June 2003 Issue
Effective Evangelistic Strategy Under Heaven
by Ed Stetzer
Southern Baptists applied this
evangelistic strategy more than 1,600 times last year in the U.S.
and Canada. Thousands of IMB missionaries are using it. SEBTS
President Paige Patterson keeps encouraging his students to use
it in New Hampshire. Former Pastors' Conference president Johnny
Hunt keeps sending his church members away to do it (locally and
in Las Vegas!). What is "it?"
They planted churches. They were involved with what some church
growth analysts have called "the single most effective evangelistic
methodology under heaven."1
Church planting is catching the attention of more and more
evangelical Christians. Why? Because the need in North America
is great, new churches add value to our denomination and build
the Kingdom, the Bible teaches church planting, and new churches
have proven to be extremely effective in fulfilling the Great
commission. People are planting new churches because new churches
are part of God's plan to reach the world.
The Need in North America
There is clearly a need in Asia, but what about in the United
States and Canada? If we look on the surface, we might be inclined
to think that North America has been reached. Certainly, North
American Christians have access to abundant resources of Christian
information, technology, and music. Evangelicals read Larry Burkett
for financial information and listen to James Dobson for advice
on raising children. They sing along with popular Christian recording
artists and purchase the current best-selling Christian fiction.
Because this significant Christian subculture exists, some might
wrongly conclude that most people have been reached. But the unchurched
in North America remain generally untouched by this evangelical
The spiritual deadness of North America is reflected not only
in its culture but also in its churches. Churches in the first
decade of the 21st century are closing at a phenomenal rate. Churches
in the first decade of the 21st century are closing at a phenomenal
rate. Each year the number of churches per person decreases. Almost
three times as many churches are closing each year as are opening.2 It is not just less churches, but also less
church attendees. No county in the United States reports having
a higher percentage of people in church than ten years ago.3 Our churches are dying and our culture is
turning from Christ. But statistics show that new churches can
and do make a difference.
In Seattle, less than 4 percent of people are evangelical,
let alone Southern Baptist. This is less than any country in Central
and South America places that are seen as legitimate mission
fields. Seattle, and much of North America, needs to be seen as
a mission field once again. We need more missionaries like Kevin
Sullivan who planted High Pointe Community Church in Seattle.
This Southern Baptist church has grown to 1,000 in three years.
New Church Growth is Kingdom Growth
Although starting a new church might not grow your own congregation,
it does expand God's Kingdom (and it might just bless your church
in the process). More churches will help us reach more people
by multiplication and not just addition.
New churches themselves are an indispensable gift to the Body
of Christ. They are a gift of evangelism. According to research
from Will McRaney at the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary:
"In a newly planted church there are 14.4 baptisms per
year for every 100 people in regular attendance in worship. When
a church has been in existence sixteen years or more, the baptism
rate is half that: Only 7.3 baptisms per year for every 100 people
Without church planting, our denomination will decline; but
more importantly, the number of Christians in North America will
continue to decline. If we love God's Kingdom, we must love church
In Southern Baptist life, the majority of our new churches
are ethnic or African-American. They add a new vitality to our
denominational milieu. They are expanding the Kingdom into communities
where we do not speak the language and/or do not understand the
culture. For example, in 2002, Pastor Benjamine Mishin planted
Lifeway Bible Baptist Church in Philadelphia, Pa. The church is
reaching Russian young adults and already averages over 100 people
What Does Your Bible Teach?
The New Testament says a great deal about church planting.
The early church fulfilled the Great Commission by planting churches
throughout the Roman Empire. New churches were formed as a result
of evangelism. Men and women were then congregationalized.
New churches still need to be planted today. Why? Because the
methods of the New Testament are still valid today. Ephesians
3:10 teaches that God has chosen the church to make known His
manifold wisdom. Like Paul going to Athens, we need to go to the
Areopagus of our communities and proclaim a culturally relevant
gospel witness leading to a new church.
Matthew Heusted understands this biblical mission. He is a
Nehemiah Project Church Planter working part-time to start house
churches in multihousing communities in Louisville, Ky. He believes
that these house churches are an extension of the New Testament
church in these often closed off communities. Like the church
in Acts, they meet together in homes to "do" New Testament
We must to focus on planting new churches if we are to fulfill
the Great Commission. Without church planting, Christianity will
continue to decline in North America.
"Studies show that if a denomination wishes to reach more
people, the number of new churches it begins each year must equal
at least 3 percent of the denomination's existing churches."5 Southern Baptists plant about 4 percent, but
still not nearly enough if we are to reach North America. That
is only 1 percent over the break-even point.
To reach North America, we need God's people to step forward
and be a part of the most effective form of evangelism under heaven.
Students from our colleges and seminaries,
Experienced pastors planting in new communities,
Churches desiring to expand the Kingdom by starting
Prayer partners interceding on behalf of new churches,
Laypeople planting churches in their homes, and
Many other kinds of Kingdom builders perhaps
1 C. Peter Wagner, Church Planting for a
Greater Harvest (Ventura, Calif.: Regal Books, 1990), p. 11.
2 Tom Clegg and Tim Bird, Lost in America: How You and Your
Church Can Impact the World Next Door (Loveland, Colo.: Group
Publishers, 2001), p. 30.
3 Robert E. Logan and Thomas T. Clegg, Releasing Your Church's
Potential (Carol Stream, Ill.: ChurchSmart Resources, 1998),
4 Church Planting as an Effective Evangelistic Strategy
(Alpharetta, Ga.: North American Mission Board, 2003), p. 23.
5 Excerpt from the "Eastland Report: Church Planting,"
www.easum.com/church.htm, December 11, 2002.
Adapted from Planting
New Churches in a Postmodern Age by Ed Stetzer published by
Broadman and Holman Publishers. Ed Stetzer is a church planter,
former seminary professor, and now works at the Church Planting
Group of the North American Mission Board helping colleges and
seminaries to recruit, train, and help deploy church planters.
Interested in learning more?
For potential planters: www.churchplanting.info
For academic institutions: www.namb.net/nehemiah
For churches: firstname.lastname@example.org
For associations: www.namb.net/lightupthenation
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