Seventy percent of churches in America are plateaued or declining, according to the widely respected church consultant Ed Stetzer. That is a sobering statistic that reveals a sobering reality: fewer and fewer people are being reached for Christ through established churches. What to do?
Stetzer recommends that established churches should begin planting new churches. And that is apparently what's happening. Christianity Today magazine reported that church plants have replaced crusade evangelism, and research suggests that more new people are choosing to follow Christ through church plants than established churches. Church plants are growing exponentially in the United States. In a 2007 Rev Magazine article, Warren Bird estimated there were 4,000 total church plants. In 2013, the North American Mission Board reported planting 936 new churches—within the Southern Baptist denomination alone.
But how exactly do you plant a new church? Where do you start? It sounds like a daunting task even for the most evangelistically inclined.
What many church planters have found is that starting a church is as easy and as complicated as starting a small group. But you don't have to plant a church to have powerful, life-transforming small groups. The ways church planters are using small groups can give insight to anyone leading a small group.
A Church Plant for the City
Aaron and Amy Graham planted a church in Washington, D.C., in April 2010, by simply starting a small group. They invited friends and neighbors into their home and encouraged anyone who didn't have a church home to be part of their new church: The District Church. Within five months, their small group had multiplied to three groups, and they'd run out of room in their home, so they started renting space and held their first weekend worship service. From the beginning, though, they were clear about the importance of continuing to meet in small groups.
"What happens on Sunday mornings is just as important as what happens in our small groups during the week," Amy Graham said in our interview. "Our church was birthed out of a small group, and it's made up of small groups." With over 65 percent of their attenders in small groups, Graham isn't kidding.
More than just gather for "care, share, and prayer," though, The District Church's small groups meet for three practices: worship, community, and justice. They refer to these three practices as the Upward Journey, the Inward Journey, and the Outward Journey. The aspect of justice is especially important to their small groups. Graham explained:
We want to be a church that's here for the city, but we can only do that one neighborhood at a time. So we encourage our small groups to be geographically based so that people who live in close proximity are living life together and impacting and reaching out to their neighbors, drawing them into community.
Through their commitment to community, The District Church is reaching Washington, D.C.'s unique demographic. D.C. is filled with young, single, transient people, and The District Church's demographics reflect that with 62 percent age 23-30, and 24 percent age 31-40. That's 86 percent of their church age 40 or younger! Plus, 67 percent of their congregation is single, and they are multi-ethnic with 37 percent from minority ethnicities.
Planting New Campuses
Eric Metcalf is a pastor in Chicago who helped plant a church just over a year ago: the Lincoln Park|Old Town Campus of Community Christian Church. Though they officially launched the church on October 20, 2013, Metcalf and his team started the church months earlier by starting a few small groups. A group of six met in someone's home, and a men's group was started at a local pub. Metcalf explained the importance of those two small groups: