I recently attended the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in Birmingham, Alabama. On Tuesday, Dr. Kevin Ezell, president of the North American Mission Board, gave his report, emphasizing once again that church plants are more effective in evangelism than established churches. (The report said there were 12.4 attendees for every baptism in a church plant, while there were 19.8 attendees for every baptism in an established church, a 63% greater effectiveness.) This is not new information, as every study done on this since at least 1990 has reported the same results. The question is, why?
I suspect there are many reasons why this is the case, but let me suggest a few:
Survival. To be sure, church plants literally depend on reaching the unreached to survive. This “built-in motivation” has an obvious impact on the behavior of the planter. In this way, church plants are constantly aware of the need to be evangelistic, to reach people apart from Christ and to share the Gospel with others.
Relationships. The emphasis in church plants is found on relationships, not programs or facilities. This keeps the person at the center of every decision made. Because new churches don’t have the advantages “older” churches have (bigger budgets, their own building, larger staff and programming), they center their effectiveness on what they can do very well, and that is relationships.
Passion. Every church planter I have known has an enthusiastic passion to reach those without Jesus. They are convinced many unreached people fail to respond to the prompting of God’s Spirit because needless barriers are in the way: some intellectual, some emotional, some spiritual. Regardless, their passion is to reach everyone they can with the love of Christ, so He can do His redemptive work in their lives.
Different Implementation. A fresh approach, new voices, a different environment: all of these things give the Gospel “a new set of clothes” when it is shared with its intended audience. These elements can remove previous defense mechanisms and open the ears of the audience to a fresh hearing of the salvation message. Because different people respond to different approaches, new people are reached.
Priorities. Evangelism is unrivaled in priority and focus at the beginning of the church planting journey. Thus, it is easy to make sure evangelism has a front seat in everything the new church is doing. To keep it that way, other responsibilities in church life (administration, pastoral care, etc.) are delegated out, so evangelism is not diminished.
Calendaring and Budgeting. Evangelism requires time and money. Both are provided in church plants to make sure that the focus in church planting remains on reaching the lost with the Gospel.
Leading by Example. In the assessment process, we discover most church planters to be evangelistic. Whether or not they feel they are gifted evangelists (by the way, most do not), they recognize the need to lead the way for their new church in outreach. They build relationships with others in hopes of sharing the Good News with those who need to know Christ. As their church sees and hears about these experiences, others join the planter in this eternally important endeavor.
There are probably many more reasons why church plants are more effective evangelistically than established churches, but this list should challenge all of us, whether we are part of a church plant or an established church. If our church is not very effective in evangelism, or if it desires to be more effective, what can we do? What should we do?
All established churches were once a church plant, and almost every one of them exhibited these characteristics during those early years. Why did that change? Perhaps we need to get back to the basics, and re-incorporate some of these traits in our churches. Maybe God will bless our efforts, and many more people will be reached by our churches for Jesus Christ.
Dr. David Jackson serves as the director of church planting & strategy at the Baptist Convention of New England.