How to attract young foreign men

Turned up this interesting finding from the Australian National Church Life Survey (NCLS). Church plants are more likely to attract three groups: young people, males and overseas immigrants.

All three groups are under represented in established churches.

"Young" of course is anyone under 50. After that you're "mature".


Australia closes 1,000 churches

Istock 000002406681SmallA friend of mine received a flyer in his letterbox last year from the church across the road.

It was an invitation to church. No, it was a plea for help. The letter came from concerned members of the congregation pleading the community to “please attend their church” or they would face closure.

Twelve months later the bulldozers moved in and demolished the church building.

In 2001 there were 10,447 Protestant congregations in Australia, Between 1991 and 2001 there was a 6% decline in number of congregations resulting in a 3% decline in overall weekly attendance. If my maths are right that's a loss of 627 churches in ten years. In fact, we lost more when you factor in the number of new starts during that period.

According to the NCLS, one denomination lost a staggering 22% of it's congregations in this ten year period. That's not decline, that's disaster.

If the overall decline has continued, the number of congregations today is probably just over 10,000, with a corresponding drop in weekly attendance. That means in the last fifteen years we have lost over 1,000 churches throughout Australia. We'll know for sure when the National Church Life Survey 2006 is released.

In 2005, there were 1363 Catholic parishes in Australia. I'm not sure if that number is increasing or declining but the number of priests and membership in the Catholic orders are is serious decline: Where have all the Priests gone? My guess is the Catholic church will be reluctant to close parishes but numbers of active Catholics are in decline.

The Protestant mainline is shutting churches down and declining in regular attendance. That trend will not go away. The evangelical-pentecostal-charismatic churches are planting churches and growing but not at a fast enough rate to stem overall decline of the church in Australia.

The Emerging church is a relatively new phenomena in Australia and I'm not aware of accurate research on it's impact. We don't really know how many Emerging churches there are or how many people are actively involved. We do know that Emerging Christians love to blog.

Ruth Powell from the NCLS is currently researching the Emerging church in Australia: NCLS Seeks All Things New: new project maps fresh expressions of church

My impression so far is that most of the Emerging growth has come from migrations out of existing churches and the movement is not yet seeing significant evangelistic growth.

What's the best way to turn this reality around? Plant healthy missional churches. One thousand would be a good start. Who wants in?

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.


The (NCLS) facts on church planting

Ncls People Waving-1
Let's lay to rest the myth that somehow church planting “isn't working” as an effective strategy.

Here are the hard facts from a National Church Life Survey (NCLS) study conducted on the Effectiveness of Church Planting.

1. Church plants are healthier than other churches

Church plants tend to have above average levels of vitality, including higher percentages of attenders valuing the outreach emphasis of the church, higher percentages of attenders inviting others to church, and higher levels of belonging and commitment to the vision and directions of the church.

NCLS Research has developed a series of 12 sets of indicators of church vitality beyond measuring church growth. Across these 12 indicators, church plants tend to have above average levels of vitality.

When compared with other new churches, church plants also have higher percentages of attenders valuing the outreach emphasis of the church, higher percentages of attenders inviting others to church and higher percentages of attenders seeing the minister as an inspiring leader.

2. Church plants are more effective in reaching newcomers

There are higher percentages of newcomers to church life found among church plants. Some 16% of attenders at church plants are newcomers to church life compared with 10% of attenders at churches generally.

3. Church plants are more effective than other forms of outreach

Church plants also compare favourably with churches conducting other forms of evangelistic activity, outreach and social service provision.

For instance, church plants have higher percentages of newcomers than churches engaged in street evangelism, churches conducting services for the unchurched (eg ‘seeker services’), churches conducting mission activities at schools or churches offering social services such as training or support programs.

4. Church plants reach younger people

A key characteristic of church plants is that their attenders tend to be younger than churches generally, with more than two-thirds (69%) of adult attenders being aged 15-49 years, compared with only 48% at churches generally.

5. Church plants are more likely to reach non-Anglo migrants

People born in non-English speaking countries are over-represented in the church plant category, though the vast majority of attenders at church plants were born in Australia.

6. Church planting is good for the “parent”.

Churches that said they were involved in the planting of other congregations in the past 5 years also had relatively high proportions of newcomers (11.2%) compared to churches generally. See: Warning, having children could be good for you!

The report concludes:

  • church plants have greater average levels of vitality than other churches
  • church plants have greater average levels of newcomers to church life than other churches
  • church plants have greater average levels of newcomers than churches undertaking other mission strategies

So why is it that church planting continues to attract either criticism or passive indifference? Have we lost our gospel nerve? Have we let the dream die? Where are the men and women of passion, courage and endurance?

Download the full report here.