Spurgeon’s Encouragement to Church Planters and Small Churches

sun breaking throughI came across these words from the “Prince of Preachers,” Charles Spurgeon. He first delivered these words 144 years ago but they provide fresh encouragement today.

Thank God, there are many workers here tonight, and maybe they will put themselves down as feeble. May the words I utter be an encouragement to them, and to feeble workers collectively. When a church begins, it is usually small; and the day of small things is a time of considerable anxiety and fear. I may be addressing some who are members of a newly-organised church. Dear brethren, do not despise the day of small things. Rest assured that God does not save by numbers, and that results are not in the spiritual kingdom in proportion to numbers (“Encouragement for the Depressed,” a sermon preached on Sunday evening, August 27, 1871).

A Word of Encouragement to Pastors of Small Congregations

Mark Dever recently cited (44:30-45:13 in the video) John Brown, a 19th-century Scottish Pastor, in a letter of paternal counsel to one of his pupils newly ordained over a small congregation:

I know the vanity of your heart, and that you will feel mortified that your congregation is very small, in comparison with those of your brethren around you; but assure yourself on the word of an old man, that when you come to give an account of them to the Lord Christ at His judgment seat, you will think you have had enough.

The Need for American Church Planting

Here are two statistical reasons why American churches need to be concerned with planting churches in the United States:

The US population continues to grow rapidly.  David T. Olson’s writes in his 2008 book, The American Church in Crisis,

Alyzandra, or ‘Aly’ as her parents nicknamed her, was born in Chicago on October 18, 2006, just before six o’clock in the morning—near the exact time the Census Bureau predicted that the U.S. population would reach 300 million . . . Whoever was the 300 millionth America, his or her arrival made one thing perfectly clear—at a time when the populations of most developed nations were stagnant or declining, the United States was growing at unprecedented numbers (David T. Olson, The American Church in Crisis, 34). 

As the population increases, we need to be more committed—not less committed—to establishing gospel-preaching churches in the United States. 

The number of churches in America is not keeping up with the need.  4,009 churches are started every year but when churches that closed are factored in (3,700 every year!), we are simply not keeping up.  Again from Olson’s book,

Unfortunately, the 3,700 churches that close per year reduce the impact of the 4,000 new churches that start, leaving a net yearly gain of 300 churches in the United States.  A net gain of 3,205 churches is needed each year for the American church to keep up with the population growth (David T. Olson, The American Church in Crisis, 146). 

Every Christian can and should be involved in the task of planting churches in one way or another.  The Apostle Paul shares this testimony about the church at Thessalonica,

For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything (1 Thessalonians 1:8). 

Doug McLachlan rightly observes,

The church [at Antioch] was birthed by unknowns (Acts 11:19-21).  This is perfectly consistent with the emphasis in Acts that God accomplishes His goals on earth through a variety of people.  The complex and beautiful mosaic of people whom God used in the rapid expansion of the Christian faith is thrillingIt means that there was no singular mold for ministry in the New Testament church, and that God is prepared to use ordinary people to accomplish extraordinary objectives, if they will make themselves available (emphasis added, Doug McLachlan, “Antioch,” in Missions in a New Millennium, 276). 

The State of Church Planting in the United States

In the Fall of 2007 the Leadership Network published a paper on The State of Church Planting in the United States.  I just learned of this document and have found it to be very interesting.  You can download it for free from the site.  In addition, there is a 25-minute podcast interview of Dave Travis and Ed Stetzer that can also be downloaded for free from their podcast.  You will need to register to access these resources.  It is a must read due to the breadth of their research and the usefulness of the data. 

Here are a few of their findings . . .

On the lead church-planter:

Hunter concluded that the primary indicators for church-plant failure rested with the disposition of the lead church-planter. Hunter’s research indicates that a passive approach to ministry is prone to failure; however, church planters with an aggressive strategy for penetrating the community and gathering those who would be leaders for the kingdom more frequently results in successful church-plants.

On the characteristics of a successful church-planter:

1. Spousal support is a must …

2. The importance of casting vision cannot be overemphasized…

3. Material resources are less important than one might believe…

4. Coaching plays a significant role in the life of the planter…

5. Have a plan for both developing leaders and involving them as soon as possible…

6. Church planters need to be sure of their calling.

On the location of the church plant:

He also noted that proper site location for both the city and facility is necessary for success.

 

On church-plant leadership:

The research shows that church-plant leadership impacts the survivability of the new church. It also reveals that a strong commitment to evangelism creates an expectation of new life and growth and generates enthusiastic commitment to the church.

On the differences between fast-growing and struggling church-plants:

Gray’s study discovered common characteristics in fast-growing churches. For this study, Gray compared 60 fast-growing church-plants and 52 struggling church-plants and found important differences. In successful church-plants: 88% had church planting teams; 63.3% had a core group of 26 to 75 people; 75% used a contemporary style of worship; 80% put ten percent or more of their budgets toward outreach and evangelism; 16.8% had a higher rate of full-time pastors than struggling church-plants; 63% of fast growing plants, compared to 23% of those that were struggling, raised additional funding.

 The average amount of funding for a new church plant for all networks was $172,200.

On the size of a church and church planting:
In the realm of church planting, churches that were 200 or less in attendance were four times more likely to plant a church than churches of 1000 or more in attendance while churches between 200–500 in attendance were twice as likely to plant a church than their larger counterparts. 

On their conclusion:

Church-planting churches are a determined group. They are independent thinkers and aggressive by nature.

Many church planters are finding fulfillment as their God-given dreams come to fruition. Yet many more struggle with the personal and professional demands of planting a church and nurturing it to mature, healthy, reproducing viability. Through multiple studies and extensive research, it requires tenacity and teamwork, perseverance and passion, commitment and common-sense to plant churches. The most successful church planters are aggressive and outwardly-focused. They lead by example and engage their culture in relevant, life-changing ministry.