Southern Religion

Church planting: Waste or salvation?

Church planting has become a main branch of the Southern Baptist Convention evangelism strategy, but a North Carolina pastor who ran for SBC president last year has raised serious questions about whether it should be.

Les Puryear, pastor of Lewisville Baptist Church, using statistics compiled by the SBC’s North American Mission Board, says that the convention spends about $100,000 over the first four years of a “planted” church’s life, yet 32 percent of new churches don’t survive for four years.

As a result:

If $1 million is invested to plant 10 new churches, $320,000 of that investment will not result in a viable, healthy church.

Without citing a source Using statistics from from the SBC Annual 2008 Book of Reports (p. 123), Puryear cities an NAMB church planting budget for 2008-2009 of about $22.85 million (a graphic on this page of the NAMB web site shows the 2008 budgeted expenses for church planting to be $24.4 million). Puryear calculated that about $7.31 million is being spent on churches that won’t exist after four years.

The new churches that survive for four years average 85 in attendance and have baptized 48 people.

Puryear compares that to his first four years at Lewisville, when 51 people were baptized.

“Thus, my 127-year-old ‘traditional’ Southern Baptist church has a higher average baptisms per year than does the average new church plant. I provide these stats not to glorify my church but to demonstrate that established, traditional Southern Baptist churches can be viable places of reaching the lost.”

SBC records show that in 2008, the convention’s 44,848 churches (newly ‘planted,’ dying, thriving, etc …) baptized 342,198 people, an average of 7.63 per church.

Ed Stetzer, who is now president of LifeWay Research, cited similar figures in a 2003 article called “The Most Effective Evangelistic Strategy Under Heaven.” The article, which was adapted from Stetzer’s book, “Planting New Churches in a Postmodern Age,” quotes noted church growth author C. Peter Wagner as calling church planting “the single most effective evangelistic methodology under heaven.”

Stetzer goes on to cite research that new churches average about 14.4 baptisms per year for every 100 people in regular attendance in worship while churches that are 16 years old or more baptize about 7.3 persons per year for every 100 people in attendance. He calls new churches “a gift of evangelism.”

“Without church planting, our denomination will decline; but more importantly, the number of Christians in North America will continue to decline. If we love God’s Kingdom, we must love church planting.”

Church planting has been emphasized in the SBC since well before Stetzer’s article. Although the strategy has on occasion been problematic.

The Overseas Leadership Team for the SBC’s International Mission Board adopted a vision statement in 1998 to guide the IMB’s missionary force.

“We will facilitate the lost coming to saving faith in Jesus Christ by beginning and nurturing Church Planting Movements among all peoples.”

The IMB defines a church planting movement as “a rapid and multiplicative increase of indigenous churches planting churches within a given people group or population segment.”

By 2000, the IMB was discouraging volunteers from constructing church buildings overseas and instead moving them toward church planting efforts.

The IMB claims that its missionaries were responsible for more than 25,000 church starts in 2007, but the board’s numbers are thought to be inflated and in some cases fabricated.

The SBC’s North American Mission Board see its role as helping Southern Baptists fulfill the Great Commission “through a North American strategy for sharing Christ, starting churches and sending missionaries.”

NAMB even has a web site it calls a “one-stop shop for church planting.”

The SBC’s seminaries emphasize church planting. The Nehemiah Project, which put a professor of church planting on each Southern Baptist seminary campus, started in 1998, according to this time line.

Members of the convention’s Great Commission Task Force, which is studying ways the SBC can better accomplish the Great Commission, have talked about the importance of church planting. Danny Akin, the president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and a driving force behind the task force, has called for a church planting strategy “that assaults the major population centers of North America.”

“Why we plant more churches in Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, North Carolina and Tennessee than we do in New York, Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Washington and California is absolutely incomprehensible to me.”

The Great Commission Resurgence Declaration calls for “new churches in unevangelized areas of North America, especially the great urban centers,” and for the revitalization of existing congregations.

“We long to see a Convention where every church is a church planting church in its unique Jerusalem, its Judea and Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth.”

Ronnie Floyd, chairman of the task force, said at a recent question and answer session that the group’s report “will ring the bell for church planting.”

I believe charging out of the gate of our report will be a real commitment to Gospel churches planting Gospel churches planting Gospel churches.

In his blog post, Puryear says he is “not anti-church planting.”

“And so, is church planting the best way to reach the lost? I’m not certain that church planting is the ‘best’ way, but it is one effective, though expensive way.”

In addition to church planting, Puryear said he’d like to see NAMB emphasize helping existing churches.

“Pursuant to such a goal, I would like to see NAMB establish seminars, conferences, study courses, etc., to help the local church learn how to develop strategies for reaching the lost. I hear many missionaries talking about outreach strategy, but I never see anyone teaching pastors and leaders of the local churches how to develop outreach strategies. If NAMB or someone else would develop such training, I would be the first in line to attend. Also, I would happily pay for such training. We train missionaries how to develop strategy. Why cannot we train our pastors?”


November 19, 2009 - Posted by | Churches, Religion, SBC | , , , , ,


  1. In regard to the source of my data for the NAMB church planting budget for 2008-2009, the data came from the SBC Annual 2008 Book of Reports, p. 123.


    Comment by Les Puryear | November 19, 2009

    • Thank you Les. Please note the correction inserted in the paragraph to which you refer.

      Comment by baptistplanet | November 19, 2009

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