This post is part of an ongoing series looking at church planting.
Of course, there are already a lot of established churches. So why do people plant new churches?
First, church planting represents a tangible way for Christians to fulfill the Great Commission, to “make disciples of every nation” (Matthew 28:19-20). No place on earth is 100% churched. While there are plenty of locales with lots of churches, in no area does every belong to a church (let alone attend one on a regular basis). For example, St. Louis is a traditionally Christian city, with large numbers of Roman Catholic, Lutheran, and Pentecostal churches. Yet something like 80% of people living in St. Louis did not attend any sort of church last weekend.5
Second, innovation and expansion are demonstrably workable ways to bring non-interested people into the community of faith. We’re intuitively familiar with this phenomenon: many people like to try new things, particularly when they don’t already have loyalty to something else. The rise of the nones—those who increasingly turn away from established churches, denominations, and ways of interacting with religious ideas and practices—has been well established.6 One major benefit of church plants is their status as something new and exciting within a particular culture and community, which positions them for maximal relational, missional, and evangelistic impact—particularly to the “nones.”
Third, the vast majority of established churches have plateaued or are in decline.7 Misalignment on mission, a lack of evangelistic zeal, ineffective leaders, commitment to sin, prioritization of comfort, and a whole host of other reasons have left many American churches without the means or desire to reach those who are not already part of their churches. While church planting is by no means the only possible solution to the ongoing decline of churches, it is one powerful way to push back against these trends.8
5 Malphurs, 7. Outreach Magazine, “An Up Close Look at Church Attendance in America.”
6 Pew Forum, “’Nones’ on the Rise.”
7 Ed Stetzer, Planting Missional Churches, 13. Stetzer indicates that 80-85% of established churches have plateaued or are in decline.
8 Stetzer and Dodson write about how some churches have effectively battled their decline in Comeback Churches: How 300 Turned Around and Yours Can, Too.