Redeemer Presbyterian Church
The vigorous, continual planting of new congregations is the single most crucial strategy for 1)
the numerical growth of the Body of Christ in any city, and 2) the continual corporate renewal
and revival of the existing churches in a city. Nothing else–not crusades, outreach programs,
para-church ministries, growing mega-churches, congregational consulting, nor church
renewal processes–will have the consistent impact of dynamic, extensive church planting. This
is an eyebrow raising statement. But to those who have done any study at all, it is not even
The normal response to discussions about church planting is something like this:
A. ‘We already have plenty of churches that have lots and lots of room for all the new
people who have come to the area. Let’s get them filled before we go off building any new
B. ‘Every church in this community used to be more full than it is now. The
churchgoing public is a ‘shrinking pie’. A new church here will just take people from
churches already hurting and weaken everyone.’
C. ‘Help the churches that are struggling first. A new church doesn’t help the ones we
have that are just keeping their nose above water. We need better churches, not more
These statements appear to be ‘common sense’ to many people, but they rest on several wrong
assumptions. The error of this thinking will become clear if we ask ‘Why is church planting so
crucially important?’ Because–
A. We want to be true to THE BIBLICAL MANDATE
1. Jesus’ essential call was to plant churches. Virtually all the great evangelistic
challenges of the New Testament are basically calls to plant churches, not simply to share the
faith. The ‘Great Commission’ (Matt.28: 18-20) is not just a call to ‘make disciples’ but to
‘baptize’. In Acts and elsewhere, it is clear that baptism means incorporation into a
worshipping community with accountability and boundaries (cf. Acts 2:41-47). The only way
to be truly sure you are increasing the number of Christians in a town is to increase the
number of churches. Why? Much traditional evangelism aims to get a ‘decision’ for Christ.
Experience, however, shows us that many of these ‘decisions’ disappear and never result in
changed lives. Why? Many, many decisions are not really conversions, but often only the
beginning of a journey of seeking God. (Other decisions are very definitely the moment of a ‘new
birth’, but this differs from person to person.) Only a person who is being ‘evangelized’ in the
context of an on-going worshipping and shepherding community can be sure of finally coming
home into vital, saving faith. This is why a leading missiologist like C.Peter Wagner can say,
“Planting new churches is the most effective evangelistic methodology known under heaven.”1
2. Paul’s whole strategy was to plant urban churches. The greatest missionary in
history, St.Paul, had a rather simple, two-fold strategy. First, he went into the largest city of
the region (cf. Acts 16:9,12), and second, he planted churches in each city (cf. Titus 1:5-
C.Peter Wagner, Strategies for Growth (Glendale: Regal, 1987), p. 168.
Used by Permission 1″appoint elders in every town”). Once Paul had done that, he could say that he had ‘fully
preached’ the gospel in a region and that he had ‘no more work’ to do there (cf. Romans
15:19,23). This means Paul had two controlling assumptions: a) that the way to most
permanently influence a country was through its chief cities, and b) the way to most
permanently influence a city was to plant churches in it. Once he had accomplished this in a
city, he moved on. He knew that the rest that needed to happen would follow.
Response: ‘But,’ many people say, ‘that was in the beginning. Now the country (at least our
country) is filled with churches. Why is church planting important now?” We also plant churches
B. We want to be true to THE GREAT COMMISSION. Some facts–
1. New churches best reach a) new generations, b) new residents, and c) new
people groups. First (a) younger adults have always been disproportionately found in newer
congregations. Long-established congregations develop traditions (such as time of worship,
length of service, emotional responsiveness, sermon topics, leadership-style, emotional
atmosphere, and thousands of other tiny customs and mores), which reflect the sensibilities of
long-time leaders from the older generations who have the influence and money to control the
church life. This does not reach younger generations. Second, (b) new residents are almost
always reached better by new congregations. In older congregations, it may require tenure of 10
years before you are allowed into places of leadership and influence, but in a new church, new
residents tend to have equal power with long-time area residents.
Last, (c) new socio-cultural groups in a community are always reached better by new
congregations. For example, if new white-collar commuters move into an area where the older
residents were farmers, it is likely that a new church will be more receptive to the myriad of
needs of the new residents, while the older churches will continue to be oriented to the original
social group. And new racial groups in a community are best reached by a new church that is
intentionally multi-ethnic from the start. For example: if an all-Anglo neighborhood becomes
33% Hispanic, a new, deliberately bi-racial church will be far more likely to create ‘cultural
space’ for newcomers than will an older church in town. Finally, brand new immigrant groups
nearly always can only be reached by churches ministering in their own language. If we wait
until a new group is assimilated into American culture enough to come to our church, we will
wait for years without reaching out to them.
