What about the church planting failures?

Istock 000002365450Small-1The (NCLS) facts on church planting drew this comment from John Sumulo:

How do you interpret the above in relation to what appears to be an extremely high rate of church plant failures in the early years of a new church? I support church planting fully, but the rate of closures of new churches seems to suggest something isn’t quite right. And I wonder if the statistics above are of churches who make it past the early years, or those who don’t make it as well.

Good point. Yes, the study doesn't measure the church plants that have closed. Just those that are still running. Great question re planting “failures”. Here are a few thoughts.

Like you I keep hearing reports of the “extremely high rate of church plant failures.” Normally the rate of 80% is quoted. Here are a few examples:

The last post drew this comment from James Paul:

Please help me with the 80% failure rate. We ar (sic) at 76% success and don't like that, but everytime I get this I ask for research and documentation and can't find anyone to give it to me.

I'm with you James. Where's the evidence? I don't think there is any. It may be 20%, it may be 90%. I just don't think anyone has done the research. All we have is anecdotal evidence and our gut instinct.

But let's assume it's ”high“ whatever that means. How should we respond? Two thoughts come to mind.

1. Failure is an option

Who says ministry and mission are easy. History is full of ”failures“ that God used for His purposes. The Cross was a failure. Paul never led a mega-church. William Carey was a failure. I've been a failure and shut a church plant down. It was a glorious defeat, and I was in the centre of God's will—failing. I've never been the same since.

God used the experience to break the nexus between my identity and my ministry. I had to face the reality that lack of success in ministry was tearing me apart. I was called but I was also driven. Today I'm a free man in Christ because he led me from a church planting success into a church planting failure. In that place of defeat, I discovered the all-sufficiency of Christ.

Sporting teams fail, businesses fail, explorers fail, artists fail. Just think of those who have gone before us—martyrdom, poverty, disease. Have a read of Hebrews 11. Failure is an option. Ministry is a tough assignment. Life is even tougher. But God is good and nothing is wasted.

2. Failure is about leadership

The most strategic thing you can do to dramatically reduce the number of unsuccessful church plants is to screen the candidates. I know denominations and churches that have blown hundreds of thousands of dollars in unfruitful subsidies because they were unwilling to implement a strategy to effectively interview candidates.

There's plenty more to say on this question of leadership, but I've already said it:

Church planting is still the most effective form of evangelism under the sun. We need to have the courage to grow, recruit and deploy pioneering leaders all over the place. Even with the best systems there will be a price to pay. It's the same price others have paid to get the gospel to us. It's the price of following Christ and the rewards are out of this world.

Finally, a word of advice to potential church planters: be sure of your calling, get a good assessment done, get a good coach, hang on for the ride and find God in the mess of life and ministry.