We need to have a conversation. No final answers here, but at least a few questions that might make us pause before endorsing the prevailing orthodoxy.
Let’s talk about church planting.
Before we go too far, a bit of context that certainly shades my view. I live in a small, southern Appalachian town, population around 8,000. We have about 45 churches. That’s one church for every 177.7 citizens. If, on average, the churches have three staff members, we have one minister for every 60 or so folks in town. And, at the very least, $20 million is invested in our town’s church facilities.
Of course there are some real doctrinal issues that separate some of us, but there are over 30 Southern Baptist churches in the town and nearby area. I have been in enough of these churches to know that it is the rare church in our city that is half filled to capacity.
There is a road intersection in a more rural part of out county where five churches have posted their directional signs, and they all point down the same road. And three of them are Baptist. That means to get to the “Last Baptist Church”, you have to pass four other churches, two of which are Baptist.
I recently had a conversation with a young seminary graduate who was moving as a church planter to a small town with religious demographics not very different from ours, a typical church-on-every-corner southern town.
A church planter?
I’ve seen the studies, and I know the rationale. I know that plants are the most effective way to reach the unchurched. I know they are the most cost-effective. I also understand that certain areas of the U.S. are underserved by churches. And I also know that church planters have an extraordinary passion for the Gospel.
But, especially in the south, we are slicing the pie into smaller and smaller pieces. And spending more and more of Kingdom money on the same population.
At least we are creating more jobs for professional Christians.
When can we say “enough”?
My question for you: Does God really love Americans so much more than everyone else that we should consume the lion’s share of the Church’s resources? When Christians around the world are dying of hunger, when there are 153,000,000 orphans, when millions have never heard the Good News that Jesus loves them and died for them, is it faithfulness to our call to make sure we do not have to drive more than ten blocks to reach a church?
I have seen a lot of numbers on the impact of U.S. churches. The current average cost per conversion in the U.S. is $330,000.* Do you know the impact those dollars could have on orphans in Brazil, trafficked children in Thailand, or in an AIDS-devastated village in Africa?
Please, please, before your next church plant, think very seriously about the impact you will have—or could have.
So here’s a question for you…
If your church had a windfall of $100,000 – or $50,000 for that matter – what would you do with it?
* David Barrett, et al., World Christian Trends, AD 30-AD 2200 (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 2001), 520-529.