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Six Common Myths About Church Planting

We need new practices of church planting for the challenges of a post-Christian society. (David Fitch)

Maybe you are thinking, Why do we need to start new churches? Aren’t there enough churches already out there? Here I want to answer some of the major myths about church planting. As we scan the pages of Scripture and also our surrounding world, we see that the world is in desperate need of new churches. But not everyone sees it that way. After conducting a series of interviews with a variety of people, I have compiled a list of six common myths that surround church planting. In an effort to help newcomers understand the reality of church planting, I have listed fact-based responses to each of these six myths.  (This article by Winfield Bevens appears as a blog at http://www.seedbed.com/)

1. Too Many Churches Already Exist
Reality: As we have already said, there are two billion people who do not know Jesus, and nearly one-third of the people on the planet do not have a local church to attend. The truth is, despite how many churches you see in your community, the vast majority of people around the world are not connected to a local church. Consider the following statistics in North America alone.
In 1900, there were twenty-eight churches for every 10,000 Americans.
In 1950, there were seventeen churches for every 10,000 Americans.
In 2000, there were twelve churches for every 10,000 Americans.
In 2011, the latest year available, there were eleven churches for every 10,000 Americans. (Ed Stetzer and Daniel Im, Planting Missional Churches: Your Guide to Starting Churches That Multiply [Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holeman, 2016], 8.)
The fact is, many denominations in North America are declining rather than growing while the population has more than quadrupled! Eighty to 85 percent of all churches in the United States have either stopped growing or are in decline, and an estimated three to four thousand churches close their doors each year! (Win Arn, cited in Ed Stetzer, Planting New Churches in a Postmodern Age [Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2003], 10.) Only 17.5 percent of the population is attending a Christian church on any given weekend and that figure is projected to fall to 14.7 percent by 2020. (David T. Olson, The American Church in Crisis: Groundbreaking Research Based on a National Database of over 200,000 Churches [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008], 29.)
So how can we combat this drastic decline? The answer is that we need new churches that are planted according to a scriptural model to reach people with the gospel of Jesus Christ! Ed Stetzer and Daniel Im remind us, “Church planting is essential. Without it Christianity will continue to decline in North America.” (Stetzer and Im, Planting Missional Churches, 7.)

2. Planting Churches Will Hurt Existing Churches
Reality: Becoming involved with church planting can actually bring new life and missional vitality to existing churches, pastors, and church members. Church planting isn’t just for lone-ranger church planters, but works best if it is in concert with existing congregations working together to expand the kingdom of God through starting new churches in a city or region. Churches that engage with church planting can be energized and experience new life as they seek to recover the mission of God in their community or region. British church planters Tim Chester and Steve Timmis believe that existing churches can benefit from partnering with new ones, “Far from weakening a sending church, church planting is a vital opportunity to refocus the life of the church on the gospel.” (Chester and Timmis, Total Church: A Radical Reshaping around Gospel and Community [Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008], 96.)
The important thing to take into consideration is communication among local churches and pastors. Oftentimes, church planters don’t seek the support of local churches and come across as if they are trying to do their own thing. I would recommend that you avoid this at all cost. Also, if you are a pastor or a member of a local church, I would encourage you to find ways that your church can help be involved in church planting. It might just bring new life to your church!

3. Church Planting Is Too Expensive
Reality: Church planting doesn’t have to be expensive. Congregations can meet in homes, coffeehouses, or other locations that do not require a lot of start-up money. If you are talking about raising money for a full-time salary for multiple staff, buying a building, etc., then you are right. There are only a few who can pull off that type of church planting prior to starting a new church. However, many people are able to start a new church on little to nothing. Church leaders like Neil Cole, who oversees Church Multiplication Associates, advocates an organic approach to church planting that is small and focused primarily on discipleship. (See Neil Cole, Organic Church: Growing Faith Where Life Happens [San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2005]).
These churches are finding unique ways to make disciples that do not require the expenses of traditional church buildings, structures, and staff salaries. Likewise, fresh expressions of church are an inexpensive alternative to expensive traditional models of church planting. My friend Shawn is effectively planting fresh expressions of church among his fellow restaurant workers with little to no start-up money.

