Last week I had the privilege of being at the Exponential Conference. Exponential is 5,000 people gathered to learn about and exchange ideas about starting and strengthening churches. On Wednesday afternoon part of the RCA and CRC church multiplication teams met with the head of church planting of a denomination with 1200 congregations that is planting a new church every 6 days (the CRC with 1100 congregations plants a new church about 22 days).
In this conversation we turned our attention to the fact that not only do they plant a new church every 6 days, but 85% of these churches make it to maturity. In the church planting world this is a high success rate. When we asked when they considered a church to have become “mature”, the measure was quite simple: The church after three years is 1) Self-sustaining 2) Self-governing and 3) Self-propagating. Putting it another way: The church is financially viable, it has its own leadership body and it is reproducing new believers and is planning to be part of planting a new church.
A few days later I reflected on this in light of the 2013 Yearbook. The Yearbook is an interesting coming together of statistics about our denomination that gives a general snapshot of the CRC. I say “general” because it is clear that accuracy is not its strong point. Not that those who put the Yearbook together fail in accuracy, but that the stats they receive don’t always add up. The one big one I noticed this year was the final numbers. In 2012 we had about 252,000 members. In 2013 we have about 248,000 members. This decline comes when on page 127 we find a net growth of 1279 members. Something didn’t quite work.
But in spite of such things the Yearbook still gives us a general sense of where we are. Part of that sense is that some 600 churches had no growth from evangelism last year. While I did not check, I also assume the vast majority of churches did not participate in beginning a new church last year. Toss into the mix that the majority of our churches are in slow decline and I find myself drawn back to those three parts of what marks a church plant as being “mature”. We have many churches that are self-sustaining and self-governing, but they are not self-propagating. If a church is self-sustaining and self-governing, but it is not self-propagating is this a problem? If we say a church plant has only matured when all three of these are true, should we seek a lesser level of maturity for existing churches? If we want a church to be have all three of these marks what do we do with 600 plus churches that display only 2 of the 3?
So what do you think? Are all three marks of maturity for a church plant necessary for already existing churches?