Scott Sanders serves as the Executive Director of Geneva Push. During the last 7 years Scott has working alongside church leaders and planting couples to see over 65 churches established.
Using new research Scott Sanders discusses a question he get asked once he shares that his full-time job is helping start new churches-‘Why do we need more churches?’
‘Why do we need more churches?’ It’s a question I get asked in the park once I’ve shared that my full-time job is helping start new churches. It’s often the reaction of some Christians when a new church plant is proposed – ‘Why do we need more churches?’ Well, in my local area there aren’t lots of churches – a local Anglican church and Armenian Orthodox Church. There are more mosques (three). The cranes that silhouette the skyline at dusk in my part of Sydney demonstrate why we need new churches – Australia is growing. And importantly, new churches are the most effective way to make new disciples, to reach the unreached and to encourage growth in existing churches.
In 2016, Geneva Push engaged Lifeway Research to conduct a Church Planting Study of Australian church planting (the study was undertaken concurrently with the United States and Canada). It was that church plants are 5 times more likely to reach the unreached than established churches. The National Church Life Survey in 2011 showed that only 6% of people in churches weren’t in churches 5 years ago. In a recent study done on Church Plants in Australia, that figure is 33%. So while church plants are often accused of merely hoovering up disgruntled Christians from other churches (and that can certainly be the case), it is also true that church plants are far more effective at reaching the unreached than established churches.
This slide shows the breakup amongst attendees in an average church plant. 33% of people in church plants were previously unchurched. Importantly, church plants exist to reach the lost and demonstrate good engagement. Transfer growth continues to be the biggest number across all contexts which reflects the need to have existing Christians reach the lost in a new church. We need to keep asking ourselves within our churches how we are going at reaching the unreached – measuring new attendees, finding out about where they’ve come from – another church, lapsed church attendance, or finding out about Jesus for the first time.
What impacts the growth of church plants? It’s one of the key questions being asked by church planting teams as they engage in local mission, prepare to launch new congregations and see the lost mature in Christ. The recent study into Australian Church Planting identified the importance of intentionality, experience and support.
Firstly, the importance of INTENTIONALITY. The research showed that those church plants which conduct a membership class or course demonstrate significant increases in church growth over a period of time (note: a membership course is a program that initiates a new person to the church and often requires new members to commit to church). Why is this? Membership courses build community, make new church members aware of the church’s vision and key aims, and help new members integrate and engage in the life of the church. Conduct a membership course.
Pray! As Christians we should see the importance of prayer. The church should be praying. The data from the survey demonstrates that church plants enlisting people to pray directly for the church and continue to use prayer meetings / prayer walks grew and reached the unreached in greater numbers.
A church plant with a desire to plant more churches overflows into the whole church’s ability to reach the unreached. When you are putting together your mission plans have a long term goal to reach the unreached through planting churches. Note: be realistic about when you will plant a church - at least 5 years into the plant; and take the opportunities from the start to support other church planting teams prayerfully, financially or by sending a few people where possible.
Secondly, the importance of EXPERIENCE. Every church planter should get experience in order to have realistic expectations. Being a part of church plant is the most helpful way church planters can gain the necessary experience to plant a church. If you are thinking of planting, join a church plant. The data demonstrates the importance of working on church planting staff teams and having realistic expectations. If you can’t be a part of a church plant - read case studies, talk with experienced church planters.
Most planters have big expectations for their churches. It’s important to have right expectations about growth. Jai Wright established Mackay Evangelical Church (MAKE) in 2011 in North Queensland. He expected to have a weekly attendance of about 100 or 150 within three years. Instead only about 30 people were coming each Sunday.
“It hadn’t gone as we’d hoped, and we were not wanting to waste people’s time, money and effort.” He was wondering whether he should keep going. But its important for mother churches, supporters and church planters to realise that growth is slow and it takes time to build momentum for mission. Average weekly attendance in a new church ranges from 38 to 70 by year four.
What is normal in the Australian context? The normal Australian church plant does not break 100 people in four years. Its important to have a realistic picture of growth. Australia and Canada have similar patterns of church attendance compared to America - its harder to plant a church in Australia.
Thirdly, the importance of SUPPORT. We see the positive impact on church plants receiving administrative support (accounting help, marketing infrastructure, systems and structures) helps speed up the growth. Denominations, networks and hub churches can provide accounting support, providing volunteers for children’s ministry and seed funding until the church becomes financially self-sustaining.
When do church plants reach financial self-sufficiency, if at all? Among Australian church plants the majority of church plants (55%) are reaching financial self-sufficiency within a handful of years. If you are not getting to self-sufficiency by year 4 or year 5 it is likely that you will not reach financial self-sufficiency.
We need more new churches. Importantly, as we start these churches we need to have the right expectations. Establishing a new church will take time, growth will be slow, but by being intentional, learning from experience and supporting new churches we should see new disciples and churches being evangelised into existence.
Notes about the study: A detailed quantitative survey was fielded between October 2015 and February 2016. Planters were individually invited to complete the online survey by email and phone. The draft report provides analysis of 110 church plants started in 2000 or later that continue to exist today and were started as new church plants, church plant restarts or new church sites.
The full report can be downloaded here: