Recently Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian in NYC spoke with a number of reporters at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. The talk and conversation covered a number of important issues. You can read the entire talk/interview here: http://www.eppc.org/publication/dr-timothy-keller-at-the-march-2013-faith-angle-forum/. Today’s blog post, however, lifts out just one part of his talk on the place of church planting.
After you read the post take a bit of time and respond to Keller’s ideas and to where you see the CRC in this area of church planting.
FRED BARNES, The Weekly Standard: One of the things that you have been very involved in, Dr. Keller, is planting churches.
DR. KELLER: Yes.
MR. BARNES: I think you planted dozens, hundreds, scores, so on. Could you elaborate on that a little and how important that is in keeping evangelical Christianity from shrinking, and, rather, you say growing moderately.
DR. KELLER: Real quick, generally speaking, when you start a new church, how do you do that? There are several ways of doing it, but basically you’re starting a church largely from scratch. You gather a few Christians, they reach out to non-Christian unchurched friends. You have to get startup capital for two or three years before the church grows to the place where it is funding itself.
Studies have shown that — and I can bear this out, because I started my church 24 years ago — studies have shown that churches that are less than 10 years old assimilate non-church people at six to 10 times the rate of older churches. There are a lot of reasons for that, and that’s exactly what happened to me.
In other words, for the first 10 years, pound for pound far more people from outside — people who didn’t like church or weren’t part of any church at all or weren’t believers in Christianity at all – were the majority of people who were there on a Sunday. And that slowly changes. There are a lot of reasons why.
In the very beginning, churches completely focus on their non-members and attenders, just to survive. And also, there is no tradition that says “we’ve always done it this way.” What happens of course is a church that is, say, 30 years old represents the leadership of the community 30 years ago, because they are the people that got involved in the church.
And so, the easiest one to see is the ethnic church plant. For example, in Astoria Queens it was very Greek and now it’s more Hispanic. But what happens is the Greeks are in charge of the churches. The Hispanics come along and they can’t get in, and so the Greek churches start getting smaller and smaller because the Greek leaders are not really opening up to Hispanics, yet the reality on the ground is there are more Hispanics in the neighborhood.
So unless you have new churches, you are not winning new people, you are not winning new generations, you are not winning the actual community as it is. And so if you have 100 churches in a town, and, say, 20 of them or 25 are under 10 years old, the overall Christian body will be growing in numbers.
If you only have one or two new churches, the overall body will be shrinking in numbers. If there’s like 10, it will be about the same. So whether Christianity in a particular town grows or shrinks completely depends on church planting. Otherwise, some churches get a hotter pastor, better music, and then pull people from other churches, and you have a recirculation of existing church members, but you don’t actually grow the overall footprint.
By the way, mainline churches, for example, just don’t start new churches. And part of the problem — Lyle Schaller, who was kind of a church consultant pundit, said years ago because mainline churches flooded the country, so that almost every square inch was part of some parish, it made it almost impossible to start a new church, even when there were all sorts of populations in a community that couldn’t be reached by the older Episcopal church, but you couldn’t start a new Episcopal church because we’re the Episcopal church of this area.
But Lyle Schaller said that evangelicals like to say mainline churches declined because of their liberal theology. But, actually, he says they declined because they stop starting churches, whereas evangelicals have always started new churches.
Leaving Keller behind and moving back into the life of the CRC, we have been told by those who study such things that to remain healthy and vibrant the CRC needs to plant 30 - 40 churches a year. Our average over the last 20 years has been around 20 churches a year. So given many needs in the world and in the denomination does the CRC put enough emphasis on church planting? It is worth noting that 10 years ago CRHM had $1,000,000 to start new churches and $300,000 to recruit and train church planters. In the next ministry year CRHM will have $200,000 for this work. What kind of investment would you like to see in this area?