The Great Opportunity

I recently met with the Vice President of Church Planting Strategy from a well respected church planting organization in the United States to talk about new metrics for church planting. During the course of our conversation, he referenced the Great Opportunity study conducted by Pinetops Foundation in 2018.

The study indicated the need to double or triple the rate of church planting in the United States if we were to keep pace with population growth and increasing numbers of people who are unaffiliated with a church. According to the study, we need to plant between 8,000-11,000 churches annually!

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Credit: Pintops Foundation Study – The Great Opportunity

The church planting strategist asked if I were aware of how many prospective church planters it takes to see one church planter actually plant a church. I was stunned when he shared from his organization’s experience.

To produce just one church planter who will actually plant a church, it takes 10 prospective church planters who have gone through a residency or some other sort of church planter assessment. When considering the Pinetops study suggestion of 8,000 church plants annually, and if the church planting strategist is correct, then we need to identify 80,000 prospective church planters to plant 8,000 new churches! That is 80,000 each year!!

It’s an impossible task, or, at minimum, it’s a task that has never been achieved in the United States. If we rely on seminaries who only graduated 16,486 students in 2021 (according to ATS), there is no way that we will ever see the numbers of church planters needed to keep up with population growth and the increase in the numbers of unaffiliated. The only way I can see the possibility of equipping that many people to make more disciples that result in more churches planted is by taking seminary to the local church and seeing the church begin to annually release teams of key people to accomplish the task. If ever there were a God-sized task for the church in America it is the one set before us.

As Jesus travelled with His disciples to villages and towns, He saw the incredible need. Recognizing the need, He also presented a solution and it is just as true today as it was when Jesus said it, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matt 9:37-38). Prayer for more laborers is a necessary first step, but Jesus also goes two steps further: 1) He sends His disciples into the harvest (Matt 10); 2) He goes into the harvest (Matt 11:1). Not only are we to pray, but we are also an answer to that prayer.

It was once popular for churches to desire to be like the church in Antioch (Acts 13) and we need more Antioch churches to send off their best to church plant. Perhaps just as importantly today, we need more churches to be Ephesian churches (Acts 19) who entrust their leaders to disciples others who will disciple even more and see them gather in groups all around their community (2 Tim 2:2).

The key to seeing Christianity keep up with population growth and the increasing numbers of unaffiliated is to both plant more churches by doing evangelism and discipling new believers (Acts 16:5) and to equip more people in the church to disciples others who will disciple even more (Eph 4:11-12). 

Sunday, June 5 we celebrate the birth of the church. Traditionally called Pentecost, it is the 50th day after Easter when the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples and 3,000 people were baptized (Acts 2:41). On that day, new followers of Christ began to gather together. Luke tells us:

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47)

Would your church be willing to mark that day as a day that you made the commitment to equip more people to evangelize and disciple that results in church planting?

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Learn more about first century church planting in Ephesiology: A Study of the Ephesian Movement

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