By Lane Corley
A troubling trend I’ve noted among church plants in Louisiana. Since 2012, professions of faith are down 86 percent and baptisms are down 66 percent in Louisiana church plants. It’s not just church plants. The decline in evangelism outcomes is well-noted across North America. It’s most surprising among church plants, because church planting is supposed to be for the purpose of evangelism.
Why the decline? Some possible reasons to note:
- Contacts and evangelistic contacts are down 52 percent. Church planters should aim for 200 contacts and 50 Gospel conversations per month. 2022 numbers were 81 and 20 per month. We reap what we sow. Sowing the Gospel broadly should be priority No. 1 for church planters. And these should multiply exponentially as team members are added and begin to learn the habits of evangelism and disciple making from the church planter.
- It’s definitely a changing missional landscape. Evangelism may be harder today than it was 10 years ago. The pace of evangelistic responses may have slowed. This is more reason to share the gospel more broadly than ever before.
- Ecclesiological issues have taken precedence. Our organizations, logos, websites, and by-laws are in better order than they have ever been. In the early 2000’s we started with a prospectus detailing how we would reach the community. Today, church planters often hand me their constitution and by-laws, and elder training plan first. Sometimes even before they’ve moved to the field. These churches often start with the need to fill the org chart rather than spread the Gospel. I haven’t met one lost person that wanted to see my churches org chart or church by laws.
- More bi-vocational church planters. More planters are splitting time between ministry and the workplace. This may result in a slowing down of contacts and evangelistic contacts. Finding bivo employment that allows for broad seed sowing is a must to plant evangelistically.
- A non-evangelistic church planting plan. Evangelistic church planting plans should focus on how to meet, build relationships, and gather unchurched people to Jesus. Believing team members should be added who are willing to be trained and can best help with this mission. Non-evangelistic church planting plans focus on events and communication that are attractive to the already reached. A night of worship, deep Bible study, expository preaching, highlighting a tribe or network. These are important rhythms for a growing church. However, these things advertised up front speak mainly to already believers and send the signal that this might be better than my current church. Similar minded people are drawn to a brand but do not necessarily come together to reach the lost in a community.
Others have questioned the evangelistic success of our current church planting paradigms.
How can we make church planting evangelistic again?
- Adopt an evangelistic church planting strategy. Plan on evangelizing a new church into existence. Set a target for at least 50 percent of your church to be from the unchurched community. Ask about every event, every post, every series – how does this help us communicate the Gospel to those who are far from God in this community.
- Train people to multiply the Gospel in their circle of relationships. The most effective means of evangelism and spiritual growth is relational evangelism. I don’t mean friendship evangelism. Relational evangelism is helping people identify and reach their relational network for Christ. Evangelism is most effective friend to friend, family member to family member. And, obedience to Jesus’ Great Commission and the faith that it takes to share the gospel with others will prove effective at maturing believers in the process.
- Make some old evangelism practices new again. Do you have a prospect list? Do you have personal evangelism training? Do you have prayer meetings specifically for the lost? Do you have harvest events like revivals? Do you start new things regularly? These are some habits of evangelistic churches of old that need to be brought back and maintained. Make them your own, but don’t bury all the old ways. See my article “Five OLD innovations for our NEW day.”
What would you add to this list? What other reasons may there be for evangelistic decline in our churches?
Lane Corley is a church planting strategist for Louisiana Baptists and pastor of the Bridge Church, Madisonville. This article first appeared on Corley’s blog, lanecorley.com.