Why Every Town in America Needs a New Church

By Chris Hankins || July 30, 2018

The Point Church is all about church planting. 

Our goal is to plant churches all around our city, our state, and the world.  

However, I often get asked the question, “Does Raleigh really need another church?”

The real question they are asking is, with dozens and dozens of nearly empty church buildings dotting our city, why would we plant a new church rather than try to help struggling older churches?

Here are 7 reasons why I believe every town in America needs a new church!

Reason #1: Less than 18% of Americans actually attend church on a Sunday

When Americans self report whether or not they go to church, the numbers are significantly higher than 18%.

However, the real numbers show that less than 18% of people are actually in church on any given Sunday.  This April 2018 ChurchLeaders article, refers to a study on actual church attendance instead of self-reported church attendance and the numbers are much lower. 

What does this mean for your community?  

Let’s do the math for Wake County, North Carolina where I live:

  • Wake County has a population of 1 million people.  
  • If 82% of people are not in church on a given Sunday, that equals 820,000 people who are somewhere else every week.  

Unfortunately, the reality is that number is probably even higher for Wake County since urban areas have lower church attendance than rural areas according to this Gallop article.

Bottom Line: The vast majority of Americans are not being reached by existing churches.

Reason #2: Church attendance in America is declining.  

No matter how you slice it, church attendance in America is declining.  Every major study shows that church attendance in America has declined dramatically over the last 50 years.  

David T. Olson states in the book, The American Church in Crisis, that every state in the continental US has experienced a drop in its percentage of church attendance.

graph 1.declineofchurchattendance.gallup

Bottom Line: The percentage of people who do not attend church is increasing.

Reason #3: There are fewer churches per person than ever before.

It would be easy to reason that the solution is to help our existing churches become more effective.  

However, the problem is not just that existing churches are ineffective — the problem is that there are not enough churches!  

The number of churches per person in America is at an all time low:

  • We have 30% fewer churches per person than we did in 1950 [source].
  • There are less than half the number of churches per person in America today as there were 100 years ago [source].

The reality is that the growth in the number of churches is not coming close to keeping up with the growth in the American population.  America’s population has tripled over the last 100 years! 

  • In 1900 there were 27 churches for every 10,000 people.
  • In 1950 there were 17 churches for every 10,000 people.
  • In 1996 there were 11 churches for every 10,000 people.

united states population graphic

According to this Lifeway article, the ratio is better in some states than others:

  • In states like Alabama, Mississippi, and Kentucky, there is 1 evangelical church for approximately every 750 people.
  • In states like Indiana, Iowa, and Kansas, there is 1 for every 1,500 to 1,800 people.
  • In states like Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and New York, the ratio is 1 for every 5,000 to 7,500 people.

The population of the United States is currently growing 8 times faster than we’re currently starting new churches.  

To make matters worse, according to this article from the Christian Crier, existing churches are closing at a rate of 4,000+ per year

George Barna put it this way in his research “10 Facts about America’s churchless”:

  • If America’s churchless were to form a nation, it would be the 8th most populous country in the world!
  • Doubling the number of existing churches in the US would still not be enough to reach all these people.
  • America needs 200,000 new churches of 1,000 people each to fulfill this current need.

Bottom Line: The number of churches per person in America has decreased dramatically.

Reason #4: Existing churches are declining in evangelistic effectiveness.

Unfortunately, not only have the numbers of churches declined, but the existing churches are reaching fewer people than ever before.  

The Southern Baptist Convention, America’s largest denomination reported in 2015 that the number of baptisms by their churches was the lowest it had been in 68 years, according to statistics compiled by LifeWay Christian Resources.

One way to measure the evangelistic effectiveness of our churches is a ratio that measures the evangelistic effectiveness per 100 members.  

See the chart below from Ed Stetzer and Lifeway Research:
SBC Baptisms per 100 Members

  • In 1950 a church of 100 people saw on average 5.5 people follow Jesus in baptism.
  • However, by 2011 that same 100 person church is only seeing 2 people follow Jesus in baptism in a given year.  
  • In other words, existing churches in America have experienced a massive decline in evangelistic effectiveness and are baptizing less than half the number of people they used to.

Unfortunately, the trend of evangelistic decline in existing churches shows no signs of stopping.  

Lifeway reported that the 2016 the evangelistic effectiveness number fell even lower to under 2 baptisms per 100 members.

Bottom Line: Existing Churches are becoming increasingly less effective at helping people place their faith in Jesus.

Let’s review the information so far:  

Most Americans don’t go to church and that percentage is increasing. We are at a record low number of churches per person and our existing churches are less effective than ever before at helping people place their faith in Jesus. 

What do these troubling statistics have to do with church planting?  

Why does every town in America need a new church?

New churches can repopulate our towns with passionate followers of Jesus who effectively reach their friends and neighbors with the good news of Jesus!

