Sunday, February 18, 2007

Why Church Planting? A Cultural Reason

When business consultants meet with companies to assess their health, they often ask two questions: 1) What is your business? and 2) How's business? The "business" of the church of Jesus Christ is making disciples. So how's business? Not too good, I'm afraid. Why should we plant more churches?


Here are some sobering statistics about the effectiveness of the church in America over the past century.

  • In 1900 there were 27 churches for every 10,000 Americans; in 1950 there were 17 churches for every 10,000 Americans; today there are fewer than 11 churches for every 10,000 Americans.
  • During the last ten years membership in Protestant churches declined by 9.5%, while the national population increased by 11.4%.
  • No county in America has seen an increase in church attendance in the last decade.
  • Churches lose over 2.7 million people a year.
  • Between 3,500 and 4,000 churches close their doors each year, while only 1,100 to 1,500 new churches are started--a net loss of about 2,500 churches each year, or nearly 50 churches a week.
  • Church analysts estimate that America currently needs about 100,000 more churches.

Why has there been this trend of church decline? Well, there are a number of factors, but here are some of the main causes:

  1. Churches have a lifespan. Most churches live about as long as a person--80 years. It doesn't have to be that way. Some churches die sooner, some much, much later. But most churches follow a typical pattern. In the beginning, there is life and growth; in middle age, there is a plateau, followed by decline and eventually death. We are not reproducing ourselves, so more churches are dying than are being birthed.
  2. The last big wave of church planting in America took place just after World War II, more than 50 years ago, making most churches in America well past their peak years of effectiveness. In fact, 80% of churches in America are either plateaued or declining. Of the 20% that are growing, 15% are growing due to people coming in from other churches; only 5% of churches are growing by reaching new people for Christ.
  3. Many Christians have developed a "retreat" mentality. They view the world as a place that is universally hostile to Christians, so it must be avoided, rather than engaged. Unfortunately, if we don't engage the world, it will never come to faith--"Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?" (Romans 10:13-14 NIV). If we isolate ourselves from everyone except those who are already in the "holy huddle," there is no chance for anything except decline.

In other words, the church has gotten off its mission. So often, we blame the world for not coming to us: it's their fault that they don't already know Christ. But God hasn't commanded the world; he's commanded us to be his ambassadors, to go, to show, to lead, to plead, and to serve. So if we're ineffective, it's our fault.

We have to change how we do church. We have to communicate the good news in a way that is intelligible to the people of our culture, and we need to create more churches that are doing the same. There are a lot of good churches out there, but so many of them are ministering exclusively to the already-convinced. We need churches who are committed to reaching those who don't know Jesus yet. America deserves more churches like that.

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