Church planting is not without its critiques. After conducting a series of interviews with a variety of people, I have compiled a list of nine of the most common myths that surround church planting. In an effort to help understand the reality of church planting, I have listed fact-based responses to each of these nine myths. If you believe any of these myths, I invite you to reconsider. If any of these are barriers to your involvement in church planting, I hope they will be overcome!
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:
- According to one of the most recent statistical surveys of the top twenty-five churches, many of the denominations in North America are in decline rather than growing. (See the National Council of Churches recent release of their annual yearbook of US and Canadian churches. Among the top twenty-five churches, only five reported membership increases; the Southern Baptist Convention (0.22 percent, to 16,306,246 members), the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church (0.21 percent to 1,443,405 members) the Roman Catholic Church (0.87 percent to 67,515,016 members) and the Assemblies of God (0.19 percent to 2,836,174 members). All other communions in the top twenty-five said they lost members or reported no increases or decreases. National Council of Churches’ 2008 Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches. http://www.ncccusa.org/.)
- 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: B & H Academic, 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. (See The American Church in Crisis by David Olsen for more information.)
So how can we combat this drastic decline? The answer is that we need new churches that are planted according to a scriptural model!
2. Planting new 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 by engaging in starting new churches. The important thing to take into consideration is communication among local churches and pastors. Often times, 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 fi ways that your church can help be involved in church planting. It might just bring new life to your church!
3. Church planting doesn’t really make a difference.
Reality: The number of new churches that are being started around the world is astounding! The growth rate of global Christianity is absolutely amazing as church-planting movements have reached hundreds of millions of people from Africa, Asia, and Latin America in tens of thousands of new congregations that have been planted to keep up with the growth. Consider the following statistics. In the last one hundred years, Christianity grew in Africa from 10 million in 1900 to 360 million in 2000, and the number of new church plants played a huge role in this. (See Phillip Jenkins, The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity for more information on the phenomenon of world Christianity.) Right now in North America, we are seeing nearly four thousand new churches being started. (See Ed Stetzer and Warren Bird’s book, Viral Churches for further insight.) Go church planters!
4. Church planting is too expensive.
Reality: Church planting doesn’t have to be expensive, and the 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. Churches that are finding unique ways to make disciples that do not require the traditional church buildings and structure are becoming more prevalent.
5. Church planting is only for young people.
Reality: Church planting isn’t just for young people with skinny jeans and cool flannel shirts. 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. In fact, 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 that had grown to more than one thousand members. I want to be like that guy when I grow up!
6. Church planting is only 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. One size doesn’t fit all. It will take all kinds of churches and all kinds of people to reach all kinds of people. Men, women, children, families, young, 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.
7. Church planting is what missionaries do, over there.
Reality: 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. 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. 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. 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?”
8. A church planter needs to be an extreme extrovert.
Reality: God uses all kinds of people to plant all kinds of churches. 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. 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.
Church planting is just for people who are ordained.
Reality: The majority of new churches that are started are led by ordinary men and women who are not ordained, and as we look through history, many of the church-planting revolutions that have taken place began with a strong emphasis on lay leadership. One of the greatest examples of lay-led church planting and multiplication is the Wesleyan movement. As Methodism grew, Wesley saw the need to appoint lay preachers to assist him in preaching the gospel to the masses. This was a bold decision on Wesley’s part because it meant breaking from the traditional view that only the ordained clergy could preach the gospel. Some of these lay preachers were full-time ministers, while others ministered in their spare time. Part of Wesley’s genius was his ability to select, train, and gather lay leaders around him who became extensions of his own personal vision. The rapid and miraculous growth of Methodism would not have been possible without the endeavors and self-sacrifice of those early Methodist lay leaders. The truth of the 1700s remains the same today: we need both ordained and lay people to plant new churches in the twenty-first century.
If you would like to read more about church planting, check out Winfield Bevins’ new church planting book, Plant: A Sower’s Guide to Church Planting.