By Van Welton
To many, it’s puzzling. Why would anyone think about planting a new church in Berryville? After all, Clarke County appears to have enough churches already. Each major denomination is represented and there are numerous independent congregations to fill in any spiritual gaps.
Another church will only crowd the scene. It will hurt existing churches, some struggling to survive. It will build its membership by sheep stealing. Besides, it’s new and most folks in Clarke County don’t like anything new.
I have heard the gauntlet of reasons why a new church is a bad idea. Admittedly, it is easy to be discouraged. At times, it feels like the easiest thing to do would be to toss in the towel. There are well established churches that need pastors and it is tempting to locate one and fill its pulpit.
But before packing my theological library into the moving truck, I review the statistics for Clarke County. The fact is that 67% of the population of Clarke County is unchurched. Other pastors I have spoken to believe the number of those with no church affiliation is actually over 80%. This means, at a minimum, that 9,402 of the 14,034 residents of Clarke County have no connection with a church whatsoever.
The high percentage of unchurched residents may not alarm some within our community. It can be easily argued that Clarke County is still a great place to live notwithstanding the weak numbers. I agree. Despite its challenges, I would rather live in Clarke County than any other place. As a Baptist pastor, I have served in various locations and Clarke County is the best place that I have discovered to live and raise my family.
The focus of my concern rests on the detrimental effect that anemic church attendance will have on succeeding generations. Charles Murray, author of Losing Ground: American Social Policy, 1950-1980, captured my uneasiness when he wrote; “Secular America remains quite moral, and that’s good. But a great part of that is a bequeathal, a legacy that we’re spending without replenishing.”
Churches strengthen families by promoting moral virtues which in turn are exhibited throughout the community. Dwindling church attendance weakens the community through an ever diminishing moral consciousness.
There is much talk today about our national financial debt and the impact that it will have on our children. Both sides of the political aisle agree it must be addressed. My anxiety rests with what I perceive as a growing spiritual debt and its impact on the generations to come.
Still, why a church plant? Wouldn’t it have been easier and wiser to join a local congregation and work to build that congregation up? There are three reasons why I chose to plant a church as my service to the community.
First, planting a church fulfills the Lord’s instructions. In the Great Commission, Matthew 28, Jesus instructed his followers to go and make disciples of all people. Establishing churches to serve those that are impacted by the Gospel message is a natural by-product of going.
Yet, new church starts have not kept up with the population growth. In 1900, there were 27 churches for every 10,000 people in America, but today there are less than 11 churches for every 10,000 people. Clarke County, like so many communities across our nation, needs more churches to help fulfill the Great Commission.
Second, a church plant is the best way to reach the unchurched. Dozens of denominational studies have confirmed that the average new church gains most of its new members (60-80%) from the ranks of people who are not attending any worshipping body.
Out of necessity, new churches depend on an aggressive outreach campaign for survival. The new church becomes self-sustaining only after a sufficient number of people have been added to the rolls. Conversely, when a church reaches a sustaining level, the urgency among its members to attract new members often decreases.
Third, a church plant will benefit the larger Body of Christ. It is a myth that a new church will always hurt existing churches. On the contrary, new churches often bless an existing faith community. By exposing the faith community to new church methods and practices, the new church contributes to the local Kingdom. Its focus on outreach and servanthood encourages existing churches to recapture their missional heart.
Church planting is not for everyone. Some are called to serve the Kingdom in an existing church. God’s Kingdom needs all types of churches, different sizes and styles. I tell everyone that visits my church plant to pray to discover where God is leading them. If God is leading them to another church, then by all means join that church. The important thing is that everyone is in His will and attending where he leads.
At the same time, church plants should not be written off. They may not have all the bells and whistles that an established church may have, but they do fulfill an important role within the Kingdom. Through its emphasis on outreach and servanthood, it may connect with someone that ordinarily would not darken the doors of a church. And the more people that attend church, the more our community benefits.
Van Welton is the pastor of Apple Valley Baptist, a Southern Baptist Convention church plant meeting at D.G. Cooley Elementary. Information about the church may be found at www.applevalleybaptist.com.