Evaluating the Church Planting Movement: The Failure Nobody Wants to Talk About

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Bert Perry's picture

....seems to be "why aren't people happy to go to the established fundagelical churches?".    I haven't been to very many churches that had every seat filled, and it strikes me that too often, people split over peripheral issues rather than real Gospel issues.  We might infer that the best church growth plan of all might be "leave the Mickey Mouse stuff behind, preach the Bible, and spend time making disciples."  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Steve Davis's picture

It seems to me that the writer begins with a fundamental flaw - there is no church planting movement.  His characterization may be true of some slices of some movements somewhere. The writer appears to have had some bad experiences which color his perspective and sounds more like a rant than anything else. Sure, some of the things he says happen. But he admits there's anecdotal evidence, hunches, and things he can't prove. Plus to say no one's talking about the failures makes me wonder what corner he's been in the last couple decades. Now he's talking about it!

He has a caricature of church planters who loathe poor, country and ugly people ('the kind that church planters loath because they don’t enhance the sexy image of church planting"); and who "go to the rich-white-fast-growing neighborhood to be obedient to God." I'm genuinely sorry that he has known people like that (or is this anecdotal?). I've been involved in church planting for 35 years and most church planters I've known have sacrificed to plant rather than take an established church where the building, people, and salary were all in place. Have there been failures, wasted money, poor planning? Sure. Maybe as much as in established churches. He further claims that "We also fostered an environment in which young church planters have a tremendous animosity toward existing churches. The only thing they want from established churches is cash." This makes we wonder who is "we" and who are these animosity crazed church planters on the lookout for your cash. 

He talks about how much churches would be able to do "IF THEY HAD ACCESS TO THE MULTIPLE MILLIONS OF DOLLARS made available to church planters." Please let me know where those millions are. The church planters I know in Philly could use some. Many meet in their homes, work full-time jobs making far less than most pastors I know, have located themselves in communities without a gospel witness, work with poor, urban people (sorry, not country people), and maybe some are ugly too. 


T Howard's picture

From my experience and reading, there are some elements of truth in this article. I even agree that church planting should be a church-led initiative, where the planting team is under the authority of the mother church until the plant is self-sustaining and autonomous. Other than in major markets, most of the expenses in church planting is in living expenses for the full-time planter. Bi-vocational church planting, though more cumbersome, is one solution to the enormous cost of church planting. In some cases, if the planting team (assuming 3-5 families) all work fulltime, the money they normally give in tithes and offerings could fund much of the church plant operations if the lead planter is also bi-vocational and not drawing a salary from the plant.

As for why most established churches aren't planting churches ... some of it is certainly caused by the same reason most established churches aren't involved in local/personal evangelism efforts. Some of it is based on the "make big bigger" mentality of church growth. Instead of trying to grow into a megachurch, when churches reach a certain size, they should purposely plan to split and reproduce in a new location.

driddick's picture

The article draws conclusions from a strung-together narrative of stereotypes and assumptions. I think we all would agree churches starting churches is healthy and good (we need much more of it). But, to dismiss the positive work of denominations or church planting networks, with almost zero factual support, isn't helpful.

Take the SBC as an example. They closed (or lost) over 600 churches in the denomination in 2014, but the denomination also started nearly 1,000 new churches. This resulted in a net gain off nearly 400 churches year over year. Could it be better - sure - but significantly out-pacing church closures with plants seems to be the kind of positive results you would hope for from a denominationally driven work.

Could SBC churches individually (without the denomination) have done a better job starting new churches (as the author concludes)? Maybe. But other stats don't indicate that this would automatically be true. For example, while the denomination drives major church planting initiatives, they have little direct responsibility toward membership, attendance and ministry. Those outcomes would be almost completely the responsibility of the individual churches. 

Those churches had a net lost of 200,000 members (the largest loss in 130+ years). I'm certain the causality of that decline is very complex, but you're not going to quickly convince me that this collection of individual churches struggling to reach people and retain members world take church planting "next level".

It is plausible that the denominationally driven church planting efforts are keeping the SBC from declining faster than it already is.

All of that is a long way to say that broad brush approaches like "de-fund the denominations and networks" probably throws out the baby with the bath water.

