I am genuinely encouraged by what I see happening through church planting in America. I sense a new Jesus-fueled spirit of adventure and entrepreneurialism among some of the brightest and best of leaders who call themselves church planters. I read in Viral Churches that we are now starting more new churches than we are closing in the United States – this is a first in a long time! I just recently attended the Exponential Conference, the largest gathering of church planting leaders in the United States where there was another record-breaking crowd.
There is a lot of good news! Yes, there is much to be encouraged about, but there is also much to be done. Dave Olson, director of the American Church Research Project and author of American Church in Crisis conducted groundbreaking research from over 200,000 churches in the United States. His research compared the impact of new churches to existing churches. The graph below shows the percentage of yearly growth based on the decade in which a church was started. His data goes back over 200 years.
Of the decades represented on this graph:
- 18 out of 22 decades show negative growth.
- 2 out of the 22 decades indicate less than 1% growth or a plateau.
- Only 2 decades indicate a positive growth rate.
- The first positive indicator is among churches started in the last 10-20 years, at 2.2% growth rate.
- However, new churches started in the last 10 years grew on the average by 9%.
This research is a great reminder to all of us that we need more new churches. Need more reasons for new churches? New churches see 3-4 times the number of conversions as do existing churches (Olson). That means that if an established church of 500 people helps 10 people find their way back to God — a new church of 500 would likely help 30-40 people find their way back to God in that same time frame. And in the first 10 years new churches will grow 23 times faster than churches over 10 years old. (Olson)
Is there any doubt that new churches are the most effective means to helping people find their way back to God? I believe God is doing a new thing and there is a lot of good news. But we will need even more good news if we are going to accomplish the mission of Jesus.