Crunching the numbers

Australian PopulationAccording to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, as of 5.27pm, December 12, 2006 there were 20,713,873 Australians.

Every two minutes the number goes up with a new baby born. Every four minutes it goes down with a death. With migration factored in, that's a net gain of one person every two minutes.

Despite the steady increase in the number of Aussies, church attendance continues to decline and so does the number of churches.

No surprises that declining weekly attendance and numbers of congregations are related. No surprises that the denominations that are planting churches are growing and the denominations in decline are shutting them down.

To find out more about the challenge and what to do about it, visit next1000.

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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

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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.

The real thing

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God is real. He is real in the absolute and final sense that nothing else is. All other reality is contingent upon His.

The great Reality is God the author of that lower and dependent reality which makes up the sum of created things including ourselves. God has objective existence independent of and apart from any notions we have concerning Him.

The worshipping heart does not create its object. It finds Him here when it wakes from its moral slumber in the morning of its regeneration.

AW Tozer

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Warning, having children could be good for you!

Istock 000002148029Small-1 Having kids is costly, time consuming and emotionally demanding. I know.

So I have a plan. Wait until you're wise enough, wealthy enough and have discretionary time on your hands. Then start a family. . . when you're 65 years old.

Planting churches is costly, time consuming and emotionally demanding for the parent church. So think twice before you take the plunge. While you're thinking here is some research that challenges the idea that starting new churches impedes the development of the parent. The opposite is true.

Natural Church Development (NCD) research shows churches that have planted other churches are healthier and grow faster despite having given released people to church planting.

The study revealed that while barren churches gained only 5 new church attendees per 25 previous attendees in the past 5 years, mother churches gained 9 new attendees per 25 previous attendees.

When superior quality (as defined by the NCD 8 characteristics) is coupled with multiplication you find the greatest growth. In 5 years these very healthy mother churches added 18 new attenders for every 25 they had before.

Church quality and church multiplication together make a valuable contribution to the growth of the church.

The NCD study draws two conclusions:

(1) Reproduction is mother-church friendly. Churches that start daughter churches tend to experience two very positive side effects. First, they enjoy greater levels of health. Second, they experience faster growth rates. In most cases, worries that church planting will lead to a weakening of the mother church are unfounded, if quality is worked on.

Although among low quality churches, churches that started daughter churches were not necessarily better off in either the health or the growth aspect.

(2) Reproduction is Great-Commission friendly. While the study focused on the increased growth rates of mother churches, there are numerous indications that the growth rates of daughter churches are even better. The growth rate of new churches far outstrips that of older, more settled churches.

Church multiplication is, by and large, a win-win-win proposition. The mother church wins. The daughter church wins. The gospel-needy world wins.

Maybe you should have kids after all.

More And Better Churches For Spain-2 NCD research paper

Church GrowthChurch PlantingNatural Church Development

Growing leaders for a church planting movement

Sherwood Lingenfelter-1 Sherwood Lingenfelter's reflections on non-formal leadership training as pioneered by Paul Gupta and the Hindustan Bible Institute: 1. Non formal training vastly expands the potential recruits. Some of the most successful church planters won’t make it into or through formal training.

2. Practical engagement quickly sifts out those who are not wired for, or committed to, the ministry. In formal education many persist who can do the academic work, but then fail in ministry.

3. Experiential (on-site) learning has powerful results for adult learners. The addition of the on-site training had a multiplication effect on the number of churches planted.

4. Evaluation and correction with reference to goal increases positive learning outcomes. Because the HBI team had a clear idea of the kinds of leaders needed, they were able to adjust the training to achieve the goal.

5. The variable pace and repetition of learning serves the diversity of trainees, so that most succeed. Part of the genius of the repetitive series of trainings lies in their flexibility for the learner. Each phase of the training takes a student deeper than the previous one, yet the exact depth varies with each student. Individuals who progress rapidly become coaches for those following at a slower rate.

6. On-site mentoring advances student learning. Mentors play an important role in all the training components. Trainer mentors and peer mentors assist trainees in the development of spiritual disciplines, character, and skill for ministry. The on-site mentoring for church planting seemed to have the most powerful impact on student learning.

7. Empowerment of trainees to train others serves to multiply leaders and followers. The practice of teaching trainees to teach their new converts and teaching new converts to teach their families had a profound multiplication effect when it was implemented well.

