Does your town need another new church? A lot of people think so.
It’s true that most people won’t attend any church in your town this week. But that’s not because there’s no room for them in your churches. On the contrary, open capacity has never been higher.
But over-supply will not stop the church planters. They’re on their way to add even more capacity. They’ll tell you that studies show that new churches have a better track record of attracting the unchurched–and any churched folks who are ready to move their membership to something shinier.
This phenomenon is not new. But it is generating new interest among a new generation of entrepreneurial church planters. The current crop seems to come in two varieties.
THE BIGS. The first group admires and desires to emulate other recent church planters who have entered a community, rented space for worship in a school, gathered a burgeoning crowd, built a big building, went “multi-site,” and became a celebrity pastor.
THE SMALLS. The second group seeks to re-define church as we know it. They’re devoted to building one-to-one relationships and forming small gatherings of people wherever people want to gather and talk about life and faith. No praise band. No pulpit (or stool).
The first group tends to be markedly homogenous. This observation was made recently by David Murrow, author of Why Men Hate Going to Church. He cited several reasons, in fact, why he’s not too excited about this approach to church planting:
1. “Everyone’s planting the same church.” Same worship formula of about half praise music, half preaching–led by a “young, informally dressed man.”
2. “Church planting is very expensive.” Murrow cited one denomination’s average spend of $125,000 to $175,000 per year per new church. (And most will fail within two years.)
3. “Church planting is labor intensive.” Staff and volunteers set up and tear down truckloads of stage gear, chairs and equipment every week–leading to burnout and neglect of relational time.
4. “Church plants are built on . . . one overworked man.” The church will live or die on his character and his ability to “captivate an audience with his sermons.”
Murrow concluded with a couple of questions: “Is there a better way to establish new congregations?” And, “Is there a better way to organize Christians and grow disciples than church planting?”
These are the very questions being asked by the other group of planters. They’re taking a decidedly different path, with a much different envisioned outcome. These pioneers include people like Tillie Burgin, who I described in an earlier post. She and her team have started and nurture 329 little congregations that meet in apartment complexes, community centers, houses, and parks.
And there’s Barbara Huisman in Iowa, who worked with her denomination to start a ministry that would not duplicate what every other church is doing on Sunday. She started a Lifetree Cafe ministry in a storefront location on the rough side of town. Lifetree’s weekly guided conversations bring together an array of townspeople who have now formed three additional creative ministry outreaches.
Another Lifetree, in Reading, Pennsylvania, offers its weekly episodes in a local pub. The volunteer director, a local policeman, reaches those who he says would never get near a regular church.
Casey Franklin, a church leader in Colorado organizes gatherings of like-minded people through the online service Meetup.com. He forms friendships–that inevitably eventually lead to spiritual conversations–with those who turn out randomly for his groups titled “South Denver Social Club” and “The Church of Brew.”
And this week, Steve Hewitt of American Church Magazine, launched an organization to support what he calls “micro churches”–any grouping of Christ followers (“two or more”) who get together, anywhere, to pray for one another, encourage one another, or disciple one another. Hewitt explains that the majority of professed Christians now no longer attend a regular church. But they are indeed the church, “when two or more gather in my name.”
So, what do you think? Does your town need a new church?