GREENVILLE, S.C. – “When we talk about church planting, our ultimate goal is not to plant the church, but to plant the Gospel,” said Dr. Dana Allin, synod executive of ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians.
He was speaking at the Equip 2013: An ECO/Fellowship of Presbyterians Southeast Region Event, held Aug. 22-23 at First Presbyterian Church in Greenville. Approximately 270 people attended the event.
One of the first questions during his “Implementing a church planting vision in ECO,” presentation was “Why shouldn’t we plant churches? What are the objections that people will raise to church planting?” Answers from those at the conference included:
- “We already have so many churches, why do we need another?
- “We need those people in our church.”
- “We need to strengthen the existing churches.”
- “It’s sheep stealing.”
The goal of church planting, said Allin, is to plant the Gospel. “If all we do is plant an institution, we will have failed. If we can plant the Gospel in people then we will have been successful.”
Why plant churches?
According to research by the Barna Group, a research and resource company that focuses on the intersection of faith and culture, there are 225 million unchurched people in America. “This makes America the third largest unreached people group in world – behind India and China,” said Allin.
Another reason to plant churches, he said, is that “We have less churches in America now per person than ever before in our history … about 50 percent less per person than at the height in the 1940-50s.”
Allin said that new churches are the best way to reach lost people. He shared statistics showing that established churches reach one new person per year for every 100 members, while new churches reach one new person per year for every 12 people.
While established churches may get more new members, he explained, most of those tend to be transfers from other churches, not new Christians.
Allin also listed several other facts about new churches:
- New churches best reach new people groups.
- New churches best train up new leaders.
- New churches become the resource base for all other ministries. Allin explained this by saying that if a church gives another ministry a donation, then the next year it will need another donation. But, if the church plants a new church, then the ministry has another resource base for giving to the ministry.
- New churches aid in the transformation of established churches.
Allin wondered where the ECO would be in the year 2050 if the denomination planted 30 churches a year and 90 percent of them where established in four years and 80 percent of those planted two daughter churches in five years?
If all of that actually happened, ECO would have 16,600 churches with 2.5 million members in 2050, and would “still only be reaching 1 percent of the non-Christian population,” said Allin.
Churches and regional networks should be the primary drivers to being new church plants, he said, not the denomination, but ECO does plan to create an environment to nurture and help churches and networks that are involved in church planting. ECO will:
- Provide a national assessment process to review the character, competency and calling of each potential church planter. “The assessment is so critical,” Allin said, to make sure that the church planter is able to do the work of planting a church. The cost of the assessment is almost $2,500 (includes hotel and meals), said Allin, and ECO will pay half of the cost.
- Provide administrative and accounting support to church plants and networks.
- Provide access to church management software.
- Provide access to Mission Insite, a demographic tool to the church plants.
- Facilitate on-going training for church planters.
- Facilitate the set up of regional networks.
Allin spoke of three ways for people to get involved in ECO’s church planting initiative:
- Invest in the foundational costs of church planting and in actual church plants.
- Pray about where God would want to plant a church in your area.
- Prepare as a church or as a potential church planter to begin forming a missional ministry.