By Peter Meier | June 1, 2019
Why 242 new churches per year?
It’s a simple math equation. I’ve done the calculation for my denomination, the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, but you can do it for any association, district, synod or network. Here it is: Start with the number of current congregations in your association. Multiply by 4% (0.04). That’s the target number.
Where does that target number come from? David Olson (The American Church in Crisis, 2008) notes that every denomination with less than a 1% planting rate is declining numerically in attendance. The LCMS started 51 new congregations in 2017 (18 new chartered churches plus 33 new multi-sites, The Lutheran Annual, 2019) which is 0.8%. This percentage has been fairly consistent over the past 10 years – always 1% or below.
Olson notes that for a denomination to keep up with population growth, it needs a planting rate of at least 2% each year. To thrive, a rate of 4% is desirable. That would be approximately 242 new starts for the 6046 congregations of the LCMS (6046 x .04 = 242).
Regardless of the number, can we agree that we need to take a serious look at what it will take to start new churches and multiply new faith communities?
How can we do that?
This is first. Jesus told his disciples, Luke 10:2 – “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest fields.”
We live in Luke 10:2 times.
The Harvest is plentiful. No matter where you live, there are people who don’t know Jesus. While churches may see declines in average attendance, the population continues to grow. There are plenty of people in every neighborhood and community who need to hear the Good News of Jesus. Do we believe they are lost without Him? Does it matter to us?
It matters to God.
That’s why we need to take Jesus’ call to prayer seriously. We must pray for workers in the harvest field. We must pray for our neighbors, our communities, our towns and cities. Church planting begins with on-our-knees, crying-before-the-Lord, Holy-Spirit-driven prayer.
Identify Church Planters.
I agree with Jesus that the workers are few. However, I don’t think Jesus has left us without the needed Harvest Force. Many have said that we don’t have enough church planters. I disagree. I think the Lord has given us more than enough to get the job done. The problem is, the people sitting in our church pews and in our seminary classrooms don’t see themselves as church planters. What we need to do is to equip God’s people, the Baptized, to see themselves as every-day missionaries, to engage in God’s mission – to make disciples. Every baptized Christian is actually a church planter – called by God to plant the Church – to make disciples who make more disciples. We need to remind each one of her or his calling, equip them and deploy them for this work.
Some will do it as called and professional leaders – pastors and commissioned workers. Others will do it as they engage with others where they live, work, and play. As the baptized are equipped to know and follow Jesus, to share Jesus, to gather and disciple new people, the church is planted. Not everyone is called to be a pastor, but all believers are called to be witnesses (Acts 1:8) and are deployed in God’s Mission Field (Matthew 28:18-20).
The role of church leaders is to “equip the saints for the work of the ministry” (Eph 4:12). If we are going to plant 242 new churches a year, leaders must see the urgency and the need to identify and equip the saints for this work of starting new faith communities. Leaders must disciple and train and equip God’s people to confidently share their faith as they go about their daily life.
Specifically, Leaders need to help the saints in their congregations to prepare to be sent as church planting teams. Who will go? Who are you preparing to send into the harvest fields? This is not merely sending someone to the seminary. This is sending our best leaders and disciples as local church planters and church planting teams.
Leaders must be convinced that the best and most Biblical method of church planting is for churches to plant new churches. The local church is the best church planting agency. Leaders need to believe this themselves and prepare disciples in their churches to be sent and to provide for those who are sent.
No one needs to do this alone. We need to start conversations with neighboring congregations about partnering for church multiplication. Who can do what? What resources can we bring? What additional resources are needed? Everyone can be involved. As the African proverb says, “If you want to go fast, go alone, but you want to go far, go together.”
Many local congregations have never attempted to begin such a conversation with others in their circuit or region. Districts can be very helpful in starting the conversation and in providing various resources and support. Better together.
The greatest need we have is to help the members or disciples in our churches to understand their calling as missionaries, as witnesses, as disciples who make more disciples. We must equip and deploy and resource them for their mission.
The Center for United States Missions is here to help with these issues and more. Let’s start the conversation. By God’s grace, we can start 242 new churches each year – and more! The harvest is waiting!
Mission Moments is the e-newsletter sent by the Center for U.S. Missions to bring information and encouragement to all who desire to share God's great love in Jesus Christ with others. Permission is given to copy this article for distribution within your congregation or organization. Please credit the author and the Center for United States Missions. For more information contact the Center at (952)-221-0362, or visit our website: www.c4usm.org
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