 with 750 in attendance the first week; today it averages 1,200.
Owensboro’s original goal was to plant 10 churches by 2010, and it has already planted 13 in eight states. The church has invested more than $1 million directly in church planting and plans to continue planting churches because, as elder Dave Simpson said, “We like to do it!”
Simpson said more than 2,500 people now attend the churches Owensboro has planted, therefore he believes OCC has received “a lot of bang for their bucks” through church planting. Owensboro has committed 18 percent of its budget to missions, with 5 percent designated for church planting; its goal is to reach a “double tithe” of 20 percent to missions. All the while, Owensboro has grown from a church of 250 in 1984 to more than 2,800 today in a town of 60,000 people.
No. 17: Journey Christian Church, Apopka, FL (www.journeychristian.com)
Total Church Plants: 2
In 2003, Journey Christian Church partnered with several church leaders and organizations to establish the Florida Church Planters Network. Journey was a major sponsor initially and continues to provide 2 percent of its total annual budget to the network for church planting.
The goal of the network is for every Christian church in Florida to give 1 percent of its budget to reach 1 percent of Florida’s population of 18 million (180,000 people). Today there are only 50,000 Floridians in Christian churches on any given Sunday, and 25 percent of Florida churches support the network.
One success story is eight-year-old River Run Christian Church (Chuluota, Florida), which is averaging 1,200 in attendance.
The network suggested that churches starting a multiplying effort develop a clear plan for adequate capitalization for the vision and project. The network has seen churches and planters struggle when the necessary financial resources are not in place prior to launching.
The common theme among each of these five diverse churches is the concept of commitment. Each leader stresses how the eldership, staff, and congregation are completely committed to multiplying their kingdom impact through church planting.
Kent E. Fillinger is president of 3:STRANDS Consulting in Indianapolis, Indiana.