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Research demonstrates effectiveness of NAMB church planting process

ATLANTA (BP)–A survey of 601 new churches has confirmed that careful assessment, training and ongoing mentorship/supervision of church planters makes a significant difference in the growth and size of the new congregation.

The survey also has revealed important data on factors that tend to result in higher attendance in churches and faster growth — including worship style, evangelism methods and membership standards.

The research comes from a Ph.D. dissertation by Ed Stetzer, a North American Mission Board church planting specialist, titled “An Analysis of the Church Planting Process and Other Selected Factors on the Attendance of SBC Church Plants.”

From NAMB’s perspective, the key finding is that its Church Planting Process (CPP) for recruiting, equipping and mobilizing church planters in partnership with state conventions and local associations appears to be working.

“The CPP has been strongly validated through Dr. Stetzer’s study,” said Richard Harris, NAMB’s vice president for church planting. “While we will continue to improve the effectiveness of the CPP, this study reveals that planters who are exposed to it get a jump-start in the growth of their new congregations.”

The Church Planting Process was developed in the mid 1990s. Key components of the process include assessment of candidates; a short-term “Basic Training” program for church planters; provision of both mentors and supervisors who meet regularly with church planters; and supportive networks of other church planters.

“The result of the Church Planting Process has been more effective church plants. And that’s been the question,” Stetzer said. “Everyone says, ‘This should work; this should help.’ But we’ve had no analysis that provides the evidence of such. Now we have that.”

The affirmation came primarily in strong differences in attendance of churches whose pastor had undergone three key parts of the process — assessment, basic training and mentors/supervisors — compared with those who had not.

The assessment part of the process consists of an extended interview covering characteristics common to successful church planters. Churches with church planters who underwent the assessment process were approximately 20 percent larger than those who were not assessed, averaged over their first four years of existence, according to the study. The third year is the most substantial with a 27 percent difference in church size.

Assessment also appeared to be an indicator of evangelism effectiveness, Stetzer noted, with the number of conversions rising sharply in years three and four among those who had been assessed but leveling off in those who had not been assessed.

As with many survey findings, Stetzer said further study is warranted, but that “assessment clearly is accomplishing its task of eliminating some who are not wired to be church planters.”

Church planters who had not completed several days of the “Basic Training” actually reported higher first-year attendance in the survey, but the remaining years showed a clear advantage for those who went through the process. Since most church planters attend Basic Training during the first year, the impact is seen in the second year, Stetzer said.

The attendance gap is 6 percent at year two, 30 percent at year three and 27 percent at year four.

Church planters who met with a mentor or supervisor — about 60 percent of those who answered the questions — were larger each of the four years. The gap ranged from 12 percent in year one to 25 percent by year four.

Stetzer said the study is valuable both in affirming NAMB’s efforts and assuring church planters that participation brings measurable benefits.

“The pragmatic church planter can look at that and say, ‘Oh, OK. I should be involved in this,'” Stetzer said. “But more importantly, from our perspective in denominational life, it says what we are doing is making an impact. We invest a lot of time and resources into developing components of the Church Planter Process. If we don’t have any evidence that they work, then we ought not to keep doing them. Now we have evidence that they do work.”

Although the study focused primarily on NAMB’s Church Planting Process, it also examined the impact on attendance of a number of other characteristics. Among the findings:

— Churches with contemporary or “seeker-oriented” worship styles were more likely to be larger than others. Those categorizing their worship styles as blended were next in reported size by the fourth year, followed by traditional, “other not listed,” revivalist and liturgical, in that order.

— Churches built around “purpose-driven” or “programmatic” models were larger than those categorized as “seeker-targeted” or “relational,” in that order. The smallest churches were those built on an “affinity” model, Stetzer said, such as churches that appeal to a specific subculture.

— Churches in which the church planter’s wife had outside employment had significantly slower growth and consequently lower attendance.

— Churches that start with a “big first meeting” achieve larger attendance in years two through four, although the first year was slightly lower.

— Churches with high membership standards — specifically, required tithing, signing of a membership covenant, involvement in ministry, involvement in a new member’s class, and involvement in small groups — were significantly more likely to be larger in each of the four years. Attendance was clearly higher for churches where the requirement existed in each of the six areas, although the difference was strongest when there were requirements of a membership covenant, ministry involvement and a new member’s class.

— Churches that reported “high-profile speakers,” “musicians” and “major events” as key evangelism strategies tended to be larger than those that did not. When preaching and music ministry were listed as main factors in evangelism, churches also were likely to be larger — with music ministry making the most significant difference.

“Music ministry and strong preaching had a very clear impact on the impact of a new church. And I think that’s indicative of the importance of the ministry from the pulpit,” Stetzer said. “Those that de-emphasize preaching had smaller attendance. Those that didn’t say music was a main factor had smaller attendance. Those things were real keys.”

In personal responses from church planters, Stetzer said, funding concerns were common — although the amount of funding a church received was not clearly reflected in the church’s eventual size.

“Funding is not the panacea everyone thought it was,” he said. “I think that helps us understand that there will be many church planters who will be bivocational. You have lay church planters that step out on faith. They do not need a lot of money from us, but they need a lot of support.”

Also, while two staff members starting a church resulted in double the attendance of single-staff churches after four years, the impact was much less with more than two staff members.

A summary of the study is available at www.namb.net/cp. Stetzer noted that many of the findings may have other influencing factors that are not detailed in the summary, but they are included in the 300-page study.
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http:www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: ED STETZER, SCREENING EFFECTIVE, BASIC TRAINING and MENTORS MAKE A DIFFERENCE.

    About the Author

  • James Dotson