church planting, growing weeds or blossoms

The other day Tom blogged about visiting a local church plant that was holding it’s first service. I’m not a big fan of church planting and thought I might share why. This is not a post attacking Tom or wanting to undermine the work of this new church but rather my views on church planting.

I really don’t understand church planting, I don’t understand why or how a church gets to a point where they decide it’s time to grab a bunch of  congregational punters and go and start a new church down the road.

I don’t remember a time where I have been to a church for a normal Sunday service and seen every seat in the building full. If our churches aren’t full why do we need more of them. Wouldn’t it be a better idea to work on filling and improving the churches we already have?

Working with a ‘planting’ analogy  if I was a lemon farmer and my lemon trees weren’t growing to their potential and had fraying leaves I wouldn’t plant more and hope they grow better, I would end up with lots of trees, milking more time and resource to maintain for little harvest. Instead it would be better to keep the few trees and concentrate on the soil to ensure the tree’s have all the nutrients and strong roots that they require to grow better.

Our suburbs in my view are bursting at the seams with churches and more and more are popping up. All it seems to be doing is spreading congregations thinner.

Sure people become Christians but the rate of conversions can’t be equivalent to the rate of church plantings.

This new church has a cool band so lets go there instead of this one, the new church has 2 projector screens!!!!

I feel if a church thinks it’s time to plant a new church, which takes a lot of resource, wouldn’t that resource be best used to widen the programs of that church or help a church that already exists in the local area or partner with a church in a rural area that has little resource of its own, not starting a whole new church.

I’ve also heard recently that church planting is commonly used as one of the measures of positive church growth.


7 thoughts on “church planting, growing weeds or blossoms

  1. We are seeing first hand the hard work that goes into church plants. From my perspective it just seems to be more than doubling the work, with very little (if any) result so far. Guess we can hope for the best though..? Some certainly are.

    I suspect really it is all about diversifying the dating opportunities. Tom, surely it would be much easier to just attend a different church?

  2. A church doesn’t have to have every seat taken to be “full”, there can be heaps of seats free but if people walk in and can’t see seats they can easily get to, then they’re likely to think that the church full.

    Having said all that, I’m not really for or against church planting. What I do really object to is when a church decides to plant a congregation in a location where a church already exists and then steals the congregation from that church. I am never in favour of cattle rustling

  3. I was going to leave this till the morning, but I think I drank too much caffine, so you get it now.

    I’ll probably blog about this in the next day or two because I’ve been meaning to do it for a while anyway. But here’s what I think.

    First of all, in your post, I think you’re confusing church buildings with churches. You ask why we don’t work at filling the building, rather than just starting new churches. But this assumes that the goal of a church is to have a full building. If that was the case, then we should just shut down churches and push Christians in to as few buildings as possible so we save on resources, and only have as many seats as there are Christians.

    But as we all know the church is not the building, it’s the people. And planting churches is not about good use of resources as about bringing people into relationship with Jesus.

    The goal of a healthy church should be to live out the mission of Jesus. The church should be outwardly focused. Existing churches, in general, exist mainly to maintain themselves. While no church sets out to be insular, many established churches are, and the culture change that must happen for them to exist for outsider, rather than the member, is huge. If you want to revitalise an existing church you’re going to be working against years of church culture, and “this is how we do things here”.

    Church plants however, by there very nature, must exist for the outsider, or they won’t survive. Church plants don’t need to work against existing church culture, they just create a new church culture. The Biblical church plant won’t try and just take Christians from other churches for their own glory, but will exist to reach the unchurched. And in general, they do that.

    Church plants are a proven, effective strategy for church growth. There is plenty of research to show that. One Australian example is the NCLS Paper (by our friend Keith) on church planting which says that, of the churches they looked at, evangelical church plants were made up, on average, of 17% newcomers to church as opposed to the 9% that made up normal evangelical congregations.

    Planting a church saves all the energy of trying to get an existing church to change it’s behaviour and outlook and just goes straight for the unchurched.

    However if you want to get an existing church to be mission focused, an extremely effective way is to get that church to plant a church. That way the church will see that its mission is not to exist for itself but to grow the kingdom.

    Finally, saying “Why do we need more churches?” assumes that having a static number of churches is ideal, but this would only make sense if the population of Australia is static. However the population of Australia is growing at 1.69% per year. Which means that if churches are to grow at the rate of Australia, in essence maintaining the same levels of attendence relative to the size of the population as they currently have, they should be planting new churches at the same rate. If there are 7000 Australian churches this year, there should be 7,118 churches next year.

    Of course the Australian church is not growing at that rate. According to the NCLS between 1996-2001 the Australian church shrunk by 7%. In which that might cause you to say “See we need to be building up existing churches not opening new ones, we can’t keep people in our old ones.” Except that current churches obviously aren’t managing to grow but church plants are. The churches that are growing are the mission focused churches and many of them are planting focused movements.

    So as far as I can see, the most effective way to reach people with the gospel in Australia is to be planting churches.

    And in reply to Kate, for dating purposes, planting a church is a much better idea, because to the godly, single, Christian woman, I’m pretty sure the pastor is going to be about 10 times hotter than the single guy that just wandered in off the street. And if I’m really serious about it, I might plant a church just for single women. Yeah baby.

  4. The church where I go planted a church within the church, or rather a new congregation within the church. The aim was to offer a different style of church to the three other services on offer. The core group who committed themselves to developing the new congregation came voluntarily from the other services. The seats they left have been filled by newcomers – so while the new congregation hasn’t seen much growth as yet, the other services have! Some of the core group went back to their original congregation, for a variety of reasons. We’ve been up and running for just over a year now, and it’s been challenging but good. The service style is informal, questions are encouraged, and we have dinner together every week after the service. We are, however, in danger of becoming too small and too insular, and need to work out how to let people know we’re around. We meet in the mid-afternoon which is fairly unusual and perhaps not what people would immediately look for. Most would probably look for a morning or evening service, because that’s generally what’s on offer at most churches.

  5. I agree with you Howie, while some positive arguments have been made about church planting that make sense, I feel it has become a bigger focus than it should be. In general I think the focus should be on what are we going to do with the churches that already exist and the people already there. People are leaving the church in droves, (perhaps I’m included in that if you don’t include a Quaker meeting as church although I do) and it seems while all the focus is on getting new people there is no effort been put into nurturing those already there. This doesn’t have to be to the exclusion of others. The early church as described in Acts seemed to get the balance right of building community for those who are there and nurturing their development while being open to new people.

  6. I feel a bit the same about parachurch organisations, though I have been a part of a few of them and love some of them. But all the same criticisms can be levelled their way too. I love seeing the church grow.

  7. I agree with Tom. I think that change can be about reform or about revolution. At the moment reform doesn’t seem to be serving the church well and the revolutions achieving amazing results.

    I don’t know if there is anything particularly sacred about the clumps of vested interests that some established churches currently seem to be. Sometimes preserving an institution is more about the institution than about it’s purpose and then the success of that institution at surviving constant attempts to change it becomes a liability rather than a virtue.

    I don’t think the problem with Australian churches is that parishioners are lazy and don’t care about them. I think it’s about one group of church-goers wanting to do things a certain way and trying to preserve that tradition. I reckon good on them for having the energy to preserve it in face of all the evidence that they will fail, but I don’t reckon other people have to fall in line behind them.

    But then I don’t even go to church. And I like the old ones more than the new ones, so I’m hardly qualified to comment.

    I don’t think that good on you Tom for having a go and living up to Aussie church battler tradition.

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