Has Church Planting Replaced Evangelism?

Michael DuduitChurch, Ministry Leave a Comment

“Crusades haven’t disappeared, and churches still teach personal witness. But today, church planting is the default mode for evangelism,” according to Tim Stafford, writing in the Sept. 28 edition of Christianity Today

Stafford writes that the trend among evangelical denominations is toward reaching people through the planting of new churches as the primary methodology for evangelism. Advocates, such as the Acts 29 group, argue that this is the biblical model of outreach. Others point out that new churches simply reach more non-Christians than do existing churches. As George Hunter of Asbury Theological Seminary says, “Churches after 15 years typically plateau. After 35 years, they typically can’t even replace those [members] they lose. New congregations reach a lot more pre-Christian people.” 

Existing congregations, Stafford notes, “tend to turn inward, no matter how hard they try to resist the trend. But new churches must look outward to survive.” (Click here to read the full story.)

 In his blog today, R. Albert Mohler responds to Stafford’s article, celebrating the drive to plant churches (and noting the enthusiasm for it that he sense among young ministers on his seminary campus), but also offering some cautions: 

“There can be no doubt that the planting of new congregations is a New Testament model. This approach comes with apostolic encouragement, as any reading of the Book of Acts and Paul’s letters will reveal. Many of these new congregations will be fueled with great passion for the Gospel and for reaching unreached communities, people groups, and sectors of our society. This is indeed good news.

“At the same time, we also need this generation of young pastors to go into established churches and revitalize a Gospel ministry through expository preaching and energetic leadership. Giving up on the established church is not an option. Some young pastors see church planting as a way of avoiding the challenge of dealing with the people and pathologies of older congregations. This is an abdication of responsibility.”

While new church plants offer great opportunities, Mohler says, they are not the only option for new growth, nor are they always successful: “Many established churches are showing signs of new life, often under new leadership. As one pastor explained, this sometimes means planting a new church within an older church. On the other hand, only a fraction of newly planted churches exist as operational congregations five years after their founding. 

“Similarly, the passion to reach unreached populations is entirely laudable and urgent. The sad reality is that many of our established evangelical churches seem determined to reach only people who look like themselves — if they are committed to reach anyone at all. The danger on the other side is that many of these newly-planted churches begin to look like their founders and first members. A church of tattooed twenty-somethings in New York can be just as lacking in diversity as the aging middle class congregation at First Church. ” (Click here to read Mohler’s commentary.)

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