Evangelism and Church Planting - Part 2

As mentioned in an earlier post, we are considering the planting of new churches as a means of tackling the evangelism problem among Southern Baptist churches. Nearly twenty-five years ago, Peter Wagner made his famous claim that “Planting new churches is the most effective evangelistic method known under heaven.” In a more recent 2005 article Why Plant Churches, Tim Keller agreed and expounded on it. For Southern Baptists, with both our growing conversation surrounding church planting and our continual declining baptism numbers, this statement demands our attention.

So, you’ve got to ask, can church planting be the most effective way to address sagging evangelistic efforts and declining baptism numbers? If so, just how evangelistically effective is the planting of new churches? Is it the strategic response to our evangelism problem?

Within his paper, Keller presents the planting of new churches as the best method for reaching new generations, new residents, and new people groups—especially the unchurched. For support, he lists denominational studies confirming that new churches gain 60-80% of their new members from the ranks of people who were not previously attending a worshiping body. In contrast, he cites that churches over 10-15 years of age gain 80-90% of their new members by way of transfer growth. With regards to evangelism, his study shows that “the average new congregation will bring 6-8 times more new people [previously unchurched] into the life of the Body of Christ than an older congregation of the same size.”

Ed Stetzer, in his book Viral Churches: Helping Church Planters Become Movement Maker, presents similar data. He cites that it takes 100 members in established SBC churches to baptize 3.4 new converts. Yet among new SBC churches, he records a ratio three times higher—11.7 baptisms per 100 members!

But the above statements are not new. Many have said this before. But what is new and extremely relevant for us as Southern Baptists today is NAMB’s new annual reporting numbers. Starting in 2010, every SBC church plant was assigned a reporting number to monitor its growth. Of the 943 churches planted in 2010, these same churches in 2012 recorded 3,394 baptisms—a ratio of 1 baptism per every 12 members. Considering this alongside the abysmal SBC numbers as a whole—1 baptism for every 50 members—the evangelistic importance of planting new churches is undeniable. These new numbers continue to reiterate and substantiate the fact that planting new churches often produces more effective evangelism.

As a denomination, numbers are important. We must pay close attention. We must heed the warning of our baptism numbers and consider what they say about our future. But alongside this, we also need to pay very close attention to our church planting numbers. In response to our declining baptism numbers, it is imperative that we as Southern Baptists exhaust every means available. We need to pray more. We need to intentionally create new methods and models of evangelism and use them. But as the above statistics demonstrate, if we are serious about combatting our problem, we as Southern Baptists need to plant new churches—lots of them.

*This post originally appeared at the Center for Great Commission Studies page of Southeastern Seminary.