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Baptisms reflect healthy new churches

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–Which of the three “B’s” are the best benchmarks on which to judge the health of a Southern Baptist church -– buildings, budgets or baptisms?

Baptisms is the best indicator, according to a new study, because baptisms measure whether churches are reaching the lost — not just moving believers around. The “Church Planting Survivability and Health Study” was conducted by the North American Mission Board’s Center for Missional Research based in Alpharetta, Ga.

Richard Harris, vice president of NAMB’s church planting group, described church planting as “one of the best evangelistic tools available to Southern Baptists. The study validates that church plants have some of the most effective ministries because they have to be contextual to the culture without compromising the message if they are to survive.”

The research -– based on more than 500 completed telephone interviews sampled from 1,000 church plants from 12 denominations and networks -— indicates that flourishing new church plants with a higher-than-average number of baptisms during their first four years of existence, share several common traits: evangelistic emphasis, effective ministries and expanding leadership.

“In the area of missions and evangelism, these new church plants recognize that the community will not connect with their church unless they connect with their community,” said Ed Stetzer, missiologist and director of NAMB’s research center. “They look for needs in the community and find ways to meet those needs,” through food banks, emergency shelters, drug and alcohol recovery opportunities and other ministries, Stetzer said.

Among other characteristics of high-baptism church plants:

— They start at least one “daughter” church within three years of their original church plant, he said.

— They have a proactive plan for stewardship development.

“This basic aspect of the Christian life is nurtured, not neglected by the new church plant,” Stetzer said. “Church plants that consistently grow their members and challenge them in the area of stewardship grow toward financial self-sufficiency and do so at a faster rate.”

— They sponsor more events and ministries, such as block parties, midweek children’s programs and special children’s events, including Easter Egg hunts, fall festivals, Vacation Bible Schools and sports.

— Via direct mail or other means, they have a strategy to promote and publicize their programs, events and ministries. “They don’t hide their lamps under a basket,” Stetzer said.

— They place a top priority on the training and development of their church members and staff and they conduct new member training classes for all new church members.

Stetzer emphasized that many traits common among new church plants with higher-than-average baptisms are seen even in plants with a marked, higher-than-average church attendance.

“Church plants -– even effective ones –- aren’t all the same,” Stetzer said. “Some of those surveyed are stronger in some particular factors than others. But the majority of church plants with higher-than-average baptisms and church attendance showed all of these factors in common.”

A stellar example of a relatively new church plant – which closely mirrors the study’s results — is seven-year old Fellowship Community Church (www.fellowshipcommunitychurch.com) in Salem, Va., pastored by Ken Nienke. The church has grown to 674 members since its birth in 2000, has baptized about 190 people since 2004 and gives 8 percent of its receipts through Southern Baptists’ Cooperative Program for national and international missions and ministries. Two years ago, the church moved into a 44,000-square-foot building on 14 acres of land. It has helped plant three “daughter” churches.

“We’re willing to experiment and try different things,” Nienke noted. “We’re willing to try almost anything.”

As an example of creating a ministry that connects to the public, Fellowship Community Church started “In His Image,” a ministry for parents of disabled children and teenagers, now encompassing 20-25 families.

Nienke said the suburban church also annually holds “Community Celebration Day,” a giant block party on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, which treats some 2,000 locals to games, rides, free food and entertainment. The fun starts after an abbreviated 30-minute church service.

Fellowship Community Church also promotes itself heavily via the church’s webpage, the local newspaper, word of mouth and personal invitations by members. The church requires new members to attend a new member class and to serve in some capacity right off the bat. It also employs an annual theme/campaign to stress stewardship, Nienke said.

Overall, NAMB’s Center for Missional Research’s church plant study revealed that 99 percent of church plants survive the first year; 92 percent survive the second year; 81 percent the third year; and 68 percent after the fourth year.

“While these percentages are better than any previous study, there is still a great deal of room to improve the health and strengthen new churches,” Harris said. “We now have an official benchmark for survivability and recognize which factors can help improve their survivability. This will be a priority on NAMB’s strategic agenda as we work with our partners.”

NAMB’s Center for Missional Research (www.missionalresearch.info or www.namb.net/cmr) exists to help Christian leaders make strategic missional decisions by researching North American cultures, analyzing ministry effectiveness of churches, understanding communities where churches minister and building connections among churches.
To obtain access to a copy of the entire “2007 Church Plant Survivability and Health Study,” click on www.namb.net/ChurchPlantSurvivabilityReport.

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  • Mickey Noah