4. Church Planting Is for a Select Few
Reality: Church planting offers a place for everyone to get involved regardless of age, background, nationality, race, or gender. It takes all kinds of people to be involved with starting new churches. It will take all kinds of churches and all kinds of people to reach all kinds of people. Men, women, children, families, the young, the elderly—church planting is for everybody! While everyone is not called to be the lead church planter, I do believe that everybody can be involved in church planting in a variety of ways, which we will discuss later on in this book.
Also, church planting isn’t just for young people. Nothing could be further from the truth when it comes to church planting! Church planting is one of the most multigenerational ministries that I have witnessed. People who are involved in church plants are from all ages and backgrounds. When I was working on my doctorate, a fellow student named Bill who was in his seventies had planted a church in a retirement community in Florida. In a few years, the church that Bill planted had grown to more than one thousand members. I want to be like him when I grow up!

5. Church Planting Is What Missionaries Do, Over There
Reality: In many ways, North America has become the new mission field. Whether you like it or not, the mission field has come to you, regardless of where you live. I strongly believe that church planters are modern-day missionaries serving in a variety of new mission contexts. Church planting is needed in every context, in every part of the world. There are new churches being planted in all parts of the world, including rural, suburban, urban, and even mall churches, to name a few.
We need churches to be planted in every city, region, and nation to reach the two billion people globally who do not know Jesus Christ. Church planters are always looking for where they can start a new church. As I drive around a new city I often find myself thinking, That would be a great place to start a new church. As you look around, begin to think like a missionary and assess the needs of your city. Ask yourself the question, “Where does my community need a new church?”

6. A Church Planter Needs to Be an Extreme Extrovert
Reality: There is a common stereotype that church planters are type A, extroverted, caffeinated, charismatic individuals who can draw a big crowd, but I would strongly challenge that notion. This myth has kept more people from engaging in church planting than any other. The truth is, God uses all kinds of people to plant all kinds of churches.
Many of the church planters I have met are not extreme extroverts, but ones who share a common passion to reach beyond themselves to see people come to Christ through planting new churches. While church planting does involve trying new things and being flexible, it does not require that you be an extreme extrovert. A friend of mine named Ben was turned down by a church-planting network for not being an extrovert. I began to coach him and he eventually planted a church that grew to more than five hundred people and became a regional network leader. The work of church planting calls for someone who has a humble heart and is willing to do whatever the Lord has called them to do.

As we can see, many of the common myths about church planting are not accurate, nor do they give a reasonable excuse for us not to plant new churches. The mission of God and the sheer number of unchurched people in the world compel us to plant new churches in every context. To me, the real question is not “Why should we plant new churches?” but “Why should we not plant new churches?!” Church planting is not an option for Christians, but a call to fulfill the Great Commission of making disciples throughout the world.

Join the church planting revolution that is happening all around us. Women and men from all around the country and world are mobilizing to reach the lost with the gospel by engaging in a unique surge of church planting. Winfield Bevins’ new book Church Planting Revolution offers an accessible introduction and handbook that leaders, explorers, and team members can use together as they discern what it looks like to be faithful to the church’s missional imperative. Get your copy from our store now.

NCLS Three Options

A church needs to decide which process they plan to take to evaluate, communicate, and act on the results of their church's NCLS survey. The deeper a church's commitment to a culture of planning, the greater will be their need for a planning team of some sort, occasional outside consultants and experienced facilitators.  NCLS Research encourages churches to look to denomination for planning support and any processes already in place.   Jack De Vries (CRCA Ministry Formation) is prepared to support and assist churches in their NCLS planning process.
NCLS offers three planning options for churches to consider.   A church may decide on their own process, which might to a hybrid of the one of the following, or one that is unique to their particular church and ministry context.
Option 1 - A Short Session 
A single, 1.5-2 hour session. This session is designed to encourage churches to reflect on the strengths they bring to ministry. It will also help churches engage the Summary Profile. This session is suitable for any 
local church. 
Option 2 - A Reflection/ Action Process
This planning process is designed to assist churches to move directly from their Church Life Profile to action. It involves two sessions of 2-3 hours each. It is intended for those churches who are already strongly pursuing a vision; are presently unable to launch into a long planning process right now; and do not have the people or resources to carry through a thorough planning exercise. 
Option 3 - A Comprehensive Process 
Four to six sessions over a few months. This planning process is designed to assist churches to develop a vision for the future and to develop action steps that will enable the vision to become a reality. The process can help churches to rediscover their sense of purpose, to cast a vision and pursue the vision to its fulfilment.   (Adapted from "Enriching Church Life" by John Bellamy et al (2006), NCLS Research)
Refer to the Workbook pages attached below regarding your church's readiness and record your choice of process. 
Download this file (NCLS Three Options.pdf)NCLS Three Options

