By Chris Moon
Even in a pandemic, the work of church planting continues.
Chicago-based church-planting organization NewThing reports it planted 982 churches in 2020, an increase from 855 in 2019. Most of those church plants occurred outside the United States—many of them in Africa and Asia.
“COVID hasn’t slowed it down,” said Patrick O’Connell, global director for NewThing.
NewThing is the church-planting mission of Community Christian Church in Naperville, Ill., which was founded by Dave Ferguson and Jon Ferguson. The organization has been around for about 15 years and has planted a total of 6,373 churches in 26 countries so far.
RAISING UP NEW CHURCH PLANTERS
O’Connell attributes last year’s uptick to the organization’s focus on raising up new church planters. NewThing has an apprentice program that puts new leaders alongside experienced church planters.
“We hammer that at everything we do. It is one of our basic values,” O’Connell said.
He also said the COVID-19 pandemic has mobilized new leaders around the globe. Some have felt new freedom during the pandemic to enter into the mission field.
This has been particularly true in Asia and Africa, where church leaders collaborate a bit more naturally than they do in the West, which tends to be more individualistic. One of the core principles of NewThing is to have collaboration between churches and between leaders.
“I think the key learning here for me is in a crisis, you fall back on your principles,” O’Connell said.
NewThing doesn’t have a set definition for what makes for a “church” as it counts its church plants. O’Connell said those decisions are made in each of the organization’s nine regions by people closer to the culture.
But he did say the biggest growth was in small churches, from 15 to 50 members. The pandemic, of course, has been conducive to smaller group meetings, both in person and online.
“2020 was the year of the house church,” he said.
‘NETWORKS’ AND ‘MOVEMENTS’
NewThing plants churches by putting together “networks” of churches with about four to six churches apiece. Those networks then are aligned into “movements” made up of four to six networks.
The synergy within those networks and movements is what brings new churches into being.
Even with the growth in church plants, 2020 was a difficult year to navigate.
Travel was put on hold, and churches were unable to meet in many places around the globe. In response, NewThing sponsored a series of online learning cohorts to help church leaders manage the changing times.
One coaching cohort was called “How to Get Through What You’re Going Through” and was attended by 1,500 churches for four to six weeks.
O’Connell said NewThing is always looking for ways to plant churches and expand the reach of the gospel. But because of COVID-19, care for existing pastors and their churches is receiving greater emphasis..
O’Connell recalls being on a call with a pastor who was weeping because of the effects of the pandemic.
“He said, ‘My church is not designed to withstand COVID,’” O’Connell recalled. “I realized some of these churches and some of these leaders didn’t have paradigms to deal with COVID.”
O’Connell said it was then he realized, “Now we need each other more than ever.”