Four Significant Church Planting Factors by Rev. Dr. Peter Meier

church planting 2The following article was published in Mission Moments.  You can download or print a copy of the article by visiting: Four Significant Church Planting Factors.

The Center for US Missions and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod’s Office of National Missions, together with 10 LCMS Districts, recently participated in a comprehensive research project from LifeWay Research and This survey represents the largest, most thorough study done on church planting since 2007. An Executive Report, The State of Church Planting in the U.S. was released the first week of October. You can download a copy here. LifeWay Research Executive Director, Ed Stetzer, presented a summary of the findings at Exponential West on October 6.

The survey asked over 12,000 church planters, re-planters, and revitalization pastors, including over 2800 from the LCMS, to share their experiences by completing a survey. Seventeen denominational and church planting networks were included. About 1200 planters completed surveys. Here are some highlights of the research:

Something to Celebrate

  • Church planting continues to be an effective methodology for reaching the lost.
  • Church planting is no longer on the “fringes” of church life, but is expected, anticipated, and even a preferred destination for leaders.
  • Church planting has become a priority for denominations, networks, and local churches.

Significant Insights

  • One-third of the population of all new church plants is made up primarily of previously unchurched people.
  • Median worship attendance at Year 1=30; Year 2=45; Year 3=60; Year 4=72. (Average worship numbers tend to be slightly higher, while median numbers tend to reflect statistics of the greatest number of churches.)
  • Statistically, if a new plant is not financially self-sufficient by year 4, it is increasingly unlikely that it will become self-sufficient.
  • The southern US, accounted for 43% of all new churches surveyed, while the Northeast (the most unchurched region in the US) received only 11% of new churches. This suggests a strategic target area for planting.
  • Only 4% of new plants are majority second-generation immigrants. This suggests another strategic population target for church planting.
  • A commitment to raise up church planters and leaders from African American and Hispanic populations, must take a greater priority.
  • Overall, church planting needs to be more diverse, involving more ethnolinguistic groups.

Four Factors. Four factors emerged which appear to have a significant impact on attendance in the first years of a new plant and which also affect the ability of a new church to become self-sufficient within three years.

  1. Public Presence. Churches which meet in school facilities and industrial or warehouse spaces show higher attendance levels than those meeting elsewhere. Mailers and radio and TV publicity are also apparently productive in boosting attendance. Churches prioritizing a public and digital presence (such as on-line sermons and podcasts) are more likely to be making new disciples. The same is true of those who make their community a priority. These externally focused churches are publicly known in their communities, are intentional about connecting with their community and speaking in the language of their community, while equipping their members for service with the community.

Some of the methods for reaching the unchurched in the community are actually quite common and simple. They include providing special events for kids, using affinity groups, sports leagues, door hangers or flyers, prayer walking, ongoing outreach Bible Studies, and door to door outreach. The research suggests that simply doing something may be more effective than developing elaborate strategies.

  1. Commitment to Multiply. One in five new churches planted at least one other church within five years. Churches that daughter at least one new church within their first three to five years seem to enjoy a consistent increase in attendance. Commitment to church multiplication indicates a mission vision and focus which is bigger than themselves, and which is attractive to new people. Similarly, new churches who financially contribute to other plants or whose leaders invest in or mentor leaders of new churches show higher attendance than those who do not contribute to other new starts. Among churches who financially contribute to other church plants, 71% are self-sufficient by their fourth year, while 54% of those who do not contribute financially to new starts reach that goal. Similarly, a higher percentage of those who daughter at least one new church within the first three years are also self-sufficient within that time frame, compared to those who do not plant.
  2. A Generous Attitude. Churches who provide adequate training and compensation for their planter/pastor show greater attendance than those where adequate financial compensation is lacking. Churches who intentionally engage their members in a proactive stewardship plan are most likely to become self-sufficient within three years (72% compared to 53%). Among those churches who financially contribute to other new starts, 71% are self-sufficient within three years (compared to 54 who do not financially contribute to other plants).
  3. Focus on New Members. Churches making new membership classes a priority see direct correlation to larger attendance compared to those who do not hold new member classes. Churches with an intentional leadership development plan for their members are also most likely to see new disciples. A discipleship pathway is effective in assimilating people into the life of the new church. Such discipleship development leads to a higher likelihood of becoming self-sufficient within three years (71% compared to 53% for churches who do not have a new member class).

These insights from the LifeWay and research are helpful as we develop vision and action plans for new churches. They confirm what we know to be essential components of church planning and planting. They also suggest that church planters who focus on these components are more likely to see their plants become self-sustaining sooner than those who are not intentional in these areas. Watch for more data and insights to be released over the coming months.

The Center for US Missions offers help for new starts which addresses the findings from the research. Growing New Churches is a new resource designed for post-launch churches to help them develop and monitor effective systems for growth and self-sustainability. Let us know if we can help!

Questions for Discussion (Personal or Group Reflection)

  1. Are there any church multiplication surprises in the research? What do you think is most significant from this brief survey of the research?
  2. Review the four significant factors identified in the research. How can you be more intentional in the area of Outreach? Financial Stewardship development? Development of a Discipleship Pathway? New Church reproduction/multiplication?
  3. Download your personal copy of the report. Together with your leadership team, identify which items in the report might suggest areas of growth and work for your church or church plant.
  4. What resources do you need to develop identified areas of growth? Who will you ask for help, mentoring, training?
  5. Read Matthew 9:37-38. What prayers are suggested by the research?
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