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Plant the Church

I was recently interviewed along with eight other leaders for a roundtable-type discussion for Outreach magazine. Our focus was the “American church planting movement: what we’re doing right and what we must do better.” The discussion included:

  • Dave Ferguson–lead pastor, Community Christian Church, Chicago, and movement leader, NewThing.
  • Greg Surratt–senior pastor, Seacoast Church, Mount Pleasant, S.C., and president, Association of Related Churches.
  • Brent Storms–president and CEO of Orchard Group.
  • Matt Chandler–lead pastor, The Village Church in Dallas and president of Acts 29
  • Geoff Surratt–director of Exponential.
  • Greg Nettle–president of Stadia.
  • Kyle Costello–lead pastor, Missio Dei Community in Salt Lake City.
  • Greg Hubbard–Orchard Group

I excerpted parts for my blog, so be sure to read the whole interview here.

What encourages you about church planting in America today?

Greg Surratt: When we planted Seacoast Church 25 years ago, it was as if we were swimming upstream. Many of my friends thought we were a bit crazy to consider planting a new church rather than assuming a pastorate in an existing church. Obviously both are great options, but I think the pendulum has shifted toward the planting of new churches.

Ed Stetzer: When I planted my first church in 1988, there was this sense of “Why are you doing that? Could you not get a real job?” Now we actually have to encourage people to pastor established churches sometimes because they’re so passionate about church planting…

Where is the church experiencing the most growth in new church planting efforts?

Brent Storms: Surprisingly, new churches here [in the Boston to Washington, D.C. region] have flourished. Our 27 most recently planted churches are reaching 14,000 people combined. At least one new church started by Orchard Group in [each of] the metro areas of Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington is reaching over 1,000 people.

Greg Hubbard: New churches we have planted in cities have effectively reached new people groups and new residents in their neighborhoods. The neighborhoods have changed demographically, and often the existing churches have a challenging time bridging the gap, while new churches are able to do so rather naturally. New churches have consistently reached younger generations of people in our experience, as well. Our new churches are frequently full of young families and individuals, often in their 20s and 30s.

Ed Stetzer: Statistically you [also] have to see that the leading edge of church planting is among non-Anglo communities. In many denominations, their fastest-growing church plants are Latino, Asian and other ethnic groups…

Are some folks just not right for church planting?

Kyle Costello: In my experience, I have sat with quite a few planters who aren’t sent by a church, have been turned down by assessors, and have no one following them, but they still must plant a church. Not knowing these folks intimately, it would be unfair to say they absolutely shouldn’t plant. But if the church leadership where they are coming from doesn’t see them as planters, assessment centers don’t see them as planters, church planting organizations don’t see them as planters, and they have no one joining them in their task, it seems like there is something significant and biblical that is missing.

Geoff Surratt: Church planting has taken on a little bit of a cool factor. It is important that a church planter is motivated by a clear call from God and not because they are tired of being on a church staff and can’t think of anything else to do.

Dave Ferguson: The greatest need is more and more leaders. If we find the right leaders who are trusting God, the rest will take care of itself.

What are the compelling reasons to put more time, effort and resources into new church plants rather than growing existing churches?

Ed Stetzer: The vast majority of church revitalization attempts do not work. Now, that doesn’t mean that we should abandon church revitalization efforts, but it does mean that when we look at a strategic use of resources that we have a higher probability of success in church planting, and so therefore, it tends to be good stewardship.

Dave Ferguson: We know that church planting is tremendously effective. Church plants will grow 23 times faster than the average church that is 10 years old or older. Church plants will also reach five times as many people who are far from God as the average church.

Geoff Surratt: It is only logical to put a great deal of resources into new church plants for the same reason we put a lot of resources into elementary schools. We could easily say, “Why put so much effort into educating children when we have so many adults who can’t read and write?”

Ed Stetzer: Also, it’s easier to birth a baby than it is to raise the dead. And so the reality is that many churches that need revitalization are in the downside of their life cycle. It is not inherently evil that churches die.

Greg Surratt: Some churches need to experience death in order to be resurrected again as something new. Some just need encouragement and somebody to come alongside with some tools that will help them grow.

Matt Chandler: The reality is every church is a church plant–it got there because another church spent money, time and resources, and energy. We could go all the way back to Acts 2 [to prove that]. You build and mature the church you’re in, and through church planting, you increase the kingdom growth of people who believe in and love Jesus.

Ed Stetzer: We need both an effective church planting strategy and an effective church revitalization strategy, and both of those are necessary for effective ministry to take place.

Should more churches be engaging in church planting?

Ed Stetzer: Definitely. I think more should be involved. I think 3 percent have taken the responsibility to start a new church, and that’s a remarkably low number when you think about the engagement level of churches. When you have healthy denominations, you can get as high as about a 6 percent planting rate, and that will be about 10 percent of their churches involved. So I would say there’s a lot of space for growth in the involvement of mother and partner churches here.

Greg Surratt: I definitely think every church should at least consider becoming a part of a church planting movement. Sometimes we’re held back by a perceived lack of resources–money, time, expertise, etc…

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Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., is a professor and dean at Wheaton College where he also serves as Executive Director of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, has earned two master’s degrees and two doctorates, and has written hundreds of articles and a dozen books. He is Regional Director for Lausanne North America, is the editor-in-chief of Outreach Magazine, and leads the Stetzer ChurchLeaders podcast. Ed is frequently cited in, interviewed by, and writes for news outlets such as USAToday and CNN. He is the Founding Editor of The Gospel Project, a curriculum used by more than 1.7 million individuals each week for bible story. His national radio show, Ed Stetzer Live, airs Saturdays on Moody Radio and affiliates. He serves as interim teaching pastor of Calvary Church in New York City and serves as teaching pastor at Highpoint Church.