[Note: Often, a new congregation for a new people-group can be planted within the overall
structure of an existing church. It may be a new Sunday service at another time, or a new
network of house churches that are connected to a larger, already existing congregation.
Nevertheless, though it may technically not be a new independent congregation, it serves the
In summary, new congregations empower new people and new peoples much more quickly and
readily than can older churches. Thus they always have and always will reach them with
greater facility than long-established bodies. This means, of course, that church planting is not
only for ‘frontier regions’ or ‘pagan’ countries that we are trying to see become Christian.
Christian countries will have to maintain vigorous, extensive church planting simply to stay
2. New churches best reach the unchurched–period. Dozens of denominational
studies have confirmed that the average new church gains most of its new members (60-80%)
from the ranks of people who are not attending any worshipping body, while churches over 10-
Used by Permission 215 years of age gain 80-90% of new members by transfer from other congregations.2
means that the average new congregation will bring 6-8 times more new people into the life of
the Body of Christ than an older congregation of the same size.
So though established congregations provide many things that newer churches often cannot,
older churches in general will never be able to match the effectiveness of new bodies in
reaching people for the kingdom. Why would this be? As a congregation ages, powerful internal
institutional pressures lead it to allocate most of its resources and energy toward the concerns
of its members and constituents, rather than toward those outside its walls. This is natural
and to a great degree desirable. Older congregations therefore have a stability and steadiness
that many people thrive on and need. This does not mean that established churches cannot
win new people. In fact, many non-Christians will only be reached by churches with long roots
in the community and the trappings of stability and respectability.
However, new congregations, in general, are forced to focus on the needs of its non-members,
simply in order to get off the ground. So many of its leaders have come very recently from the
ranks of the un-churched, that the congregation is far more sensitive to the concerns of the
non-believer. Also, in the first two years of our Christian walk, we have far more close, face-toface relationships with non-Christians than we do later. Thus a congregation filled with people
fresh from the ranks of the un-churched will have the power to invite and attract many more
non-believers into the events and life of the church than will the members of the typical
What does this mean practically? If we want to reach our city–should we try to renew older
congregations to make them more evangelistic, or should we plant lots of new churches? But
that question is surely a false either-or dichotomy. We should do both! Nevertheless, all we
have been saying proves that, despite the occasional exceptions, the only widescale way to
bring in lots of new Christians to the Body of Christ in a permanent way is to plant new
To throw this into relief, imagine Town-A and Town-B and Town-C are the same size, and they
each have 100 churches of 100 persons each. But in Town-A, all the churches are over 15
years old, and then the overall number of active Christian churchgoers in that town will be
shrinking, even if four or five of the churches get very ‘hot’ and double in attendance. In TownB, 5 of the churches are under 15 years old, and they along with several older congregations
are winning new people to Christ, but this only offsets the normal declines of the older
churches. Thus the overall number of active Christian churchgoers in that town will be staying
the same. Finally, in Town-C, 30 of the churches are under 15 years old. In this town, the
overall number of active Christian churchgoers will be on a path to grow 50% in a generation.3
Response: ‘But,’ many people say, ‘what about all the existing churches that need help? You
seem to be ignoring them.’ Not at all. We also plant churches because–
C. We want to continually RENEW THE WHOLE BODY OF CHRIST.
It is a great mistake to think that we have to choose between church planting and church
renewal. Strange as it may seem, the planting of new churches in a city is one of the very best
Lyle Schaller, quoted in D.McGavran and G.Hunter, Church Growth: Strategies that Work (Nashville:
Abingdon, 1980), p. 100. See C.Kirk Hadaway, New Churches and Church Growth in the Southern Baptist
Convention (Nashville: Broadman, 1987).
See Lyle Schaller, 44 Questions for Church Planters (Nashville: Abingdon, 1991), p.12. Schaller talks
about ‘The 1% Rule’. Each year any association of churches should plant new congregations at the rate
of 1% of their existing total–otherwise, that association will be in decline. That is just ‘maintenance’. If
an association wants to grow 50%+, it must plant 2-3% per year.
Used by Permission 3ways to revitalize many older churches in the vicinity and renew the whole Body of Christ.
