There’s a church in my city that ‘planted’ with 200 of their own members. What was an evening service of a mega-church moved into a new building and struck out on their own. The argument is whether or not this is a church plant, or church transplant. I think that’s an important question because the drive to ‘church plant’ in North America may be covering up a more profound issue.
A ‘church plant’ that merely moves members from one location to another does create another community, but that new community does not necessary mean evangelism is working. Shifting Christians into smaller communities, cleaving off from the big, does not slow Christianity’s overall decline.
This isn’t to suggest church planting (or transplanting) is a bad idea, but I do believe it’s pointing to the future direction of church in North America. The future is comprised of mega and tiny, with the middle falling out from underneath us.
It seems the only churches capable of launching successful church plants are the ones that can afford to send away a critical mass of people to start. That’s probably around 80+ members at launch. Fair enough, but only large churches have 80 people to send.
Conversely, there’s another kind of church plant that seems to be sticking around: the tiny localized neighborhood parish clinging to their small part of the world committed for the long haul. These localized expressions begin with the 2-3 gathered, and may amass a small group of followers whilst growing ever so slowly over the course of generations.
I have a lot of hope of this kind of small and believe it’s part of the direction moving forward for the church’s existence in post-Christendom.
I also believe the mega church variety and their form of church planting will remain going forward.
What we continue to see, however, is the erosion of the entire middle. This is anecdotal now, but it seems as though mega is growing at the expense of the ‘middle class’ of churches. Those playing the consumer game but simply can’t compete with the resourced mega. The middle is barely eeking out an existence and can only, at best, cling to status quo.
Churches in the middle cannot resource a church plant with critical mass or risk overall stability. They could launch off tiny expressions, which is more viable, but any loss of people from a middle church is going to felt regardless. (But there are still options here.)
I’m heading to Montreal this week and will hear some new research on church planting in Canada. I’m excited to see the results. My sense is from the preliminary report we need have an honest introspection with what kind of church planting is going on, and whether or not we’re recycling the same Christians and calling it a win….