Church Planting 2015: Who Attends and What Attracted Them

Successful new churches share four factors, LifeWay Research finds.

Church Planting 2015: Who Attends and What Attracted ThemNorth American Mission Board
A 2014 church plant worships in a South Dakota school.

Protestants are planting new churches in America faster than their old churches are closing.

More than 4,000 new Protestant churches opened their doors in the United States in 2014, outpacing the 3,700 that shuttered, according to estimates by LifeWay Research based on input from 34 denominational statisticians.

And American church planters say 42 percent of their worshipers were unchurched while 43 percent switched from an existing church, according to LifeWay’s 2015 National Church Planting Study, released today.

For the study, the Nashville-based research organization analyzed 843 churches started since 2008 by 17 denominations and church-planting networks, including: the Assemblies of God, Baptist Missionary Association of America, Center for US Missions (Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod), Christian and Missionary Alliance, Converge Worldwide, Evangelical Free Church of America, Free Methodist Church USA, International Pentecostal Holiness Church, Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod Texas District, New Thing Network, North American Mission Board (Southern Baptist Convention), Presbyterian Church in America, Project Jerusalem, Path1 (United Methodist Church), Southern Baptists of Texas, Vineyard Church, and The Wesleyan Church.

“In winning new converts to Christ, church plants are light years ahead of the average church because of their focus on reaching the unchurched,” said executive director Ed Stetzer.

Successful church launches have several factors in common, the study found:

  • Meeting in a public space: New churches that meet in schools have significantly higher worship attendance, report more first-time commitments to Christ, and are more likely to become financially self-sufficient than other church plants.
  • Focusing on outreach: New churches offering sports leagues, social gatherings, and children’s special events are significantly more likely to attract previously unchurched people than other startups.
  • Supporting their leaders: Adequate compensation and health insurance for the church planter are linked to higher worship attendance and a greater likelihood of financial independence for the new church.
  • Starting more churches: New churches that invest in church planting and launch at least one additional new church in their first five years report higher worship attendance and more new commitments to Christ.

“Healthy new churches have an outward focus from day one, communicating every month that the goal is to be a multiplying church,” Stetzer said.

Though some pastors bristle at new churches coming into their community, they have much to learn—and not much to fear—from the startup down the street, Stetzer said.

One lesson is the value of time-tested methods. While most church plants use the Internet for outreach, 77 percent say word of mouth and personal relationships are the most effective forms of publicity, while only 6 percent say social media is most effective.

In addition, nearly two-thirds of new churches (63%) say Bible study is their primary small-group activity.

“It’s not the most innovative things that matter most. It’s the nuts and bolts,” Stetzer said. “An existing church can take notice and ask, ‘Hey, are we doing those things? Are we making sure people in the community know we exist? Are we inviting people to come and making them feel welcome and all those things a church plant does?’”

Instead of siphoning off members from existing churches, new churches can attract demographic groups that may be largely unreached by existing ones, Stetzer said. Sixty percent of church plants aim to reach a cross-cultural or multiethnic group of people.

“It takes multiple methods to reach a diverse population,” Stetzer said. “The United States from its founding has been a very diverse population. A one-size-fits-all church has never been part of the American equation. As much as ever, we need different approaches to reach different types of people.”

Stay in the Light, 1 John 1:7,

Pastor Larry

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