Last week in Sydney I was asked for my impressions of the state of church planting in Australia.
Here are a few thoughts on how the various overlapping groups are doing.
It was all over at least a generation ago. Attendances have halved in that time. The average age is over sixty. Churches are being closed down, not planted.
In the pursuit of "relevance" they have abandoned the truth of the gospel.
The clergy and the theological colleges have led the charge into oblivion. Every time a church folds they win the lottery through the sale of assets. This sorry tale could go on for a very long time.
The most prolific church planting movement of the last century. An amazing achievement of faith and dedication. The momentum will continue for decades. If history repeats itself (Quakers, Methodists, Baptists) there will be a Pentecostal Prime Minister within a generation or two.
Contemporary Pentecostalism is shifting to the cultural mainstream. Its greatest challenge is now its own success. Typically at this stage of development a movement becomes more conservative, its leaders more "professional" and less interested in the risky business of church planting.
Evangelicals are holding their own numerically but falling behind in reaching a growing population. Without leadership, evangelical denominations find it difficult to turn good intentions into action. Lacking a strong centre, they tend to fall prey to other agendas.
The Emerging church has done everyone a favour in shaking our paradigms of church and ministry. Unfortunately the use of the term "missional" seems to be inversely related to new disciples being made. I've been saying it for three years now: I'm just not hearing any accounts of people coming to faith in Christ, new disciples made and churches multiplied out of the "Emerging church." Please prove me wrong.
Here's a trend I didn't predict. An assortment of Calvinists are abuzz with church planting. It's a national and international trend—at least in the West.
Why? They have made an innovative return to tradition. They have refused to adapt the gospel, but they have adapted their methods.
Still a long way to go before they become a multiplying global missionary movement.
Multi-site is the preferred method of expansion of the megachurch—one church in many locations. In the best examples, new congregations quickly grow to maturity and become reproducing hubs. In the worst examples they become dependent and infertile offspring.
Still leading the way in doing evangelism and making disciples. Rightfully wary of becoming a church. Wrongfully wary of planting churches.
A handful of innovative pioneers are applying the lessons of church planting movements in the developing world. It's early days, but they're sharing the gospel and making disciples with a view to forming churches in the world of the new believers.
They have a strong evangelical faith, a openness to the work of the Holy Spirit and a flexibility in methods. The goal is not a certain size of church but discipleship that results in multiplication. Keep watching this space.
Christianity is most vibrant outside the Western world. In the West the church may be in decline, but the good news is your children and grandchildren will be reached by Chinese, Indian, Brazilian, Korean and Nigerian missionaries.