The Vitality of the CRCA

It is encouraging to know that 84% of CRCA congregational members would support the development of new initiatives in the ministry and mission of their local church.    This is one of many findings in the recent NCLS (National Church Life Survey) survey conducted among CRCA churches.   While not all churches participated in the NCLS survey, the results are still a good sampling of the vitality of CRCA churches.    Over 1300 adult members participated, which is almost ¼ or 22% of the total adult membership in the CRCA.   The 17 participating churches represented large as well as small churches, churches from every state, and new church plants in addition to long established congregations.   In addition, the findings of the NCLS surveys also echo the survey results of the 25 churches that have done one or more NCD surveys.  So what does the NCLS survey tell us about the CRCA?  Well, here is a glimpse!

The vast majority of CRCA members are long term members (73%) with the majority of them born in Australia (58%).   But we also have a large number of adult members who were born overseas (42%), with over ¼ or 26% of members who are new arrivals to their church in the past five years.   What I found surprising is that at least ¼ or 24% of our adult members speak a language other than English at home.   All of this tells me that while we have a stable church membership, there is an ever growing diversity in our churches.

What doesn’t surprise me is the high value people put on sermons, preaching, or teaching in their local churches.   For the vast majority of our churches biblical preaching is their number one core Biblical value, and it is the CRCA’s commitment to the pure preaching of the Word of God that draws many, many people to find and maintain a church home in a CRCA congregation.   Almost ½ or 49% of attenders spend time in prayer, Bible reading, and meditation every day or most days.  This simply underscores the high value CRCA church members place on the Word of God.  

About one-third or 32% of adult members value small groups as places where they can study the Word of God, support one another in prayer, and encourage each other in the Christian faith.   But an almost equal number of people would like to see spiritual growth (39%) and a sense of community (34%) be given priority by their church in the next 12 months.    These results echo the NCD results which show that two areas that require attention in our churches are ‘passionate spirituality’ and ‘loving relationships’.  As churches who place a high value on Biblical preaching and small groups there is much opportunity and potential to raise the bar in the areas spiritual growth and Christian community.   There is also much potential for spiritual growth with CRCA church attenders, with less than half or 43% saying that they have experienced much growth in faith in the previous 12 months.    What can we do as local churches to raise the bar in the area of ‘spiritual growth’ or ‘passionate spirituality’?   This is a question every pastor and church leader should be asking of themselves and their church.

I found it interesting that most attenders identified their gifts or skills as ‘hospitality: welcome, host, provide food’ (42%) and ‘communication: write, edit, speak’ (32%).    I would love to explore this further with churches.   For example, when it comes to hospitality do most church members simply think of greeting people at church, serving coffee afterwards, and doing the dishes?   Or is there more?   With such a large segment of our people identifying hospitality as their skill or gift, this is a huge opportunity for the gospel.    Jesus used simply hospitality and meal time conversations to share some of the most profound truths of the gospel.  When we open our homes to friends and strangers, put on a meal, and break bread together, we invite God’s blessing.   Christian hospitality is key to the gospel, especially if we want to reach the many migrants and people from other faiths who are moving into our communities!   Perhaps there is a whole lot more we can do in the CRCA to leverage these gifts and skills to reach the lost for Christ.    It is also encouraging to discover that there is a large segment of our adult membership that would like to become more involved in their local church (23%).

I mention the priority of evangelism since outreach to the lost is really low on the radar of most of our people.   While over half or 55% of our adult membership are involved in small groups within the church, only ¼ or 25% of people are involved in evangelism or outreach activities.   In fact, the NCLS survey shows that over half or 53% are not involved in wider community groups.    How can we as Christians ever reach the lost in our community is we are not engaged in our community?   One of the reasons the CRCA is promoting ‘Organic Outreach’ to our churches is to encourage every member of the church to be sharing the good news naturally through everyday evangelism!

