Brutal Facts of Church Planting

Dave sent me a link to a very good article written about church planting. You can download the whole article in the PDF attached to this post, or see in on the site where it was originally published. Here are some excerpts.

What do you think is the average attendance of churches in America? I enjoy hearing many Asians respond, “500”, “800”, “2,000.” But actually as we consider “averages” and especially if we take out the largest super churches which make the average higher, that number is closer to about 75 persons. The Southern Baptist average has been about 80 for years.

What size do most pastors want their church to be? Usually of course we hear numbers of at least 150—200.

How many people in a church does it take to support one full-time pastor/minister?The first answer I almost always get for this question is, “Ten”! Of course they are thinking about ten tithing members. But they forget that not all members of a church have incomes or choose to tithe. In most countries/cultures the average it takes is about 70-80.

So… if we take just a few of the above brutal facts into consideration we might draw quite a few working conclusions...

  • The church at large will always need to have a large number of bi-vocational leaders leading local churches.
  • If you pursue traditional models of church planting it will be very expensive and very difficult to grow even a few churches larger than 50-80 persons.
  • Average people do seem to be able to start and lead churches that average 10-40 people. This seems to be the average size God grows most churches to.
  • Let’s face it—the brutal facts of God’s kingdom are that the gifting of many church leaders and the situations they face make it difficult to grow a church beyond 70 people.

If we face the “brutal fact” that most churches in the world are small, and that this is how God usually works in His churches, then we know that the normal pattern is to have small churches—thousands and thousands of them!

Obstacle #1: We have enough churches already. Living in the Bible belt, my friend found churches everywhere. They were two-thirds empty, but they were there. Each one had a pastor who was struggling to keep his flock in the fold and his head above water. When my friend cast a vision for multiplying new churches, their response was unanimous: We have enough churches already.

Lesson: Many people believe we just need to grow existing churches and that new churches may be in competition with existing ones. To suggest new church plants in America, you’re swimming against a powerful current of those who want to keep growing their existing churches.

Undaunted, my friend vowed to the pastors not to plant new churches, but rather to start new discipleship groups. Within a couple of years, he had more than 70 discipleship groups meeting throughout his area.

Obstacle #2: How do I feed my family? About a year later, my friend telephoned me: “How’s the work going?” I asked. “Great!” he said, “but there’s just one problem.” “What’s that?” I asked. “I’ve got to figure out how to feed my family.”

Church-Planting Movements are a noble ideal, but there’s no money in them. Don’t misunderstand what I’m saying here. Pastors don’t become pastors to become wealthy. But neither do they become pastors with expectations that their family will starve. The traditional Western church paradigm has many strengths and weaknesses, but as an economic model, it generally works. The more parishioners one attracts, the more fiscally viable the institution becomes.

Like I said, the whole article is a good read, if you have the time. And thanks to Dave for forwarding it to me.