Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: “I’ve been saying it for years. Planting independent and autonomous church plants creates competitive environments and a neophyte ministry with customarily poor oversight.
Instead I have argued for equally planting ‘internal sub-congregations’ such as venues, campuses and different styles of worship. This usually creates a healthier organization because among many things, they share assets and there is better oversight of the ministers. As a former church planter myself, who helped coordinate a megachurch’s network of planted churches, I believe this understanding is critical.
It is also important to distinguish two types of church plants.
I have suggested (The Healthy Church, 2014) that an independent plant is ‘external’ to the parent congregation and thus should be called an ‘external plant.’
A venue, campus or another worship service would remain organizationally ‘internal to the church’ and thus is best described as an ‘internal church plant.’ George Hunter of Asbury Seminary has described this saying, ‘every church is a congregation of congregations’ (A House Divided, 2001).
Therefore, understanding how to multiply ‘internal congregations’ as well as ‘external congregations’ is critical for turning around the decline that we see in even organizations like the Southern Baptist Church.Because I speak at many Southern Baptist events I know that their emphasis on church planting dwarfs their emphasis upon church revitalization. If they (and we) don’t start planting ‘equally both internally and externally’ we may be only creating a competitive environment of poorly trained church leaders who are exchanging Christians between our congregations.
Read this article to understand why I am alarmed.
As Church Plants Grow, Southern Baptists Disappear
Nation’s largest Protestant group lost 200,000 members last year, biggest decline since 1881.
Courtesy of Baptist Press
There are now more Southern Baptist churches than ever before: 46,449 as of last year.
And more than 200,000 extra spaces in the pews.
As the nation’s largest Protestant group prepares to meet in Columbus next week, it reported its largest annual decline in more than 130 years—a loss of 236,467 members.
With just under 15.5 million members, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) remains the largest Protestant group in the United States. But it has lost about 800,000 members since 2003, when membership peaked at about 16.3 million.
This past year, however, the number of SBC churches grew by 1 percent to 46,449. That’s in part due to church planting efforts, aimed at starting new churches. Southern Baptists started 985 new churches in 2014, up 5 percent from the previous year.
Still, challenges remain.
A new major survey from the Pew Research Center shows a similar decline for the SBC. In 2007, Pew found that about 6.7 percent of Americans claimed to be Southern Baptists. In 2014, 5.3 percent of Americans were Southern Baptists.
Pew also found that Southern Baptists are aging, with the median age rising from 49 in 2007 to 54 in 2014. That makes them older than Nazarenes, “nones,” and nondenominational Christians, but younger than Presbyterians, Episcopalians, and Methodists.