written by Andrew Kamm & John Elliott
Before Jesus ascended into heaven, he left his followers with a very clear mission: make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:19). And his means for accomplishing that mission is equally clear: the church, which the gates of hell will not prevail against (Matt. 16:18). We are now two thousand years removed from Jesus’ words, operating in a cultural milieu that is quite different from 1st century Palestine. But the church’s commissioning to make disciples is as valid today as it was then. And we have a responsibility to pursue that mission in ways that are biblical and effective. This leads us to what missiologist C. Peter Wagner calls “the most effective evangelistic methodology under heaven”–church planting.
New churches are more effective at reaching lost people than existing churches–period. Dozens of studies have confirmed this fact over the past several decades. And for us, this reality is the driving force behind our investments of time, energy and money into church planting. We want to see the gospel bear fruit in the lives of those who do not yet know Christ and church planting has proven, over the past 2000 years, to be a very effective means toward that end. The numbers tell it all:
- Churches under 3 years of age win an average of ten people to Christ per year for every hundred church members.
- Churches 3-15 years of age win an average of five people for every hundred church members.
- Churches over 15 years of age win an average of three people per year for every hundred church members.
In should not be concluded, based on these facts, that all existing churches are ineffective, lifeless or indifferent toward lost people. Nothing of the sort. Nor should we ignore the important work of revitalizing existing churches that may be struggling. Existing churches have and will continue to have an important role to play in fulfilling the Great Commission. But when it comes to the indispensible work of baptizing new converts, we feel compelled to invest our resources in a Biblically-modeled method that continues to prove effective–church-planting.
Why are new churches more effective at reaching the lost than older churches? It’s hard to say with certainty, but we speculate that is has to do with three important factors. First, church plants create opportunities for people to lead and serve in new ways. When a church first begins, it is typically very small and there is a need for everyone to support the mission according to their gifts. People are not as prone to sit on the sidelines and “consume” spiritual services. The result is often more rapid growth in the lives of these believers and, consequently, more active engagement with unbelievers.
Second, church plants have freedom to pursue their mission with a more creative spirit. Existing churches have decades worth of structures, frameworks and traditions which all ministry must fit within. And to a large extent, this is natural and unavoidable. Church plants, however, get to begin with a clean slate. Outside of some Biblical non-neogitaibles, church plants get to fashion a ministry approach that will most effectively engage lost populations with the gospel without a great deal of consideration as to how things have been done in the past. Consequently, they are often able engage the lost in a more effective manner.
Third, church plants often operate with a sense of urgency that is lacking from more established churches. The reason? Their survival is at stake! While more established churches are often forced to make decisions based on the needs of existing members, church plants do not have such members to appease. Therefore, they tend to focus more time, energy and money on the needs of those who are not yet in the church–the lost. This leads to more thoughtful and intentional engagement with that group of people and, in time, more baptisms. Without this activity, the church will not last.
*Stay tuned to next week’s blog for our personal reflections on planting Christ Community this past year.
“A Word from Urbana Seminary” welcomes Andrew Kamm and John Elliott to this week’s blog. John and Andrew are church planters working in Champaign-Urbana, having planted Christ Community in downtown Champaign. We have asked them to write on “Why Church Planting?” this week and to give us a report on how the work has gone this past year for next week’s blog. Andrew graduated from Urbana Seminary two years ago and John is almost finished with his studies here.