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Why planting new churches matters

A former missionary to Kenya explains why he’s so focused on helping start new U.S. congregations.

Stanley E. Granberg is a church planter at heart. 

Granberg and his wife, Gena, planted churches in Meru, Kenya, from 1983 to 1993. Today, he is executive director of Kairos, a church-planting ministry that helps new churches begin across the U.S. 

Stanley E. Granberg calls church planting “the most effective evangelistic strategy.”

Stanley E. Granberg calls church planting “the most effective evangelistic strategy.”

Since Granberg organized the Kairos ministry in 2005, 40 churches and several campus ministries have been planted. Kairos is a resource to help reach people with the good news of Jesus through new churches.

Granberg and the Kairos group have focused their work on the West Coast and the northeastern U.S. — the least churched regions of the US. 

The Southwest Church of Christ in Jonesboro, Ark., is the primary supporting church for Granberg and the Kairos ministry.

Granberg is also a founding board member of the Heritage 21 Foundation, which is a resource for churches struggling to make good, informed decisions about their future. For churches that close, Heritage 21 redirects their resources to fund mission-oriented activities, both domestic and foreign.  

Granberg has taught at Harding School of Theology in Memphis, Tenn., the now-defunct Cascade College in Portland, Ore., and Lubbock Christian University in Texas. He is a graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif., and earned a Ph.D. from the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies in England.

How did you become interested in church planting? 

I was first introduced to the concept of church planting as we prepared for mission work in Meru, Kenya, in 1983. I was prepared and practiced in personal evangelism, but the idea of gathering new believers into church bodies was not a part of my training or experience. Fortunately, we had learned from missionaries like Wendell Broom, Gaston Tarbot and Gailyn VanRheenen and developed the skills to help people come to faith in groups and form new churches. 

Then, at Fuller Theological Seminary, I encountered Peter Wagner and his statement that planting new churches is the most effective evangelistic strategy in history. All this prepared me for my stateside call to form KairosChurchPlanting.org in 2005.

I was prompted to begin Kairos because I saw a once vibrant, growing fellowship of Churches of Christ in the Northwest now declining in size, energy and resources. I didn’t want to see that happen, so I resigned from the faculty of then-Cascade College in order to pursue helping our fellowship learn to grow again.

Why is planting new churches important?

There are several answers: 

1. Research demonstrates that more new people come to faith in new churches than established churches. Newness begets newness!

It’s also a survival focus. As churches age, there is a natural resource shift from all growth to serving the already gathered flock. 

2. Every church has a life span to it. A church must reproduce at least once to replace itself and multiple times for God’s kingdom to grow.

3. Churches come in generational waves. Churches tend to serve best the generation that started them, then one or two more generations. 

Our society is experiencing a dramatic, generational shift that will require the planting of a whole new generation of 21st century churches, like our movement did early in the 20th century. Few people realize that Churches of Christ planted over 10,000 churches from 1906 to 1948. Will we commit ourselves to that kind of prolific church planting over the next 40 years?

What are some key points that leaders need to consider when thinking about planting a church?  

This is such a good question. I’ll answer by identifying the emotional responses I have encountered over the 15 years of my Kairos work, then give a consideration to that emotion. 

Our society is experiencing a dramatic, generational shift that will require the planting of a whole new generation of 21st century churches …

The most common emotion has been fear: fear of the unknown, something different and losing members. While perfect love casts out fear, let’s remember that faithful love can overcome fear. If we commit ourselves to being faithful to God’s mission to reclaim his lost people, we have a powerful motivator.

Second is control. Church leaders tend to want to control the new church, so it looks, feels and practices just like them. But if it did so, it would be a clone, not a new church. 

Why are church plants doing so well?  

This is a question that needs definition to answer. Most people judge success by size. In the South, where we have many large, mega and super-mega churches, we tend to overestimate the size of success. 

The average size church plant at four years has an attendance around 85 people. To many church leaders, that does not sound successful, so why should they invest in anything that is so mediocre?

But remember, the average size church in America is around 85! In our fellowship over 6,500 of our 12,000 U.S. congregations have an attendance less than 60 people. 

What new churches bring to the success equation is that 50 percent or more of their new members come through missional conversions, while churches over 10 years old will gain over 80 percent of their new members from transfer growth.

What advice do you have for leaders thinking about planting a church?

First, don’t just think about it, plan for it! Any church can be ready to help a new church start within two years. Kairos will partner with you. You don’t have to do this all alone.

A Ph.D. study of 624 churches found that congregations that were actively involved in planting new churches grew three times as fast as those that didn’t.

Second, know it will challenge you and your church. You’ll have to learn new skills and meet new challenges. But this new learning will stimulate you as it gives you a ringside seat to the amazing activity of God. 

Third, if you want your church to grow, helping a new church start is your best path. A Ph.D. study of 624 churches found that congregations that were actively involved in planting new churches grew three times as fast as those that didn’t. These churches have a mindset more attuned to the needs, questions and desires of unchurched people, and they promote a vision for multiplication that their own members catch.

One reason for this growth is they choose to move from maintenance to missional. Kairos has instructional videos to help your church make this missional shift.

A missional church is one that adopts missionary thinking and practice in order to reach others with the Gospel.

Filed under: Church of Christ Churches of Christ and Christmas Dialogue dying churches Heritage 21 Kairos new churches planting churches Stan Granberg

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