Monday, September 30, 2013

"We believe that you cannot have too many churches."

One of the less cogent statements I have heard denominational workers make is this:
"We believe that you cannot have too many churches."

This was the statement of a church planter catalyst, leader or some other iteration of denominational worker whose job it was to assist in planting churches. I do not recall if the individual was a state convention employee or a North American Mission Board employee. He was probably a hybrid of the two.

The context was in planting churches in and around one of the great southern metroplexes, Atlanta, the heart of the Bible Belt, the locale of dozens of megachurches, the place where it seems as if there is a Baptist church on every street corner, at every crossroads, and several in every jerkwater town.

Credit must be given for excessive exuberance in doing his job and an allowance must be made for his understanding that how well he did his job, how well he earned his paycheck, depended on the simple bottom line of how many churches he could say that he had a hand in starting.

The statement is several years old. I presume that the philosophy he espoused is not the current one adhered to by our entities. I hope that is the case.

I chastise myself for allowing such a categorical statement as " cannot have too many churches" to go unchallenged. I confess to not thinking every thought that I should think when it should be thought.

The brother could have properly contextualized the statement and made it truthful and valid and thereby establishing himself as the kind of sagacious denominational servant we are blessed to have. To do so would have been simple. He could have added appropriate qualifications so that it was understood that among a population of several million there would always be a need for new churches to reach and serve various ethnic groups and other population segments for which there was no existing congregation well positioned to do so.

I suspect that he had heard one of the denominational superstars make the assertion and merely repeated it.

We can certainly have too many churches and probably do. Autonomy has its downside.

My small town and country community has three Baptist churches within two blocks of each other. Two are SBC, one is independent. Another seven Baptist churches are within three miles. There are in addition several Baptist churches whose makeup is primarily African American, several other mainline denominational churches, several non-denominational churches.

Nonetheless, a new Baptist church plant finds the area fertile and presumes another is needed. Did I mention that the area is not growing and that there are no groups of Syrian, Sudanese, or other refugees are being relocated here which are in need of a church.

I was asked recently why Baptists didn't restrict new churches to certain distances from existing churches. Aha, local church autonomy is the culprit.

To my knowledge, the local association, the Georgia Baptist Convention, and NAMB are not attempting to further saturate the locality with shiny new SBC churches. Good for them. To NAMB's credit they have established parameters, ratios of churches to population, that they use in funding church plants. This is an imperfect but emminently sensible approach.

So, while the young, energetic, goateed Reverend with a vision of having his very own church works his church planting magic and tries to snatch away enough folks from existing churches to have a regular paycheck, we have people groups all over the globe with hundreds of millions of folks who have little or no Gospel witness at all. If successful he will be lionized and emulated.

I wonder how God looks at all this?


Tim Dahl said...

I would love to see more churches started around our current churches. Maybe a little percieved competition would get people off of their duffs and evangelizing their neighbors!

Who am I kidding. Most of the established churches will just keep on not reaching their community. We need the church plants because they tend to reach the lost...until they become established.

There is a reason we are declining as a denomination.


Daniel said...

Somebody please come plant some churches in Monmouth County, New Jersey. We have 630,000 people (of which only 2.4% are evangelical), beautiful beaches, trains and ferries directly to NYC, and only two SBC churches. You will not be competing with anyone, and your family will love it.

William Thornton said...

There you go. Thanks, Daniel.

Lee Saunders said...

There are about 25 SBC churches in Southwestern Pennsylvania, an area which includes the Greater Pittsburgh area, along with a dozen other heavily populated counties, probably close to 3 million people. The largest of them is a congregation of perhaps 120 people, with the average being closer to 30. But, on the other hand, the Christian and Missionary Alliance has 30 churches in our county alone, with several of them qualifying as mega churches, and there are two dozen large, non-denominational, evangelical congregations, along with a dozen independent and GARBC Baptist churches. So we are not exactly "church poor" in the burbs. The inner city, on the other hand, is definitely in need of churches. Southern Baptists have some ethnic church plants going, but a couple of English speaking churches wouldn't hurt, either. A couple of enthusiastic church planters would find Pittsburgh a challenge, but they would also find cheap and abundant facilities and a booming Eastern European community responsive to the gospel.