“Breaking Tradition to Accomplish Vision: Training Leaders for a Church-Planting Movement: A Case from India” (Paul R. Gupta, Sherwood G. Lingenfelter), 40-1.

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Learning from Paul

HBI Relief Staff With Children

I’ve just finished Paul Gupta’s account of the church planting movement that has emerged out of his Hindustan Bible Institute (HBI). Good case studies of contemporary church planting movements are rare. Everyone is too busy to take the time to write up the story and the lessons.

It’s also rare for an established ministry to reinvent itself as a church planting movement. How did they do it? What can we all learn from the story of Paul Gupta and the HBI?

1. Begin with apostolic leadership

At the heart of this church planting movement is Paul Gupta, an apostolic leader called by God to plant a church in every village in India in one generation.

2. Confront reality

Gupta soon discovered that their existing training programs did not produce the kind of people who are motivated and adequately prepared to achieve the goal of a church in every village.

Specifically, he found that “formal education” had crippled and derailed a school originally founded to produce church planters. The priority to develop godly, mature individuals, skilled in sharing their faith and proclaiming God’s Word to the unreached, had taken second place to the development of individuals of knowledge who could serve in the professional ministries of the church.

They were producing academic theologians not church planters. The skills and work of the evangelist, church planter and apostolic foundation-layer can be understood and mastered only through practice, through experiential learning.

3. Recommit to the founding purpose

Gupta explains, “The more we evaluated the programs and policies of accreditation, the more we realized we had sold our birthright.” Gupta led the HBI in an innovative return to its founding purpose.

4. Set ridiculous goals

Gupta began by asking, “What it look like if our job was done?” The answer was, “A church in every village, a church for every thousand people in every people group.” To achieve that goal an additional one million churches were needed and a minimum of one million church planters.

5. Craft a new strategy

To accomplish the task, a different kind of student and a new kind of training was required. HBI had to attract students who had a passion for evangelism and church planting and provide training for them that did not take them away from their villages and people group.

This is the strategy that emerged:

• They brought the trainees to HBI for ten days of training every three months and sent them back to live and minister in their villages.
• Many of the trainees were new converts with little formal education. They learnt the principle of repetition with the aim of progressive mastery of foundational information.
• They chose trainers from among successful church planters who have planted several churches.
• They equipped trainees in basic biblical and theological knowledge, personal spiritual disciplines and ministry skills.
• They discovered that real learning takes place when a trainee is required to teach immediately what they had learned to those they were reaching and discipling in their villages.
• Eveyone was clear on the intended outcome. They were equipping trainees to start their first church in their home village, then to identify five unreached villages around them that were receptive to the gospel, and begin with evangelism in those villages with the objective of planting new churches. Training was continually adapted to suit the outcome.
• Trainees were provided with experienced on-site mentors as they did evangelism in their villages. They learnt by seeing and doing ministry. The pace of learning was adjusted for each trainee. Those who progressed rapidly became peer coaches for others.

As a result of this training strategy, every trainee who stayed with the program succeeded in planting at least one church. On average each trainee has planted 4.5 churches.

6. Make it up as you go

HBI was very clear about the outcomes—recruiting people with a passion for evangelism, five or more churches for each church planter, and churches that reproduced other churches.

How they got there was up for grabs. They committed to continuous evaluation of the performance and impact of their trainees. Each of the innovations in training strategy was the result of a process that included both trial and error mixed with Biblical reflection and the leading of the Holy Spirit.

The new paradigm emerged over several years as they listened to the leadership of the Lord, experimented with non-formal training, and evaluated the results in the light of their mission.

7. Read the Scriptures with new eyes

Gupta rediscovered the ministry of Paul and applied the implications to their church planting movement. According to Gupta, “He functioned as an evangelist, a cross-cultural missionary, a church planter, a mentor to young leaders, and a trainer, but he did not pastor a church.” He equipped others to do that.

The role of the missionary is not to pastor a church but to be the facilitator of a church planting movement. From the beginning the missionaries must understand that they need to identify gifts in new believers and equip them to do the ministry of the church.

8. Break the mold

There are no exceptions. Paul Gupta broke through because he broke the mold. He had the courage to reject an inherited model of ministry training and explore new ones that get the job done and reflect Biblical principles.

The breakthroughs in the renewal and expansion of the Christian movement always occur on the fringe, never at the centre of ecclesiastical power. (Paul Pierson)

We would be wise to learn from this case study and apply, not the program, but the principles.