- Huge numbers of unchurched North Americans call for new churches. The number of unchurched Americans has almost doubled from 1991 to 2001. The combined populations of the United States and Canada comprise the third largest mission field of unsaved persons in the world (only China and India have more non-Christians). The U.S. is the largest mission field in the Western hemisphere. There are an estimated 360,000 churches in the United States, with an average attendance of about 125 persons per church. Yet if every church in America doubled its attendance, there would still be 190 million people not in church to hear the gospel on an average Sunday. Even in most small towns, there would not be enough seats in existing churches if even half of the people decided to go to church on a given Lord’s Day. Lost people matter to God and should to us.
- The number of churches in our land has actually decreased in proportion to our overall population. Statisticians who have tracked the church-to-population ratio through the last century confirm this startling reality. In 1900 our nation had 27 churches for every 10,000 Americans. By 1950, this ratio had dropped to 17 churches for every 10,000 people. Since 1950, we actually have 30 percent fewer churches to reach the growing number of unchurched people in our land!
- New churches reach lost people better than any other form of evangelism. Most new churches come into existence and prosper primarily by reaching unsaved people. In contrast, most existing churches grow by “sharing sheep” (in other words, by transferring members from other churches). New churches have an excitement and vitality which attracts “seekers” and previously unchurched people. They’ll come and check out a new body of believers because it may meet in a non-traditional setting. Most new churches grow because they are very intentional about discovering culturally relevant yet biblically sound ways to reach secular people.
- The older most churches grow, the less evangelistic many become. Roughly half of all U.S. churches did not add one new person through conversion growth last year. The majority of newcomers to most churches are simply a “circulation of the saints.” Research has shown that new and younger churches, on average, win and baptize more new believers each year per capita than older churches. Most churches have a lifespan similar to a human being—70 to 100 years. By the time most churches are 15 years old, they have reached their maximum size. This means young churches must reach people quickly to survive.
- Many established churches are now in survival mode and will eventually close. The spiritual deadness of our North American culture is showing up in many churches. Eighty to 85% of U.S. churches are on the downside of their life cycle – many of them Bible-believing congregations. That’s about 9 of 10 that are either standing still or declining–stagnant or dying. They have little or no evangelistic impact in their community. Three times as many churches in America are closing as are opening. It is estimated that between 3,500 and 4,000 churches dissolve every year in our nation. Yet at best only about 1,300 new churches are being planted annually. The net result is that there are fewer opportunities for people to hear the gospel than before. We need to be much more aggressive in intentionally starting new works just to take the place of those that are closing their doors.
- Half of all people in the U.S. and Canada live in just 43 cities with populations of over one million. Yet, only about one out of nine Bible believing churches are found in these cities. Millions of people in the most densely populated places have the fewest opportunities to hear about Christ. The New York City metro, for example, has over 21 million residents – 90% are estimated to be unchurched or unsaved. New churches are desperately needed in order to raise up a standard of righteousness in our urban areas. Yet many fundamental and evangelical churches have fled to the comfort and safety of the suburbs. We need to recognize and recover the biblical precedent for urban ministry by developing an urban theology and viewing the city as God does.
- New churches are needed to reach the growing number of ethnic people in North America. Immigration is the fastest source of population growth in the US and Canada. Today one in ten Americans was born in another country. Ethnic Americans now number over 100 million residents – one third of our nation’s population! We are the most ethnically diverse nation in the world. Our sovereign God has brought the world to our urban doorstep! The mission fields are no longer overseas; they are next door. We are responsible to reach our “Samaria,” those who are geographically close but culturally distant (Acts 1:8). Many believers finding Christ in overseas churches are moving to America. Yet, these believers have trouble fitting into existing English-speaking, mostly white congregations that do not understand their culture, music, and special concerns. New ethnic and multi-ethnic churches are the best answer for the needs of new Americans.
- Today’s churches are not reaching today’s young people. The vast majority of Christians are saved before reaching age twenty. Yet, today researchers estimate only 4% of all young people below the age of 22 are saved. We are losing a whole generation of young people. However, they can be reached by Word-based churches who will adapt their methodologies to reach this high-tech generation. New churches with young pastors and leaders are our best hope for reaching millions of unsaved, secular youth.
- Our children and grandchildren need churches with room for them to become responsible Christians and leaders. People feel more connected and committed to ministries they help lead. Leadership positions are usually filled in existing churches by long-time members, shutting out younger believers from decision-making. New churches depend upon and raise up new leaders, helping immature disciples grow up in the Lord through service.
- Church planting will counteract the rise of false religions in North America. Immigrant newcomers have brought with them their pagan religions. As a result, we are now not only the most ethnically diverse nations in the world but the most religiously diverse nations. Christianity is declining and cults and traditional world religions are growing significantly – up 400% from 1950. Both Muslims and Mormons now outnumber Jews and Episcopalians in America. Islam now claims an estimated six million followers, making it the second largest faith in our nation. Buddhists now number 2.5 million adherents; Hindus, some 1.2 million. False cultists have increased from one million in 1900 to over 26 million today.  If we as Bible believers do not wake up, we will lose our land and heritage. New church plants, focused upon the lost, can help reverse the tide.
1. Gerge Barna: http://www.barna.org/FlexPage.aspx?Page=BarnaUpdateNarrow&BarnaUpdateID=163.
2. Richard Harris in “Church Planting Today,” page 2. Harris is VP of the Church Planting Group of the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board (NAMB). See also Lyle E. Schaller, 44 Questions for Church Planters (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1991), 14-26.
3. For confirmation that younger, newer churches grow more than older ones, see Albrey Malphurs, Planting Growing Churches for the 21st Century (Grand Rapids: Baker), 44; and Christain Schwarz, Natural Church Development: A Guide to Eight Essential Qualities of Healthy Churches (Carol Stream: ChurchSmart Resources, 1996), 46-48.
4. Win Arn, cited in Malphurs, Planting Growing Churches, 32.
5. Win Arn, The Pastor’s Manual for Effective Ministry (Monrovia, CA: Church Growth, 1988), 16. See also Tom Clegg and Warren Bird, Lost in America (Loveland, CO: Group Publishing, 2001), 30.
6. In the U.S., the percentage of each generational group professing to be Christians is in serious decline:
• Builders WW2 generation: 65% professed to be Christians
• Baby boomers: 34% profess to be Christians
• Busters/Generation X: 17% profess to be Christians
• Current teens: 4% will profess to be followers of Christ if current trends continue.
See Thom Rainer, The Bridger Generation (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 1997), 169.
7. For stats on religionists in America, see Clegg and Bird, Lost in America, 30-32.
Ken Davis, director of church planting at Baptist Bible Seminary (Clarks Summit, PA), has been involved in church planting for over 25 years. He served as chair of Baptist Mid-Missions’ North American Church Planting Ministry Council, and he co-founded the School of Church Planting, which has provided training for more than 300 church planters worldwide. He has co-authored the book, The Y-B-H (Yes, But How?) Handbook of Church Planting. He has B.A. and M.A. degrees from Bob Jones University (Greenville, SC). God has blessed him and his wife, Sharon, with four children.