27 August 2007

Planting Churches or Expanding Franchises?

Over the past few days, I’ve heard personally of three different church plants. Their stories seem typical for the church culture in which we currently live – the philosophical modernistic West.

As I stated on Ingenious Quill, (who has some great insight by the way) I want to choose my words carefully because I, through simply hearsay (and experience with helping plant three previous churches), cannot judge the motives of church planters and growers everywhere. But I must admit there is a disturbing trend that we’ve been living in for most of our recent church history in America.

That is this question: Are we planting churches or expanding franchises?

Here’s an example of a ‘new church plant’ in our area: Church grows to a few thousand. I’ve been to this church, and although I know many people enjoy it (after all, a few thousand attend) it drives me nuts. The worship is canned; the preaching is spiffy, but usually shallow…. But the entertainment is top notch. Please keep my criticism in perspective as I don’t attend this church. Also keep in mind that on the times I have attended I want to jump out of my skin and run away madly.

Anyway, this church has decided to build a church plant about 40 miles away. I’m glad they are doing this as I think local communities have a lot to offer and are more effective than convincing people to drive an hour to go to church. So, without knowing all the particulars, they lined everything up with oversight from the parent church, and launched. It launched well with over 200 attending the first Sunday.

But do numbers tell the whole story? Like the post on Ingenious Quill, I’d like to know how many of those 200ish are not previously ‘churched’. Are they really expanding the Kingdom or simply maintaining? You can’t re-arrange your furniture and say you’ve added square footage to your house! But are we doing this with most churches in America today?

The United States has had about 300,000 churches since the 50’s. Some plant and grow, some die, but the numbers remain the same. Now there are signs of decline.

Maintaining is simply loosing ground slowly.

There’s another church plant in town I’ve heard about and although they are taking more of a modern traditional approach, they seem to want to equip those that come to go into the community and ‘do the work of the ministry’ as Paul states. My guess is they are going to start with about 20 people, which is more normal for a typical modern church plant without the benefit of a nearby mother church.

I can appreciate this. In fact, I’d rather take the twenty over the 200. Twenty movers will bring more light than 200 maintainers.

So maybe we should re-examine how we plant churches. Maybe they should look less like Starbucks and more like a naked Revolution.



Adam Gonnerman said...

Excellent post, and thanks for the mention!

BTW, it's "Igneous" not "Ingenious."

I only wish I were a genius!

David said...

Maybe I know something about you that you don't!

paul said...

yeah, that's a good point about transfer growth, one church's gain can be another church's loss - particularly if it offers something slightly different to what you got in your own church.

I've been involved in the vineyard for awhile so i've seen that happen, people like the worship or the ministry, or the perception of more freedom so they turn up from other churches. Of course there is always outward migration for a whole set of reasons as well - but a lot of people stay as relationships are formed and they settle in.

My experience is however that even in these churches there is are people who are returning prodigals and new converts to the faith - they might be a lot smaller a number (then again maybe its the normal no of people coming into church afresh).

So whilst i think there is exciting need for small church plants who can work those niches i'm also conscious of how bigger plants can still be lights in their communities - in fact given the size of them they are able to cater to a wider section of the community.

Stagnation is always a risk and the local church merry go-round can be most incestuous but i'm still leaning towards a need for all sorts of different shaped and sized churches to reach all sorts of different people :)

David said...

I wholeheartedly agree Paul, but I also think that churches of all sizes can do a better job of being more externally focused.
I attended an African Gospel choir at a megachurch near hear as they were raising support for their mission in Uganda and the surrounding countries. They were awesome!
And they went to one of the greatest giving churches I've ever encountered. Combine the culture of that heart to give and give and give, with the sheer numbers of people there, I'm blessed that they were blessed and I'm very thankful for the 'modern megachurch' for that.