Church openings outpace closings
Scott McConnell, LifeWay Research
April 27, 2010

Church openings outpace closings

Church openings outpace closings
Scott McConnell, LifeWay Research
April 27, 2010

ORLANDO, Fla. — A newly

released LifeWay Research survey of 1,004 Protestant pastors found only 3

percent of their churches served as the primary sponsor of a church plant (new congregation)

during the previous 12 months, and only 14 percent gave financial support in

partnership with other churches to help start new congregations.

However, a second study completed in partnership with Leadership Network

revealed more churches open than close yearly. Only in recent years has the

annual number of new churches in the United States outpaced the annual number

of churches closing their doors.

Twenty-eight percent of the congregations participated in some way, financial

or otherwise, in church plants, LifeWay Research President Ed Stetzer said

today during the Exponential Conference, a church-planting seminar in Orlando,

Fla. Among that 28 percent, roughly half partnered with other congregations in

supporting the new church financially, while 12 percent took direct financial

responsibility as primary sponsor of the new church.

“Although we see more church planting involvement, we need to see a much higher

number of churches starting churches,” Stetzer said. “It is widely acknowledged

that church planting is the most effective form of evangelism. It should be of

great concern that only 28 percent of our North American churches helped start

new congregations at all, including only 12 percent of those who took primary


“For too long, churches have assumed that mission involvement and church

planting is someone else’s responsibility,” Stetzer continued. “The ‘pay, pray

and get out of the way’ mentality causes churches to pay someone else to do

what God has called them to do — and that may be part of why so many have

become cul-de-sacs on the Great Commission highway.”

Far more churches reported participating in missions than church planting,

Stetzer noted. A full 85 percent of the pastors said their congregations prayed

as a group for missionaries at least once a month during the previous year, and

74 percent said their congregations focused that prayer on a specific mission

field or people group. Fifty percent said their congregations conducted one or

more short-term mission projects during the past year, and 20 percent reported

their churches sent out missionaries who served 10 weeks or longer.

“We’re glad to see these numbers; prayer is where a heart for missions and

church planting begins,” Stetzer said. “If God’s people are praying, they

eventually will hear Him telling them to get their hands working directly in

the fields that are ‘white unto harvest,’ but we have to help our people

transition from short-term hands-on involvement to longer-term investment of

their lives.”

Some of the other survey results, however, do represent a cause for concern,

Stetzer added.

Among all Protestant churches surveyed, 5 percent provided one-time direct

financial support, such as a cash gift, for a church plant, and 4 percent

provided tangible support, such as equipment or rent-free meeting space,

Stetzer said.

Although most churches are not currently involved in church planting, there is

evidence — increases in the number of church plants and the response to church

planting events — to suggest a growing interest and involvement in church

planting. According to new research reported in the recently released book Viral Churches: Helping Church Planters Become Movement Makers by Stetzer and

Warren Bird, all types of church leaders can become movement makers. Citing several of the practical examples in Viral Churches, Stetzer

challenged attendees at the Exponential Conference to adopt future church

planters as short-term interns; co-sponsor a new church by loaning people and

resources; and provide coaching, whether directly or indirectly, for the

leaders of recently launched churches.

The LifeWay Research

telephone survey of 1,004 Protestant senior pastors, ministers or priests was

conducted with a randomly drawn list of churches in December 2008. Up to six

calls were made to reach a sampled phone number. Responses were weighted to

reflect the geographic distribution of Protestant churches, and the sample

provides 95 percent confidence that the sampling error does not exceed +3.1

percent. Margins of error are higher in sub-groups. The Leadership Network data

determining a greater number of church openings than closings was compiled in

2007. Numbers were determined by analyzing church plants and closures from 13

denominations representing 46 percent of America’s 300,000 Protestant churches.