Monday, November 22, 2010

Ditching Comfort for a Greater Commission

A few months ago, I was helping a friend put a roof on a house. Another guy that my friend had hired asked me what my future plans were. When I told him that my wife and I were heading to Maine to start a church, he was floored. He asked, “Why would you go start a church when there are existing churches that need pastors?” This guy was a well-meaning individual who had spent years in decent churches and was almost a graduate of a Bible college. But church planting was completely unimaginable to him. Then it got me thinking. Could this way of thinking be more widespread? Sure hope not, but just in case, let me attempt to answer the question – “Why plant churches?”

1. Most existing churches aren’t cutting it – Gallup polls from 2002-2005 provide the rather depressing statistic that 40-44% of Americans attend a place of worship on a weekly basis (please note that I do not confuse attending church with repentance and salvation in Jesus. I think it is reasonably safe to assume though that not too many regenerate people sit out of church for years on end). However, David Olson, author of The American Church in Crisis, states that only 17.5% of Americans actually attend a church of any type. Church attendance in 2006 totaled 51,668,200, while the population grew by 51,773,556 people between the years 1990 and 2006! Grab the Prozac! Clearly the American church is not even keeping even with the population growth, much less gaining on it. A noted church planter, Albert Einstein, famously said insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Maybe it’s time for some new gospel-centered churches.

2. Most existing churches are aging – Aging churches are like aging bodies. Eventually they break down. God’s universal church remains invincible and unthreatened, but the local manifestations of God’s church all have a life cycle. 57% of the churches over 40 years old are in decline (Olson, 84). The older a church is, the better the chances are that the church is not fulfilling the Great Commission purposes for which that church actually exists.

3. Church plants reach more people – Yes, new churches are actually better at reaching lost people with the Gospel. Ed Stetzer’s research suggests that a new church reaches 10 people for every 100 members in its first year. Churches that are 15 years old only reach 3 people per year. Seems like existing churches get comfortable, or perhaps a spiritual version of amnesia.

4. Church plants are more focused on Great Commission work – Church planters of gospel churches are inherently focused on reaching people. Why? Because they don’t have anyone except their wife and a couple of snotty-nosed kids (unless they are smart enough to recruit a team, but that’s another tangent). The church planters look at the risk, and take the plunge. All their energies are focused on the power and spread of the gospel. Compare this to an existing church. They fight to maintain their culture instead of striving to promote the gospel. They start sniping at their allies and ignore their enemies. The big focus of the calendar year is making sure that the Christmas party comes off well and that the electric bills get paid. Sure, there are fine examples of churches that keep a Great Commission focus, but it seems too many churches become consumed with their particular breed of Christianity. When a church loses its Great Commission focus, it quickly degenerates into a social/humanitarian club. Church plants don’t have that luxury.

5. Church plants are apostolic, or at least Pauline – Hopefully it’s apparently clear by now the necessity of planting church in order to make disciples of Jesus. Here’s a bonus though. Church planting is Pauline! In Romans 15:20 Paul states “It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation.” The world needs to be reached. Your neighbor needs to be reached. Paul’s solution…. preach the gospel, start churches.

I’m not here to bash established churches. I love them. I’ve benefitted from them. The question is, “why do you love them?” Is it comfortable? Is it “safe?” Does it have all the established programs to cater to your desires? If your church isn’t focused on Great Commission purposes, or if you can’t focus on Great Commission purposes while there, then it’s time you consider starting a church.

1 comment:

  1. Great article, Andrew! Very thought provoking. Regarding point #3/4, do you think the primary reason for the stagnation is the loss of newness, the loss of self-direction, or because all eneregies become focused on self-preservation of the group (as you so eloquently stated in #4). If so, what could be done to correct such issues or prevent them all together? Or, as you went on to say, do all "churches" have a lifecycle which is inevitable?