|date||Nov 23, 2009|
|author||Voddie Baucham||topics & issues||Ecclesiology, Elders, Family Integration, GfBC News, Missions|
The Need for New Churches
Of all the options available to us --multiple services, bigger buildings, satellites, and church plants-- we have chosen to plant a new church. As stated in part one, it is not our contention that all of the other options are necessarily wrong in every circumstance, but that they are less than ideal for what we wish to accomplish.
The Demographic Need
There are over 2.5 million unchurched people in the greater Houston area. This is a fact lost on most people because of the sheer number and size of the churches in our city. From Lakewood to Second Baptist (and Second Baptist West Campus, and Second Baptist North Campus, etc.), to Windsor Village United Methodist, Houston is home to some of the largest churches in the country. In fact, at one time, Houston was home to the largest Baptist, Methodist, and Non Denominational churches in the country (and one of the largest Presbyterian churches). And weighing in at 20,000 to 30,000 or more, these churches are beyond the scope and imagination of most Americans.
As a result, there is a common perception around here that we don’t need new churches. In fact, this perception is prevalent throughout the Bible Belt (where the cliché is, “we’ve got a church on every corner”). However, this perception is wrong. According to the North American Mission Board, there are 60% fewer churches per 10,000 Americans than there were in 1920 (27 in 1920, 17 in 1950, 11 in 1996, less than 10 today). There is a great need for church planting throughout the United States, and that includes the deep southern (or Bible Belt) states.
“[W]ith projected population growth in the next 20 years, at least 29,000 new churches would need to be started in the deep southern states just to keep up with population growth; and that did not consider the existing population and existing communities that lacked adequate gospel-centered churches. (Phil Newton, Founders Journal, June 2008)
When we planted GFBC three and a half years ago, we set a goal of planting ten churches in our first ten years. This is a message we have conveyed to our people in every membership class, and from our pulpit. We have gone to great lengths to help our people understand how great the need is here in our city and how committed we are to making an impact, no matter how small. We even have plans in the works right now for our next plant that could take place as early as the end of next year (good Lord willin’ and the creek don’t rise).
The Spiritual/Theological Need
Not only do we need new churches, we desperately need healthy, growing churches. More than eighty five percent of America’s churches are plateaued, or declining. And the majority of the remaining fifteen percent that are growing are less than three years old. Couple this with the fact that a disproportionate amount of the growth in mega churches is a direct result of transfers from plateaued or declining churches (the Walmart syndrome... the big boys build a multi-purpose monstrosity, and young families leave their small, struggling churches with limited gadgets and diversions for the church with the lights, screens, and U2 wannabe band), and the need for healthy new churches becomes even clearer.
This leads us to the issue of orthodoxy and orthopraxy. There is an epidemic of Purpose Driven, Seeker Sensitive, culture mimicking, man pleasing, gospel-polluting, semi-Pelagian, drivel out there passing for biblical Christianity. These churches excuse their error by espousing Donald McGavran’s (although most are ignorant of his work and attribute the concept to his Rick Warren who mirrors much of McGavran’s philosophy) famous false dichotomy between “the message and the method:”
We devise mission methods and policies in the light of what God has blessed—and what he has obviously not blessed. Industry calls this “modifying operation in light of feedback.” Nothing hurts missions overseas so much as continuing methods, institutions, and policies which ought to bring men to Christ—but don’t; which ought to multiply churches—but don’t. We teach men to be ruthless in regard to method. If it does not work to the glory of God and the extension of Christ’s church, throw it away and get something which does. As to methods, we are fiercely pragmatic—doctrine is something else. (Donald McGavran, "For Such a Time as This," (unpublished address, 1970), cited in C. Peter Wagner, "Pragmatic Strategy for Tomorrow's Mission," in A. R. Tippet, ed., God, Man and Church Growth (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1973), 147.)
This kind of thinking has ravaged the church in recent decades. As a result, there are people trapped in what are essentially non-churches, who desperately need healthy alternatives. We need a revival of healthy, confessional, gospel preaching churches that will serve as cities on a hill and expose this fascination with “what works.” We must plant churches that are pursuing something other than cultural relevance. I have quoted David Wells on this subject before, but his words are too fitting to omit here:
“In the last two or three decades evangelicals have discovered culture. That actually sounds more flattering than I intend. I would welcome a serious discussion about culture. We should be exploring what it is and how it works, rather than just looking at polls to see what is hot. A serious engagement with culture, though, is not what most evangelicals are about.” (David Wells, The Courage to be Protestant, Eerdmans, 2008)
“What they want to know about culture is simple and easy to unearth. They want to know what the trends and fashions are that are ruffling the surface of contemporary life. They have no interest at all in what lies beneath the trends, none on how our modernized culture in the West shapes personal horizons, produces appetites, and provides us ways of processing the meaning of life. All of that seems like pretty complex and useless stuff. Pragmatists to the last drop of blood, these evangelicals are now in the cultural waters, not to understand what is there, but to get some movement. They are there with their surfboards trying to get a little forward motion as each tiny ripple makes its way toward the shore.“ (Wells)
Of course, this is neither new, nor surprising. Paul warned Timothy about this very problem when he wrote:
“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3–5 ESV)
This warning, however, was far from a cry of despair. Paul was merely explaining to his young protege why it was so important for him to follow his aforementioned admonition:
“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” (2 Timothy 4:1–2 ESV)
Thus, in the midst of pragmatism, compromise, and in some cases downright heresy, there remains the call to “preach the word.” We are in desperate need of gospel outposts. There is a sense in which this is an even greater need in a city like ours since deceptive alternatives are so readily available. In addition to the heeding the call to go and make disciples (Matt. 28:18ff), we must also heed the call to contend issued by Jude:
“Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” (Jude 3–4 ESV)