ORLANDO, Fla. — A newly released Lifeway Research survey of 1,004 Protestant pastors found only 3 percent of their churches served as the primary sponsor of a church plant (new congregation) during the previous 12 months, and only 14 percent gave financial support in partnership with other churches to help start new congregations.
However, a second study completed in partnership with Leadership Network revealed more churches open than close yearly. Only in recent years has the annual number of new churches in the United States outpaced the annual number of churches closing their doors.
Twenty-eight percent of the congregations participated in some way, financial or otherwise, in church plants, Lifeway Vice President of Research and Ministry Development Ed Stetzer said today during the Exponential Conference, a church-planting seminar in Orlando, Fla. Among that 28 percent, roughly half partnered with other congregations in supporting the new church financially, while 12 percent took direct financial responsibility as primary sponsor of the new church.
“Although we see more church planting involvement, we need to see a much higher number of churches starting churches,” Stetzer said. “It is widely acknowledged that church planting is the most effective form of evangelism. It should be of great concern that only 28 percent of our North American churches helped start new congregations at all, including only 12 percent of those who took primary responsibility.
“For too long, churches have assumed that mission involvement and church planting is someone else’s responsibility,” Stetzer continued. “The ‘pay, pray and get out of the way’ mentality causes churches to pay someone else to do what God has called them to do – and that may be part of why so many have become cul-de-sacs on the Great Commission highway.”
Far more churches reported participating in missions than church planting, Stetzer noted. A full 85 percent of the pastors said their congregations prayed as a group for missionaries at least once a month during the previous year, and 74 percent said their congregations focused that prayer on a specific mission field or people group. Fifty percent said their congregations conducted one or more short-term mission projects during the past year, and 20 percent reported their churches sent out missionaries who served 10 weeks or longer.
“We’re glad to see these numbers; prayer is where a heart for missions and church planting begins,” Stetzer said. “If God’s people are praying, they eventually will hear Him telling them to get their hands working directly in the fields that are ‘white unto harvest,’ but we have to help our people transition from short-term hands-on involvement to longer-term investment of their lives.”
Some of the other survey results, however, do represent a cause for concern, Stetzer added.
Among all Protestant churches surveyed, 5 percent provided one-time direct financial support, such as a cash gift, for a church plant, and 4 percent provided tangible support, such as equipment or rent-free meeting space, Stetzer said.
Although most churches are not currently involved in church planting, there is evidence – increases in the number of church plants and the response to church planting events – to suggest a growing interest and involvement in church planting. According to new research reported in the recently released book “Viral Churches: Helping Church Planters Become Movement Makers” by Stetzer and Warren Bird, all types of church leaders can become movement makers.
Citing several of the practical examples in “Viral Churches,” Stetzer challenged attendees at the Exponential Conference to adopt future church planters as short-term interns; co-sponsor a new church by loaning people and resources; and provide coaching, whether directly or indirectly, for the leaders of recently launched churches.
Methodology: The Lifeway Research telephone survey of 1,004 Protestant senior pastors, ministers or priests was conducted with a randomly drawn list of churches in December 2008. Up to six calls were made to reach a sampled phone number. Responses were weighted to reflect the geographic distribution of Protestant churches, and the sample provides 95 percent confidence that the sampling error does not exceed +3.1 percent. Margins of error are higher in sub-groups. The Leadership Network data determining a greater number of church openings than closings was compiled in 2006. Numbers were determined by analyzing church plants and closures from 13 denominations representing 46 percent of America’s 300,000 Protestant churches.