It is not an exaggeration to state that it has taken nearly four decades to write this book. The origins go back to the 1951-54 era when this writer was fresh out of the graduate school at the University of Wisconsin and that first permanent job was as a planner in the City Planning Department for the city of Madison, Wisconsin. Among the visitors to that department were pastors and denominational leaders who wanted advice on when and where to start new churches in that rapidly growing metropolitan area.
After a total of seven years in municipal government, graduation from a theological seminary, and a wonderful pastorate with a superb group of parishioners, the next stop was eight and a quarter years as the first director of a cooperative church-planning effort in northeastern Ohio owned by fourteen denominations. This not only provided an exceptional learning experience in polity, politics, and church planning, it also placed a high priority on new church development.
With the assistance of scores of helpful people, most notably the board members of the Regional Church Planning Office plus William and Charlotte Maloney, we were able to study many facets of the Christian churches in urban, suburban, and rural America. Out of those years came a series of forty-seven monographs. The "best seller," co-authored with the Reverend Charles Rawlings, was "Race and Poverty," published in 1964. The fattest was a four-volume census of all of the churches in Summit County, Ohio.
The four monographs that have the greatest relevance to this book were "New Churches in Northeastern Ohio" (1966), "Trends Affecting New Church Development" (1966), "The Coming Crisis in New Church Development" (1967), and "Who joins a New Mission?" (1968).
That experience was followed by a three-year hitch on the faculty of a theological seminary and two decades on the program staff of a nondenominational retreat center. Every one of the past thirty years has brought new insights through working with leaders responsible for new church development, counseling with new missions, advising denominational committees, research on new congregations and on their constituencies, workshops and seminars with church planters, parish consultations, reading, functioning as an advocate for a greater emphasis on new church development, lectures and interviews with literally thousands of pastors and volunteer leaders in new missions.
A preliminary statement of the reflections and learnings from these experiences was presented eight years ago in a chapter in the book Growing Plans (1983).
This book has been written at the urging of Paul Wood and a couple of dozen other church planters and denominational leaders in new church development. Without their insistent harassment plus the encouragement of people like Jack Buteyn, Jeff Spiller, and Mark Platt, this task probably would not have been undertaken. The reader can decide whether they should be thanked or reprimanded for their persistence.
The passage of time often produces hardening of the arteries, hardening of opinions and biases, and a tendency to substitute honesty for tact. The reader will discover this writer has not been immune to the last two of those three tendencies. The only defense that can be offered is the decision not to offer excessive praise in support of (1) the dream of turning the clock back to the era when geographical parishes were considered the norm, (2) telemarketing, (3) that widely shared hope that next year will be 1954, (4) long-term financial subsidies for congregations, or (5) short pastorates.
This book begins with an attempt to respond to that frequently asked question about the need for new churches. The second chapter introduces what this writer believes are the three crucial questions in new church development. Who will be the church planter? What is the vision that drives the effort? Who are the leaders who created that vision?
The next two chapters raise three questions that rarely receive the attention they deserve and some will perceive them as diversionary or dull or dumb. Ministers and volunteers who already are engaged in creating a new mission may want to skip these first four chapters and concentrate on some of the more pressing and practical questions that begin with picking a meeting place. That issue is introduced in chapter 5. Overlapping questions on models, target audiences, alternative focal points, and size are raised in chapters 6 and 7. Chapters 8 and 9 reflect a strong bias against the invasion of privacy and contrast telemarketing with direct mail evangelism.
One of the most widely neglected facets of new church development is the value of a distinctive identity for every new mission. Chapter 10 lifts up a dozen questions that will help determine the identity of a new mission.
While neither one receives the deserved attention, two of the early decisions with long-term consequences are (1) the selection of the first volunteer leaders and (2) the place of missions in that new congregation. These are discussed briefly in chapters 11 and 12.
For many people the two central issues in planning new missions are finances and real estate. These are deliberately placed after the discussions of more influential variables such as identity, those initial volunteer leaders, and the place of missions. A half dozen questions on real estate and finances are reviewed in chapter 13.
Sooner or later at least nine out of ten new missions encounter resistance from among some of the pioneers to the goal of continued numerical growth. An extremely biased and one-sided chapter 14 offers a dozen reasons why continued numerical growth is good and should be encouraged.
What proportion of a book on church planting should respond to the concerns of denominational leaders? One answer could be very little since most of the old-line Protestant denominations have sharply reduced their role in new church development. Another response could be a large proportion should be directed to a reversal of that pattern. A third could be very little since the majority of new Protestant churches started in the United States during the 1980s were launched by ministers and lay leaders not related to any denominational agency.
The compromise adopted here has been to allocate approximately 14 percent of the 44 questions and 15 percent of the total pages to a half-dozen issues repeatedly raised by denominational leaders.
A modest, but reasonable goal for every denomination or regional judicatory would be to adopt a "1 percent goal." How many congregations are in your denomination or regional judicatory today? What is 1 percent of that total? That could be your goal. Thus a denomination consisting of 6,000 congregations would seek to start sixty new missions annually. If the goal is substantial growth, that figure should be increased to 2 or 3 percent. In 1970, for example, the Evangelical Free Church included 562 congregations. By 1989 the number of congregations exceeded 1,000. That averaged out to a net increase in the number of congregations of approximately 3.5 percent annually. By exceeding that 1 percent per year pace, the Seventh Day Adventists grew from 3,218 congregations with 420,419 members in 1970 to 4,096 congregations with 675,702 members in 1987. The Wesleyan Church set a goal of slightly over 2 percent annually for the last part of the 1980s. A 2 percent per year pace enabled the Evangelical Lutheran Synod to experience a 40 percent increase in membership between 1970 and 1987. The Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod averaged a 1.3 percent per year rate in new church development between 1970 and 1987 and thus was able to report a net increase in communicant membership of 17 percent for those seventeen years.
This last chapter has been written for those who are interested in reaching or surpassing that 1 percent goal.
As with earlier volumes in this series the text has been enlivened with a series of cartoons starring Friar Tuck.
Copyright © 2002 by Abingdon Press