Tag Archives: strategy

Problems with church planting: The cumulative case

Here are the arguements against the current trend of church planting I’ve tried to elucidate in my previous posts. I’ll collect them here to provide a handy centeralized reference for future forays into this subject.

  1. Modern church planting is not found in Scripture
  2. The market for new churches is oversaturated.
  3. It is irresponsible and wrong to simply abandon failing churches.
  4. The supply of pastors exceeds market demands and it is wrong to continue adding to this surplus in human capital.

Problems with church planting: Planting in the wrong season

In most church planting strategies. Failing churches are expected to fail, leading to the needless waste of untold amounts of resources. Not to mention alienating potential customers through negative shopping experiences. This pessimistic approach to failing churches is apparently borne of the desire to avoid the hard conversations that might otherwise save some businesses from failing1. Then again, since the SBC consists of loosely affiliated churches2 I suppose the tactic is wholly in line with the overall church polity. After all, not many individual businesses concern themselves with assisting other businesses in a purely altruistic fashion3.

Proverbs tells us that everything has a season. And church planting is no different. However, rather than seeing this as a season for planting (which carries with it the idea of a net gain) I would argue that this is the perfect season for tending to fields which have become weak, sickly, and unproductive. Rather than planting new businesses or crops while allowing others to fail, we should be making the wiser investment decision4 to patch up failing churches. That may mean that we need to revisit SBC polity and seriously ask ourselves whether it is time to change the governmental structure of the SBC or, as a less invasive option, produce material designed to help failing churches adapt to current market conditions.

Regardless of how we go about attempting to salvage failing churches, the tactic of writing them off and allowing the resources they contain (which includes people, our brothers in Christ) is needlessly wasteful. And it is actually a variation of the broken window fallacy to assume that more churches is the same as church growth.

In my next post I will explore the problem of excess supply.

  1. A corollary can be drawn here with how the Great Commission Resurgence task force refused to tackle the serious issue of duplication of services and duties between internal organizations such as the North American Mission Board and the International Mission Board. []
  2. Decentralized, voluntary collaboration is the hallmark of the SBC. At least it was until recently. Now the trend is to more centralized power and a much more ridged hierarchy. In the past the SBC used to operate from the bottom up, and while that is still how the convention works on paper, in practice the SBC has increasingly become more and more centralized. A hallmark of this trend is the emphasis placed on key positions of leadership and the marked weakening of local associations and churches. []
  3. Contrast this with the account in Acts of Paul collecting money from a diverse group of congregations to bring a gift of money to the persecuted church in Jerusalem. []
  4. Even secular businesses understand that it is far cheaper to keep an existing customer from leaving than it is to gain a new customer. []

Problems with church planting: A saturated market

One of the saddest things to watch is when a business fails by refusing to recognize the reality of their market. What’s even sadder is when these businesses decide that the solution is not to invest in learning, but rather to spend more time and energy in establishing a plethora of new establishments in hopes that a few will find purchase and become productive. The problem with this approach, however, is that by ignoring market conditions, they are just as likely to accelerate their own demise as they are to facilitate growth.1

The market condition in which church businesses2 find themselves is not very good. In fact, according to the statistics which are coming out year after year, they are downright dismal. Baptisms are down, the membership is growing older, giving is down, and if something is not done soon, thousands of church businesses are faced with the real prospect of closing up shop. In fact, many already have.

So what do the Southern Baptists plan to do about this? Well the buzz in the past few years has been church planting. In fact, the North American Mission Board has recently announced it’s intention to direct the majority of it’s efforts towards planting new churches in North America, specifically in the north and Canada. I suppose the hope here is the akin to throwing a bunch of mud at a wall and hoping some of it sticks.

But what about the practical implications of encouraging and funding many new start-up businesses in an already saturated market?

In economics 101 we learn that every market contains a saturation limit. This fact is readily obvious here in the Bible-belt where a church can be found on almost every corner and mega-churches are a dime a dozen.

