Part One: Our World Needs More Churches
We live in the midst of one of the greatest mission fields the Church has ever seen. In North America today, there are almost 160 million unchurched and unreached people. We are reaching a point at which American Christians have a greater opportunity for mission staying exactly where they are than heading overseas. The Barna Group recently released a study of church attendence and membership. This showed that in the Brazos Valley of Texas (where I live) including Waco and College Station, 27% of all residents are “churchless.” This means that close to a third of our residents have not attended any church at all in the last six months. This is to say nothing of those who attend sparsely. To see the churchless rates in your own town, visit the Barna study here.
Why would this be the case?
The high water mark for church attendance in the United States was in the mid-1950’s at about 60% nationwide. This has remained relatively constant ever since, even as post-Christianity has come to the coasts. What this means practically is that even as some mainline churches have closed and new churches planted, we are still at a net-zero impact when it comes to mission in North America. In fact, just today, the results of a Pew Research Center study has found that between Evangelicals and the Mainline, the net impact has been a loss of over 2 million members.
It is important to know that the total number of churches in towns like mine has leveled off over the past several decades. Even if you look at the situation purely in terms of capacity, “spots in the pews,” there simply isn’t enough room for the unchurched to be converted, either in terms of physical space or in terms of pastoral and catechetical ministry. Churches struggle to serve the people they already have, under the weight of constrained budgets and physical plants which are aging and under deferred maintenance.
Further, church-planting has been somewhat myopic, with one narrowly defined strategy. Popular mega-churches and large-format evangelical congregations have grown at a rapid rate, so some have focused solely on planting that type of church. But what actually moves the needle in terms of mission is a wider variety of churches, with a diverse approach to mission and ministry. The appeal of the mega-church, though broad, is not specific enough to serve those looking for depth of teaching and discipleship, or the vital life of community that a smaller church can offer. Further, these churches tend to de-emphasize the sacraments, the tradition, and doctrinal matters. As well, the mega-church tends not to be planted in a missional manner.
The time is ripe for churches precisely like our Anglican churches, churches that are aimed at a very specific mission field, churches with a unique heritage, churches with a commitment to deep discipleship and catechesis, churches committed to the Sacraments.
We are also persuaded that the Church’s resources are better spent planting new congregations than merely maintaining existing ones. New congregations have the ability to make three times the disciples of existing congregations. The reasons for this are numerous, but prime among them are that new congregations arise out of a distinctive sense of mission, clarity of purpose, and a back-to-basics approach.
In our tradition, in this place and time, human need meets gospel opportunity, and good strategy, through an Anglican church plant.
Check back with us here at Anglican Pastor over the next few weeks for continuing thoughts on “Why Plant Churches?”
Photo via USFS Region 5 at https://www.flickr.com/photos/usfsregion5/3598029211
The Rev. Lee Nelson, S.S.C. is a priest, church-planter, and catechist. He is currently planting churches in Waco and College Station, Texas with the aim of making disciples on college campuses through the planting of Anglican churches. For the last several years, he has served on the Catechesis Task Force of the Anglican Church in North America which produced To Be a Christian, an Anglican Catechism. As a part of this work, he is currently developing a catechetical consulting practice, aimed at coaching and training clergy and laypeople for the work of catechesis.