Two recent studies conducted by the Christian organization LifeWay Research and supervised by missiological thought leader Ed Stetzer provide an enhanced quantitative picture of the phenomenon of “church planting”—the founding of new churches—in the contemporary United States. One study, a telephone survey of a random sample of 1,004 Protestant ministers, finds that only 3 percent of U.S. congregations acted as the primary sponsor of a “church plant” (i.e., a newly founded congregation) during the previous year, and only 14 percent gave money to support a church-planting project. The LifeWay researchers read this as an indication of lacking support for church planting among established American churches. Despite this low level of support for church planting, the second study, which analyzes church plants and closures in America’s top 13 denominations, finds that “the annual number of new churches in the United States outpaced the annual number of churches closing their doors”:
Twenty-eight percent of the congregations participated in some way, financial or otherwise, in church plants, LifeWay Research President Ed Stetzer said today during the Exponential Conference, a church-planting seminar in Orlando, Fla. Among that 28 percent, roughly half partnered with other congregations in supporting the new church financially, while 12 percent took direct financial responsibility as primary sponsor of the new church.
“Although we see more church planting involvement, we need to see a much higher number of churches starting churches,” Stetzer said. “It is widely acknowledged that church planting is the most effective form of evangelism. It should be of great concern that only 28 percent of our North American churches helped start new congregations at all, including only 12 percent of those who took primary responsibility.
“For too long, churches have assumed that mission involvement and church planting is someone else’s responsibility,” Stetzer continued. “The ‘pay, pray and get out of the way’ mentality causes churches to pay someone else to do what God has called them to do – and that may be part of why so many have become cul-de-sacs on the Great Commission highway.”
Read a summary of the two studies here.