Finally, let me reiterate the encouraging finding through the NCLS survey that 84% of CRCA congregational members would support the development of new initiatives in the ministry and mission of their local church.  As a CRCA denomination we are committed to be a church reforming to reach the lost for Christ.   This is our vision, and our members are overwhelmingly ready to support the reforming that needs to take place.   But less than half of our members or 43% are fully confident that their local church can achieve the vision, goals, or directions set!   Here the CRCA denomination can assist.   Through intentional ministry formation resources and coaching are made available to increase church health or vitality!   The GROW and TRAIN workgroups are prepared to assist pastors, church leaders, and congregations to grow healthy churches, plant new churches, multiply disciples, and increase the number of well-trained leaders.   If you have questions or desire more information, please fill out a contact form here.

The CRCA NCLS Summary Report is attached below.

Download this file (NCLSSummaryProfile2016-FA000000.pdf)CRCA NCLS Summary

Looking for Some Encouragement - NCD

Before launching into the growth areas brought to light by your NCD Survey, it may be that what you or your leadership most need right now is some encouragement. A breath of fresh air if you like. Fortunately, exactly the same survey that indicates your church's growth areas also evaluates its strengths with just as much rigor.

Spending some time exclusively focusing on the current strengths of your church should not be viewed as some kind of proud, self-congratulation exercise. The very core of NCD is about moving into the most natural partnership with God possible. Your church's current strengths are where that is happening best. So, acknowledging and celebrating the areas that come most naturally to you as a church, is in fact, an act of thanksgiving and praise. Put another way, it is about valuing the God who has grown that fruit in our midst, and honoring the people who have partnered with him (some for many years) in bringing that positive culture and fruitfulness about. We shouldn't really challenge those influential people about the growth areas of the church, without making sure they are shown respect for their part in establishing the strengths.

So take some time, on your own and with the leadership of the church, to consider your highest results. There will no doubt be some people who will immediately want to move to the lowest results to analyse and work out plans of action. However, if you feel some time of affirmation is needed first, let those people know that very soon we will move to the challenge areas and will end up spending the majority of time on those points. But for now, we should pause to consider what we already have. Start with the themes and quality characteristics that come most naturally to your church as seen through the Summary Guide and then through the Story Guide (Download your Summary or Story Guide if you prefer to print it off).

Click the button and consider the following questions:

  • How does this strength display itself in our everyday church life? What does it look like, sound like, feel like, taste like or smell like?
  • Who are the people, present and past, who have partnered with God to make this a strength within our church? How will we affirm them for what they have done?
  • What kind of people, who are not yet part of our church, would most benefit from this strength? How do we help them to experience it?

If this is a repeat NCD Survey, there may be more encouragement to be found. The most obvious encouragement is that your Status Guide might be showing signs of progress since your last survey, or perhaps even across a number of steadily improving previous surveys. If that is the case, consider exactly the same kind of questions as above but relate them to the greatest points of progress (Download your Status Guide if you prefer to print it off).

Even if this is a repeat survey without signs of overall progress or even signs that the health of your church may have fallen somewhat, there may still be reason for some encouragement. Given that since your previous survey, work has been done and some decisions have been made, the positive effects of some of that may be evident in the Highest 10 Changes (page 26) of your Status Guide. Spend some time considering what those changes may be linked to and again, see if you are able to affirm those who helped to bring about those signs of new life. Sure, it would've been better to see progress in your church's minimum factor and overall results, but those Highest 10 Changes are an indicator that there is some capacity for change. Now you just need to focus the key influencers in this next phase in order to build on that.

Resources for your Growth Needs

  • Six Common Myths About Church Planting

    We need new practices of church planting for the challenges of a post-Christian society. (David Fitch)

    Maybe you are thinking, Why do we need to start new churches? Aren’t there
    Read More
  • NCLS Three Options

    A church needs to decide which process they plan to take to evaluate, communicate, and act on the results of their church's NCLS survey. The deeper a church's commitment to a
    Read More
  • The Vitality of the CRCA

    It is encouraging to know that 84% of CRCA congregational members would support the development of new initiatives in the ministry and mission of their local church.     This is

    Read More
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