From a business analysis perspective it is hard to see how the approach of starting new businesses in a saturated market makes much sense at all, especially since donations are a finite resource. In my next post, I will address the market conditions in areas which do not have an abundance of buildings to service an underdeveloped market.

  1. For a good example of this market phenomenon, think about the recent mortgage crisis and how banks decided to employ a staggering amount of leverage to squeeze more profit out of a saturated financial market. Sure, the fact that the lending practices were flawed to the core didn’t help either, but that could have been easily corrected for if they had taken the time to grow slowly and deliberately. []
  2. If you wonder why I use this particular phrase, I invite you to visit my previous post in this series where I define terms such as “church”. []

Problems with church planting: Defining terms

Church planting has been a hot topic (quickly becoming an obsession) in the Souther Baptist Convention for the last few years. And after examining the issue, I plan on writing a series of 6 posts intended to outline what I believe are the pitfalls inherent in the modern church planting movement. But first, I believe a helpful foundation for any fruitful discussion on the subject will be to define a few key terms.


Even though they are loathe to admit it, 501c3 non-profit orginizations with property and staff are, at the end of the day, businesses. True, they are not like traditional businesses. These masquarade under the otherwise organic term “church”, they enjoy special spiritual prominence, and through that they are able to solicit and extract large sums of money through what amounts to sanctified begging (or extortion, take your pick) rather than the production of a good or the performance of a service.

As Alan Knox rightly and frequently points out, there is only one Church, the body of Christ, and even though that body finds a tangible expression in the form of local group of believers, the only valid reason for drawing a difference between groups of believers is by their location. For example, the letters in the New Testament were addressed to “the church in..” rather than “the First Baptist Church of..”

Church planting

When one speaks out against church planting the common retort is that it is through the planting of new churches that the church of Christ has spread throughout the world. There are two distinct senses in which the phrase “church planting” is used. The first sense is more rightly understood as evangelism, the “making disciples” we are commanded to do in Matthew 28. The second sense, and the one I will be argueing against, is the establishment of new non-profit orginizations complete with staff, buildings (or other arrangements for a regular meeting place) and a clear affiliation with a larger denominational orginization.

In this sense, another name for “church planting” can easily be “denominational colonialism” since the criteria for establishing new churches in this second sense is not whether a body of local believers already exists but wether a body of local believer who are members of our denomination exists or not.

In the next 4 posts, I will be outlining the problems with church planting where the goal extends above and beyond the basic biblical mandate of evangelizing and making disciples.


How to win an argument …by not being the subject

When confronting opposing views it is often easy to fall into the trap of attempting to win by shooting at the messenger rather than the argument. It is also tempting, especially in evangelism1, to try and base your primary point of persuasion on your own personal experiences via your testimony.

After trying and failing at many different tactics I discovered that the best way to share your faith is to point out to others what your faith is grounded in. In other words, strive to leave the other person with facts to wrestle with rather than a warm and fuzzy story based wholly in personal experience that is easily dismissed with the relativistic notion of ” that’s true for you, but not true for me”.

Even if your facts and evidence and arguments don’t ultimately prevail. If your aim is truth rather than the other person then even though you may have lost your case you will have hopefully exchanged2 a true belief for a false one, a win-win situation.

For more resources to help you argue more persuasively, I highly recommend this post by Brian over at Apologetics315 which includes the following:

Peter Williams:
• Paul in Athens and Engaging with Popular Culture MP3
• Apologetics in 3D MP3
• Apologetics: What, Where, When, Who, How & Why? MP3

• Persuasive Evangelism MP3 by Tom Price
• Conversational Evangelism MP3 by David Geisler
• Conversational Evangelism MP3 by Michael Ramsden (excellent!)

  1. This observation is also heavily grounded in my years of experience in FAITH evangelism where part of the training stipulates that not more than 5 minutes in a 15minute encounter should be spent on your personal testimony. []
  2. This isn’t to say that we ought to abandon our deeply held beliefs without a vigorous and through fight. However, we should practice what Francis Schaeffer called “one legged theology” as described in the excellent book “Truth With Love“ []