1. First, the new churches bring new ideas to the whole Body. There is plenty of
resistance to the idea that we need to plant new churches to reach the constant stream of ‘new’
groups and generations and residents. Many congregations insist that all available resources
should be used to find ways of helping existing churches reach them. However, there is no
better way to teach older congregations about new skills and methods for reaching new people
groups than by planting new churches. It is the new churches that will have freedom to be
innovative and they become the ‘Research and Development’ department for the whole Body in
the city. Often the older congregations were too timid to try a particular approach or were
absolutely sure it would ‘not work here’. But when the new church in town succeeds wildly
with some new method, the other churches eventually take notice and get the courage to try it
2. Second, new churches are one of the best ways to surface creative, strong
leaders for the whole Body. In older congregations, leaders emphasize tradition, tenure,
routine, and kinship ties. New congregations, on the other hand, attract a higher percentage of
venturesome people who value creativity, risk, innovation and future orientation. Many of these
men and women would never be attracted or compelled into significant ministry apart from the
appearance of these new bodies. Often older churches ‘box out’ many people with strong
leadership skills who cannot work in more traditional settings. New churches thus attract and
harness many people in the city whose gifts would otherwise not be utilized in the work of the
Body. These new leaders benefit the whole city-Body eventually.
3. Third, the new churches challenge other churches to self-examination. The
“success” of new churches often challenges older congregations in general to evaluate
themselves in substantial ways. Sometimes it is only in contrast with a new church that older
churches can finally define their own vision, specialties, and identity. Often the growth of the
new congregation gives the older churches hope that ‘it can be done’, and may even bring
about humility and repentance for defeatist and pessimistic attitudes. Sometimes, new
congregations can partner with older churches to mount ministries that neither could do by
4. Fourth, the new church may be an ‘evangelistic feeder’ for a whole
community. The new church often produces many converts who end up in older churches for
a variety of reasons. Sometimes the new church is very exciting and outward facing but is also
very unstable or immature in its leadership. Thus some converts cannot stand the tumultuous
changes that regularly come through the new church and they move to an existing church.
Sometimes the new church reaches a person for Christ, but the new convert quickly discovers
that he or she does not ‘fit’ the socio-economic make up of the new congregation, and
gravitates to an established congregation where the customs and culture feels more familiar.
Ordinarily, the new churches of a city produce new people not only for themselves, but for the
older bodies as well.
Sum: Vigorous church planting is one of the best ways to renew the existing churches of a city,
as well as the best single way to grow the whole Body of Christ in a city.
There is one more reason why it is good for the existing churches of the region to initiate or at
least support the planting of churches in a given area. We plant churches—
Used by Permission 4D. As an exercise in KINGDOM-MINDEDNESS
All in all, church planting helps an existing church the best when the new congregation is
voluntarily ‘birthed’ by an older ‘mother’ congregation. Often the excitement and new leaders
and new ministries and additional members and income ‘washes back’ into the mother church
in various ways and strengthens and renews it. Though there is some pain in seeing good
friends and some leaders go away to form a new church, the mother church usually
experiences a surge of high self-esteem and an influx of new enthusiastic leaders and
However, a new church in the community usually confronts churches with a major issue–the
issue of ‘kingdom-mindedness’. New churches, as we have seen, draw most of their new
members (up to 80%) from the ranks of the unchurched, but they will always attract some
people out of existing churches. That is inevitable. At this point, the existing churches, in a
sense, have a question posed to them: “Are we going to rejoice in the 80%–the new people that
the kingdom has gained through this new church, or are we going to bemoan and resent the
three families we lost to it?” In other words, our attitude to new church development is a test
of whether our mindset is geared to our own institutional turf, or to the overall health and
prosperity of the kingdom of God in the city.
Any church that is more upset by their own small losses rather than the kingdoms large gains
is betraying its narrow interests. Yet, as we have seen, the benefits of new church planting to
older congregations is very great, even if that may not be obvious initially.
If we briefly glance at the objections to church planting in the introduction, we can now see the
false premises beneath the statements. A. Assumes that older congregations can reach
newcomers as well as new congregations. But to reach new generations and people groups will
require both renewed older churches and lots of new churches. B. Assumes that new
congregations will only reach current active churchgoers. But new churches do far better at
reaching the unchurched, and thus they are the only way to increase the ‘churchgoing pie’. C.
Assumes that new church planting will only discourage older churches. There is a prospect of
this, but new churches for a variety of ways, are one of the best ways to renew and revitalize
older churches. D. Assumes that new churches only work where the population is growing.
Actually, they reach people wherever the population is changing. If new people are coming in to
replace former residents, or new groups of people are coming in–even though the net pop
figure is stagnant–new churches are needed.
New church planting is the only way that we can be sure we are going to increase the number
of believers in a city and one of the best ways to renew the whole Body of Christ. The evidence
for this statement is strong–Biblically, sociologically, and historically. In the end, a lack of
kingdom-mindedness may simply blind us to all this evidence. We must beware of that.
Used by Permission 5