By Mark A. Taylor
A generation ago, Dr. Steve Hancock made sure his graduate Christian education students understood the principles of Sunday school growth. One of the rules, which he learned at the Southern Baptist seminary he attended, went something like this: “New classes grow faster, win more people to Christ, and develop more workers than existing classes.”
Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research, is a Southern Baptist church growth advocate for today’s generation. And he says “any movement of churches that’s going to be serious about reaching the lost world is going to be involved in church planting. In fact, . . . any movement or denomination desiring to grow through conversion should aim for at least a three percent rate of church planting every year.”*
Stetzer’s conclusion is a simple extension of a natural law: Existing plants propagate themselves through new plants. Local churches grow when they multiply groups. Church movements grow when they multiply their number of congregations. To win the world to Christ, we must start new churches.
The good news is that we are a church-planting people. The stories on this site this month are only an indication of the energy surrounding church planting among Christian churches and churches of Christ.
But here’s the sobering news: Our church-planting rate is nowhere near 3 percent. Kent Fillinger, president of 3:STRANDS Consulting, conducts Christian Standard’s annual church statistics research and estimates we’d need to start at least 160 new churches every year to achieve the 3 percent rate. But Paul Williams, chairman of the board at Orchard Group, says he’d be surprised if our number was more than 80 new churches per year. Tom Jones, executive director of Stadia, said, “We have not arrived, but we are doing as well as we ever have” and added that many look to our movement as an example of church planting knowledge and success.
Because our fellowship is not an organized denomination, accurate numbers are difficult to compile. Phil Claycomb, president of Nexus: church planting leadership, pointed out that sometimes two or four different groups collaborate to plant one new church, “a healthy dynamic” that sometimes muddies the statistical waters. (“Some of our plants get counted three or four times,” Williams observed.)
So although firm numbers are difficult to find, two facts are sure. Church planting is key to evangelistic strategy. And Christian churches and churches of Christ, while doing better than ever at church planting, need to do more.