Church Planting vs Cultural Extinction

Church planting is becoming crucial to the survival of Christianity in America.

Let’s stop gazing at the crop in the barns. We need to look at the fields yet unharvested. To pastor the biggest church possible is noble, but still doesn’t answer to the greatest impact. No one benefitted by having the biggest office in the Twin Towers. But, preventing the tragedy would have been heroic.

We Stand To Lose–Just About Everything

How do you sound an alarm without looking like some crazy alarmist? By looking at numbers and ratios. In terms of numbers the evangelical church is growing. But when you look at the ratios, our slice of the population pie is slowly shrinking.

If we lose the influence of the gospel during our watch we will lose much more. We lose our ability to influence the surrounding culture. We might even lose the church as we know it.

Only Measurable Impact is Worth Consideration

As a scorecard, measurable impact on the surrounding culture is the only thing worth gauging.

Church attendance is declining in most industrial nations. It is somewhat more stable in the United States. But that doesn’t let us off the hook. Stability won’t satisfy the Great Commission. We need to quadruple the number of churches just to keep up with population growth. That last sentence is no exaggeration, read on.

The percentage of Americans attending church fluctuates. Gallup polls record this going back to 1939 when 39 percent of the population said they attended church, or synagogue in the past seven days. The numbers reached 42 percent a couple of times during the 1950s. It peaked at 49 percent in 1991.[i] 2014 revealed just 36 percent attending church or synagogue, at all. We’ve lost much ground.[ii]

Meanwhile the share of adults who profess belief in God is relatively strong, having sagged from 92 to 89 percent since 2007. But those who “absolutely believe” crashed from 71 percent in 2007 to 63 percent in 2014.[iii]

If this keeps up, we will have no say in the values that drive our culture. In fact, we will be on our way out of existence. Surveys show that Baby Boomers supply more than 70 percent of church finances. What happens to our churches (mega and micro) when these people go to heaven?

Evangelicals Fare Better (A Little Bit)

Between 1990 and 2006, the United States grew by approximately 52 million people. That roughly equaled the number of people attending church on any given Sunday in 2006. The news gets worse. In 1990, 52 million people attended church. Sixteen years later, 2006 found the same number attending church. The population grew by the total number of people attending church. Meanwhile church attendance was mired in stasis. We are not keeping up with population growth.[iv]

Evangelicals fare better than mainline Protestant groups. Evangelical numbers have grown from 59.2 million in 2007 to 62.2 million in 2014. Evangelical Christians represent 55 percent of all believers in the US. Evangelicalism is the only group showing growth. But our share of the pie is now smaller. The evangelical segment of the US population fell by just 0.9 percent during the same period.[v] Stability appears good until you notice that it is actually gradual erosion.

Consider this Phrase

The present danger demands a new approach to evangelism and church growth. The impact of inaction will be ecclesiological and cultural disaster. I submit that a cadre of “single-salary, bivocational microchurch planters” could change the flow of history. The phrase, “single-salary, bivocational microchurch planter” is pregnant with possibility as a church planting tool for even the smallest of churches. More about that in coming weeks…


[i] David T. Olson & Craig Groeschel, The American Church In Crisis: Groundbreaking Research Based on a National Database of over 200,000 Churches (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), p. 26.

[ii] Frank Newport, Five Key Findings on Religion in the US (Gallup Poll; December 23, 2016).

[iii] Pew Research Center, US Public Becoming Less Religious (www.pewresearchlorg; 2015), p. 37.

[iv] Olson & Groeschel, p. 35.

[v] Ed Stetzer, Nominals to Nones: 3 Key Takeaways from Pew’s Religious Landscape Survey (Christianity Today; May 2015).


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12 thoughts on “Church Planting vs Cultural Extinction”

  1. First of all, I do believe we are called to do something.

    Why does it seem so strange that time enters into the genesis week and eternity disappears. I don’t want to get into a discussion whether eternity can disappear or not, but we don’t experience eternity.

    Why does it seem so strange that when the plagues are happening, the Father seems less in charge or rather, his holiness is not accepted by the Pharoah.

    Why does it seem so strange that when the temple falls and pretty much from Hezekiah to the fall of the temple and even after the 2nd temple is built, where is the spirit. The better question is where is truth and where is spirit. Jesus picks this topic up at a well and I will say, the week is completed.

    Why does a supposedly a whole is destroyed under water and only 8 people supposedly survive? On the 8th day after Jesus is born, 2nd Adam is also born. God is with us after destroying us. To understand this story, it is the baby who is running this week.

    Why does a king come into a town and it hanged on a cross? The king rises 8 days later.

    Why does 3 men have a great time in the spirit and then the curtain tears when Jesus dies. Again 50 days or if one can read the week on the 8th day, a 120 people rise.

    I spent a good amount of cash to learn about church planting. With all my master stuff, it seemed so much easier back in the late 70’s and early 80’s to do what we may have called church. I was not even a Christian when I led worship. I just happened to play guitar and so people who were doing coffee houses and bible studies asked me to lead worship. Cool I get to play music. I had to learn some Christian songs. Kumbaya was NOT.

    We are in a week. We are actually in two weeks. The one week is pretty close to the middle. The other is in the 3rd day. It is like the pentecost is a 100 days and the passion week is 7 days plus one. IN reality, if one can see the passion week. It is actually a 100 hours. It started off with a 42 hour week, but the 4th day went silent (silent wednesday). Jesus spent the day with a dead man. Jesus reset the week. On the fourth day, there should have been praise like the name Judah.

