Objections to Church Planting

Objections to Church Planting

According to Lifeway Research, in 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic, about 3,000 new churches opened and 4,500 closed, continuing a decades-long congregational slide. Church experts say that these numbers increased after the pandemic, as people were reluctant to come back to in-person services.

Some pastors reported that typical church attendance is only 85 percent of pre-pandemic levels, said Scott McConnell, executive director at Lifeway Research. Research by the Survey Center on American Life and the University of Chicago found that in spring 2022, 67 percent of Americans reported attending church at least once a year, compared with 75 percent before the pandemic. According to other experts, the work of church planting is decelerating in certain regions, while many churches are closing their doors altogether. With these and other experts pointing out the church’s crisis in the United States, how do we respond to the objections to church planting that we often hear when we speak about the need for planting new churches?

Planting churches has been the most effective way to advance Christ’s kingdom since the time of the Apostles, but some legitimate questions need to be answered with care and grounded in what the Bible says about starting churches. These questions include the following: “Do we really need a new church?” “Why not just drive a little farther to go to a church in the next city?” “Aren’t there enough dying churches that need revitalization?” “Why can’t we just tell people to come here instead of planting another church?” “Can’t we just start another campus and broadcast the sermon?” “Doesn’t it weaken existing churches to send some to a new congregation?” “Wouldn’t it be better to spend our money on a new building or on global missions?”

The answer to the question “Do we really need a new church?” is obvious when we look at the data on the church’s decline. But also, we need to be faithful to God’s plan to fulfill the Great Commission. There is no doubt that church planting is God’s strategy to carry on His plan to take the gospel into the whole world and make disciples.

The first reason to not stop planting new churches is that it is biblical. In the Gospels, we find that after Peter confessed that Jesus is the Messiah, Christ responded to him, saying:

“Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matt. 16:17–18)

The meaning of these words has been discussed many times, but there is a general consensus that part of Jesus’ mission was to establish His kingdom through the church, the ekklesia, the gathering of those who believe and confess with Peter that Jesus is the Savior of the world. The kingdom of God has arrived, and Christ will build His church by the power of that kingdom. This power will be revealed by the testimony of the church’s prevailing over hell. John Calvin says:

Jesus excited his disciples to perseverance, that though their faith was little known and little esteemed, yet they had been chosen by the Lord as the first-fruits, that out of this mean commencement there might arise a new Church, which would prove victorious against all the machinations of hell.

Jesus appointed the church to advance His kingdom, and this is what the Apostles did in the book of Acts. Paul traveled around the Roman Empire, looking for opportunities to preach the gospel, and he found that the best way to be faithful to the gospel was to plant churches. He had in mind more than just the oral proclamation of the good news; he had a vision for local communities where new believers would be taught what Jesus did and His will for their lives. Paul reminded his disciples not only that are they saved by grace to live a faith individually but that they belong now to the people of God.

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