Mike Harding's picture

Church planters from our church or sponsored by our church have had a good success rate.  They reproduce for the most part the DNA of our church.  I think Randy is trying to connect church planters to local churches as opposed to denominational machines or para-church networks.  It would be helpful as Randy states to have more info on the success/failure ratio.  Churches launched does not mean long-term successful church plants.  Restoring churches is also a great ministry.  John Mac has advocated this for many years.  My son pastors a recent successful church plant in England.  It is the only gospel witness in his entire city.  Many needed areas for church restoration and initiation.  However, what we really need is another church plant in Greenville, SC ! (Not)

Pastor Mike Harding

Steve Davis's picture

driddick wrote:

The article draws conclusions from a strung-together narrative of stereotypes and assumptions. I think we all would agree churches starting churches is healthy and good (we need much more of it). But, to dismiss the positive work of denominations or church planting networks, with almost zero factual support, isn't helpful.


All of that is a long way to say that broad brush approaches like "de-fund the denominations and networks" probably throws out the baby with the bath water.

Thank you for your comments. I'm not the only one who thinks the article was a shotgun approach just hoping to hit something. I also think Randy does a disservice the way he (mis)characterizes church planters. There's no one model, no one strategy, no guaranteed success, no ideal church planter profile, no experts, and no way to compare church plants due to differences in demographics, resources, giftedness and God at work. Ideally you have a solid core group from a sending church in proximity, a building from a church that closed down, a parking lot, and money, lots of it, etc. When that happens - hallelujah! 

I've been involved in an urban church plant since 2010. We had a core group from the suburbs who gave time, energy, and resources for a limited time which was a huge blessing. We knew that they would not/should not stay if they didn't move into the city. None of them did. None are still with us. Since moving into the city I've worked full-time in social services as a drug and alcohol counselor in the prison system and now part-time clinical supervisor in a clinic where most clients are on parole/probation.  When I started as a D & A therapist my salary was half what I made as an associate pastor/adjunct professor at a large suburban church and has never reached what I was making in 2009. I'm not complaining. It's been a good experience for me and opened up doors for the gospel. God has provided for all our needs plus some. I'm glad to finally be part-time. When I need to I drive for Uber and Lyft. The economics of the area make it unlikely the church will be fully self-supporting in the near future or ever. We have one church that consistency supports our church in Philadelphia. That church is in Brooklyn, a church plant itself, and gives our church 10% of its offerings. Other than that we have friends outside the church from years of previous ministry who have been generous to support the church. We are always stretched for resources as we work with helping establish two Spanish-speaking churches, one in Allentown, Pa the other in the Bronx. One of our elders left to plant a church in another corner of the city. We have elders from Kenya, Cameroon, and Dominican Republic. As a result we are training pastors in Cameroon and hope to do so in the DR this year. So please excuse me if I respond to Randy's nonsense about the millions of dollars and church planters going to rich white places (whites are the clear minority in our church). I know many other church planters in similar situations. I know some who have failed to plant a church after serious investment, who have quit out of discouragement, have experienced moral failure and family breakup. I don't know if it's more frequent than pastors in established churches. I don't know that our church will survive years down the road. I only know that we are trying to be faithful preaching the gospel. 

We need more churches planting churches. We need more church planters with good training who have grown in an atmosphere of church planting and have given evidence of gifts. We need less whiny caricatures about church planters draining all the money from those who could use it to do more ministry. BTW, we could use a million ourselves but I'm not holding my breath. 



Jim's picture

  • A engaged small group that self-propagates. These are very successful. Illustration (and I've seen many)
    • Group of Bible believers, ill-served doctrinally by a church, start a home Bible study. It grows to the point that they formally organize.
    • An example from my home town of Delhi OH: http://bcdelhi.com/our-history/
    • "Bible Chapel of Delhi Hills began in 1967 through a small home Bible study. Out of this nucleus of believers came a desire to start a Bible-believing, gospel-preaching church on the west side of Cincinnati. Pastor Lowell Landis, father of the present pastor, was called to help get the church established and became the first pastor. The church was incorporated and chose the name that it bears to this day."
    • This model is very strong as it by it's very nature has a solid core group
    • Basically the people organize first and then call a pastor
  • The daughter church is birthed by the mother church
    • These typically are 20-30 miles from the home church
    • Key committed members in the geographical footprint of the daughter location organize with and in the mother church in preparation (like a gestation period) for the daughter launch
    • I regard this as a strong model
  • The "moon launch" approach
    • Impassioned planter has vision for a church in some location - a great distance from the supporting church
    • He fund raises and arrives alone
    • It's sink or swim time
    • I've rarely seen these succeed and have stories to tell about it
  • I'll add a 4th which I abhor: The band on the stage approach
    • Get a house band
    • Attract an audience
    • Preach to them
    • Call it a church
    • This is very popular
Bert Perry's picture

#4 was described yesterday in Fox News: church founded by a "Christian" death metal band.   As much as I support the idea of modern music in the church, this was a little bit much for me, and when I read part of the article to my wife, she thought it was the Babylon Bee, not surprisingly. (my take; you're screeching constantly and this is going to communicate the Word of God....exactly how?)

Seriously, it strikes me that everybody here is saying that the more closely a new church is nurtured by others outside, the better. No argument needed there.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Ron Bean's picture

When I was in seminary church planting was promoted. There was a file of cities where there was no "good" church and men were encouraged to, as Jim said, "moon launch" into those places. (Sometimes partially supported by the school I attended or perhaps a home church mission board.) The few successful planters were brought back to inspire the rest of us. I don't hear much about church planting from fundamental circles today.


"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Jay's picture

TylerR wrote:

Become a parent church.

The more I think about this, the more this is the approach I favor.  Your church is 150-200 and you have 10/20 people coming from 30 miles away?  Hive off.

It seems to be the Biblical principle that is most in keeping with Matthew 28:18-20, Acts, and the Pastoral epistles, and I've never, ever been a huge proponent of what Jim termed the 'moon shot' approach.  

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Mike Harding's picture



First, I want to commend you and your brother John on your current church plant.  You have been at it for seven years in a difficult location.  My son's church is listed on a website of Churches in Hard Places.  My son-in-law has re-started a church that had been reduced to 10 members.  After five years their church is flourishing.  I remember when John started his first church in Furlong, PA (I'm unsure of the exact location name).   When he left that church it too was a strong work for God.  Your church planting efforts in Romania, France, et. al. give credence to your experience and insight.  I have read Randy's article twice.  I don't believe he is broad brushing all church planters.  He appears to focus on certain evangelical networks which have promoted an unhealthy form of church planting.  Thus, I found the article helpful to me.  Our church planters and the ones I have sponsored do not exhibit the characteristics Randy has mentioned.  Nevertheless, I think it is wishful thinking not to take what he says seriously.  His article can help pastors be more discerning in their church planting efforts and sponsorships.  Wish you well Steve.

Pastor Mike Harding

Jim's picture

It was a method in the 1st century:

  • Romans 16:5, "Greet also the church in their house."
  • 1 Corinthians 16:19, "The churches of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Prisca, together with the church in their house, send you hearty greetings in the Lord."
  • Colossians 4:15, "Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house"
  • Philemon 2:, "and Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier, and the church in your house"

We have this vision of a "church" with 10 acres in suburbia. 10 acres near our home in Plymouth MN just sold for $ 25,000,000

A house church with a bi-vocational pastor could be started with very little upfront $$

Ron Bean's picture

Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington DC seems to be have a good model for church planting/restoration. The church itself is near maximum capacity and their response seems to be to take one of the interns they have on staff and a group of members from a geographic area and send them out, usually to revitalize a church. 

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

JD Miller's picture

Yes, Jim.  We are planting in South Dakota.  As I read your assessment of the the 3 (4) models of church planting I thought of the core group that was here before we came and I do not know what we would do without them.  I am so thankful for people like Tina who came early today and turned up the furnace in our meeting place, and for Betty who showed up with fruit and brownies for lunch after the service, and for Mic who has become like a Grandpa to our boys and who has been a big help in teaching and encouraging the young believers, and for Joe and Barb who along with the others helped make it possible for us to have a place to meet right on Main Street here in Worthing.

G. N. Barkman's picture

Church planting is similar to conversion in many ways.  We can labor for a desired result, but only God can make it happen.  When God breathes His power upon our efforts, a new church will result.  When He does not, our efforts are futile.  Blessed are those who can discern when and where God is at work to plant a new church, and can join Him in partnership in this effort.  To reduce church planting to a series of business-like decisions is to fail to understand the true key to success.

G. N. Barkman