Church plants must clear second-year hurdle
SPRINGFIELD—As the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) continues to come alongside sponsoring churches and associations to plant dozens of new churches each year, how many of these new congregations will survive?
If they can make it past the two-year mark, the percentage goes up considerably, according to MBC State Church Planting Director Jerry Field.
“Our studies have shown over the last eight years of church planting in Missouri that we have a survival rate of six years and beyond of 80 percent,” he said. “A study in the first three years showed that we had an 82 percent survival rate, which really says that if you’re going to lose them, you’re going to lose them in the first two years.”
Jeff White is one of two elders at South Creek Church in Springfield, an MBC church that was planted on April 20, 2003, with four adults and a child. The church now runs an average of 80-120 in worship; on Father’s Day they had a record attendance of 132.
Field said that those numbers are typical for healthy church plants in Missouri Baptist life.
“The average Southern Baptist church plant at the end of four years is running 80,” Field said. “They’re solid and stable. The average Southern Baptist church is somewhere between 60 and 80, and that’s also true of Missouri Baptists. We’re a great cross-section of the Southern Baptist Convention.”
White said he felt South Creek became established “probably at the three-year mark. We knew God’s hand was on the church, and God continued to provide financially and materially for the church, and God continued to bring people. Now we don’t take that for granted. We’re still very cautious and careful since we’re under five years old.”
White is referring to a statistic that has been circulating on the Internet to the effect that 70 percent of evangelical church plants fail in the first five years, but Field said that figure basically is a myth. The key to going from the fragile state to the stable state may vary from situation to situation, but it generally means that a church plant is “being evangelistic, working to continually gather,” Field said.
The word “gather” at South Creek has been unusual in that it has involved another race.
“We have probably 16-20 African-Americans who worship with us on any given Sunday, and we’re just really thankful that God has sent them to us,” White said. “They came here, they felt loved and accepted, and that was wonderful. We’ll welcome the day when God brings people who are Asian and Hispanic and from other (races) as well.
“We did not do anything. This is something that God did totally. God just began to bring them.”
White, 42, and his fellow elder, Justin Nelson, 32, a member of the MBC Executive Board, have succeeded in putting their five points of ministry into Article IV of the church’s constitution. The points are as follows: a high view of God; a sufficient view of Scripture; a low view of man; a correct view of the church; and a respectful view of leadership.
“Those five things have been critical keys in the development of this church,” White said.
“We are very careful to avoid ways of building a church without God. I think there are a lot of ways out there to build churches without God. It’s possible to grow a church to be large without God by using slick, secular marketing techniques, by compromising the doctrine of separation, by proclaiming a gospel of self-esteem that makes people feel good, and by failing to adequately teach true repentance and its corresponding results.”
The future of South Creek looks bright due to its depth of leadership. For example, there is at least one serious candidate to be ordained as a third elder, with at least one missionary and three former pastors regularly attending the worship services. On top of all of that, one or two others are preparing for the ministry, White said.
“We have as many godly men as we have godly women, which gives us a great foundation for the church,” White said.