    When Jesus rises, the week is reset. This gets complicated because one has to go to Jeremiah 33 and understand the covenant of night and day which takes us back to the 4th day of creation. It is NOT about numbers. It is about time and when time runs out, we hit eternity in one form or another. It is a matter of how we want to spend our time in eternity. For people who have a problem with heaven and hell, I say if one does not want to spend their time with Jesus in this life; they will not want to spend their time with Jesus in the next. Jesus forgives everyone. The biggest problem with forgiveness is often being able to forgive oneself. A stubborn soul will not want to spend time with Jesus in the next life.

    Now, back to where we are today. We cannot and I say this with the day I prayed to Jesus to be “saved” which personally I don’t think back to this time of being saved. I think back to a point where I could not get over a hump and the prayer made it possible to look over to the other side and my mind said and my heart, there you are. I was convinced he was who he was, but I could not get to a place where I could say, there you are.

    This was only possible through the work of the Spirit. The Spirit has to leave the temple. What I keep hearing is “we are losing ground”. I seem to see the temple falling.

    The temple is where the Spirit is. The spirit has to leave the temple.

    Where is the temple? It is where the spirit landed 2000 years ago.

    It will get very confusing this year because there will be a joining to or a joining together. This is for the seven year week plus one. Actually, it will make every thing more clearer where we can see the middle of the week.

    If one has a cellphone, look at it. You see the middle of the week. You are connected. I am not sure this is in the long run a good connection.

    It is almost confusing when people start defining the difference between a house church and bible study at a house. Oh, come on. Where the spirit is; this is where the church is.

    This connected to a home or bigger church. When I think about the first time, and I was not used to the idea of a “middle of the week service”. I started to go to one. They abruptly decided to make cell groups. If the cell groups were a extension of the main body, they died. The only real one that seemed to work was the one that the pastor had. He was so proud of himself. I think back then that it would have been better to let the middle of the week service go on a little longer. People, at least, in a larger and more logic sense came to church.

    I think if the pastor was to go back and do it again which would be a “big challenge” today. I would have just got some young people to start one and let them have a small gathering. the worse thing that could happen is that they might start a “new church”.

    I am in a catholic church. I could not come up with a good concept to have a “bible study weekly” at the church. So my wife and I decided to have a once a month at our home. We have a problem. 12 people want to come and we have not even advertised. I told my wife not to put up the poster. I am more afraid of the “people who just want to come to look”. I think whereever we are, we have to take up some challenge to logically and what we can drag out of the spirit to move.

    The first temple had a huge shekinah with all kinds of smoke.

    The second temple . . . the shekinah came in a prophets dream. There were not sure if the the spirit came or not. I think we can always get a little oil in a drought season. That is what I am trying to figure out in my present “church” situation. Peace

  2. The parable of the mustard seed told by Jesus can be taken to mean that the church offers shade and protection to those outside – you describe the diminishing proportion of Christians to the rest of the population – there will be so many birds that the tree will be hidden by them and unable to support that weight…. our mission ground has traditionally included those that could be called ‘churched unbelievers’ – again where there is little real faith even our Lord was unable to do many mighty works – if the ratio of unbelievers to believers gets too far out then our effectiveness as salt in the earth diminishes – cattle can come and lick at a block of salt but we need to be sprinkled across the meal

    1. Very good point. I read a book called Spent Matches that describes the true result of the Great Commission as “Thy will be done.” We need more churches and they need to be relational or else all we get is “cultural Christians” with no real committment.
      Thanks for sounding off!

  3. Hi Ralph,
    This writing is so appropriate, even though you may (as i have discovered myself) find that you are a voice crying in the wilderness. By careful observation denominations (most) have adopted (or are enforcing) the dominant American model of planting I.E, big, bright, trendy and solvent with startups in affluent places. All the while the inner city and huge international communities, who are the growing mainstream of America, are ignored.
    And it is agreed that “single-salary, bivocational microchurch planter” type people (who abound but simply need a blessing structure to move forward) is a great part of the answer for America and other parts or our globe.
    Jesus often said, “He who has an ear to hear, let him hear…” I hope there are some listeners who are taking this message to heart. And that each one of US is active in our context bringing Shalom to our communities through fostering new good churches that are expressions of His love!

    1. I think more are beginning to “hear” this message. I know of some mega/multi-site church pastors that feel frustrated that they’ve hit a ceiling as to managable growth. Some are looking to generating networks of microchurches. They will lean toward a franchise model while I like a more free-wheeling approach. We need whatever we can get from whoever is willing to get on the stick…
      Thanks for the comment!

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  5. Randall T. Ishida

    Great article, so have we been looking at “Church Planting” as the best means to Evangelize? if so do we have “The Great Commisssion” backward in that our focus is on “Churches” and not “Disciple Makers”.

    Being bivoactional is definitely biblical, and so is releasing disciples before they spend years of study and thousands of dollars for that education.
    Do leaders need to be more ambiguous in theology (knowledge based), accepting details of different religions not as heresy but as a starting point for relational theology?

    Our culture in America is a “succeed or fail” mind set.. Jesus disciples were not all true believers while they were with Him, yet He “sent them out”
    We’re overtly messmarize by failing instead of a view of “failing forward”.. we will loose some but need to persevere to eternity.
    We get so hung up on titles and bigger is better, are we failing to see what Jesus is “commissioning” us to do?
    Do we have it backwards .. if we make disciple makers … then Jesus builds His Church on them ?
    I still can’t find a verse where Jesus commands us to plant Churches.

    Statistic can always be manipulated .. but it seems in America we’re not multiplying Christians by “Planting Churches” that cost more than a Rolls Royce to start up.
    We need a paradigm shift backwards.

    BTW.. “Spent Matches” awesome book!

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