During a division chapel my senior year of college, the head of New Church Specialties shared stats about how planting a church is the best way to reach unchurched people. I knew right then that God was calling me to plant a church. I had no idea when or where I’d do it, but I knew God had prepared and called me for church planting. And now, 2 ½ years into this adventure of starting a new church, I know that I’m in the right place. I feel honored to be leading a church that is reaching unchurched people. Sometimes I get a bit frustrated that our numerical growth hasn’t been much but when I stop and think about the lives we are seeing changed, I realize we’re doing exactly the right thing. In fact, some other stats I’ve seen demonstrate that churches that grow by evangelism grow at a slower rate than churches that grow by sheep-stealing. Only 17% of churches in North America are growing and only 1% of the growing churches are growing through evangelism As a church-planter I worked with in West Shawnee, Dave Thornhill, used to say, “I want to be a 1% church.” Every church talks about growing by evangelism, but very few actually do so. The faster a church is growing, the less likely it is that they’re growing by reaching unchurched people. But now I’m finding out how much work it is to be a 1% church. People who have been away from God for a long time (or their entire lives) have a lot of baggage to work through, making spiritual growth a slow and difficult process. I’ve learned that small groups don’t work, because unchurched people aren’t used to small groups, just going to church is a difficult enough step. The only way I’ve been able to disciple new Christians is one-on-one conversations. And it takes the confidentiality of a one-on-one conversation to enable people to open up about the real issues going on in their lives.
It’s also a lot of work to retain the formerly unchurched; as difficult as it is to get into the habit of church it’s conversely as easy to fall back out of the habit. I’ve seen this so many times and it continues to break my heart. Even the most evangelistically effective churches only have a 50% retention rate of unchurched people.
When I stand in front of the church on a given Sunday morning, I’m looking at a handful of people who are making serious strides in their relationship with Christ as well as dealing with some serious issues. I can’t share details, out of respect for their privacy, but if I could let our church know anything, it’s that people who previously didn’t know Christ are having their lives transformed. You can’t tell it just by saying “hi” on Sunday morning or by looking around the congregation on a typical Sunday, but as a result of the ministry of this church there are people whose lives are being transformed from death to life! I really can’t think of anything better to which to give my life. This is the stuff that will still matter a million years from now.