Reason #5: New Churches Grow Faster

New people seem to be attracted to new churches.  Studies have shown that new churches consistently grow faster than established churches.   

A 2013 study by the North American Mission Board reported that Southern Baptist Churches planted in 2010 grew by 20%, while the rest of the SBC churches on average actually declined by 2.21% for the same year.

Another encouraging finding is that not only do new church plants grow quickly, but also established churches who plant churches grow as a result as well.

In his 2007 PhD dissertation, Jeffrey C. Farmer researched 624 SBC churches that had planted at least one new church.  Farmer reported attendance at the mother churches rose 21.5% in the five years after their church plant.

This and other studies conclude, that if an existing church wants to grow and reach people, one of the best ways to do this is to start planting churches.  In the church planting process, existing congregations also become more evangelisticly effective!

Through planting new churches, established churches are able to renew their heart for the mission of Jesus.  It is easy for churches to become internally focused as decades come and go.  However, church planting brings the focus of existing churches back to the Great Commission!

“A church on mission prioritizes its sending capacity over its seating capacity. This reproductive generosity brings health to the mother church as well as to the baby churches.” – Scott Thomas

Reason #6: New Churches Reach More People

Research has shown that new churches see more than 3 times as many new people come to Christ as established churches 15+ years old.  

“Studies have shown that, in general, churches typically plateau in attendance by their fifteenth year, and by about thirty-five years they begin having trouble replacing the members they lose,” the book states. “Among evangelical churches, those under three years old will win ten people to Christ per year for every hundred members. Those three to fifteen years old will win five people per year for every hundred members. After age fifteen the number drops to three per year.”
– Ed Stetzer & Warren Bird, Viral Churches.

The NAMB 2013 study of Southern Baptist Churches planted in 2010 also found that the 3-year-old churches reported 1 baptism for every 13 members, a ratio of 1:13.  Across the SBC, the ratio was 1:51.

New church plants reached almost 4 times as many people per person as the established SBC plants!

Another cross-denominational study in California found that established churches average 4 baptisms per 100 members whereas newer churches average 16 baptisms per 100 people.

According to Portable Church Industries, a church planting support and resource provider:

  • A new church gains 60 – 80% of its membership from new conversions.  
  • Churches that are over 15 years old gain 80 – 90% of new members by transfer from other congregations.
  • Most members of new churches were not previously involved in another church.

Reason #7: New Churches can turn the Spiritual Tide in America

We must accept the reality that churches have a life cycle.

Churches are born, mature, age, and die.  Have you noticed none of the churches in the Bible still exist?  

The unfortunate reality is that many US churches are at the end of their life cycle and new churches are essential to repopulating America with new followers of Jesus.  

Let me give you some really good news!  What I am sharing is not just theory. 

As a result of a dramatic increase in church planting the spiritual tide in America is beginning to turn!   

For the first time in decades, more churches are being planted than are closing.  

In Viral Churches, Stetzer and Bird report that approximately 4,000 new churches are being planted in the U.S. each year while 3,500 – 4,000 are closing their doors.  Church planting has become the “it” thing right now and the new evangelism.  They believe America is on the verge of seeing a historic breakthrough in church multiplication.  

How can we keep this trend going and continue to see the numbers go in the right direction?  

  • We need to continue to increase the focus and pace of church planting.
  • We need to continue to share the facts that support the effectiveness of church planting.  
  • We need to raise awareness among established churches and extend the invitation to join in the efforts to plant new churches in every town in America.

In The American Church in Crisis, Olson shares some helpful insights for denominations and networks of churches:

  • For denominations to keep pace with population growth, they need to annually plant churches equal to at least 2% of the total churches in their denomination. In other words a denomination of 2000 churches must plant at least 40 new churches every year just to keep pace!  
  • In order for the evangelical church to survive, established churches “must courageously strive towards health and growth” and they must “actively plant new churches” while denominations help to catalyze local churches to become church planting churches.

Bottom Line: Planting new churches is the best way to reverse declining church attendance and see a great revival in America!

I’ll close my case for why every town in America needs a new church with two of my favorite church planting quotes:

“The single most effective evangelistic methodology under heaven is planting new churches.”
– Peter Wagner, late professor of Church Growth at Fuller Theological Seminary,  Church Planting for a Greater Harvest: A Comprehensive Guide (1990)

“The only way to increase the number of Christians in a city is to plant thousands of new churches.”
Tim Keller, founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, quoted in Viral Churches.

How is God calling you to be involved in church planting?  

Maybe God is calling your established church to get in the church planting game and help to plant new churches.  

Maybe God is calling you to be a part of a new church plant in your town.  

Maybe God is even calling you to be a church planter and plant a new church!  

However God is calling you to be involved in church planting, I believe millions of people in America are depending on your response.