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I used to think we should stop planting so many churches and focus those resources on reviving the dying ones. But the fact is, if we want to continue growing the church, we must continue planting at an even greater pace than we’re planting now.

The following graph from chapter 7 of The American Church in Crisis illustrates the grim path we are on. We need more planters, and we need these planters to birth churches more often!

In this decade, both the number of closures and the number of new churches have increased.  Unfortunately, the increased net gain in churches has slowed down as the closures have increased more than the new churches.  Figure 7.1 shows the number of churches that closed in the US each year in the 1990s and in the decade of the 2000s, followed by the number of new churches started each year for both categories.6  The third column shows the yearly net gain in churches across the US, which is 303 per year.  The final column shows that there needs to be a yearly net gain of 3,205 churches to keep up with American population growth.7 This number is ten times higher than the actual net gain.  For the American church to keep up with population growth, 2,900 additional new churches need to be started each year.

6. This number reflects those that are started and last long enough to report an attendance figure.
7. Having this net gain would keep the ratio of people per church constant.

From The American Church in Crisis: Groundbreaking Research Based on a National Database of over 200,000 Churches, by David T. Olson (Zondervan, 2008); used with permission

User Comments – Give us your opinion!
  • Shailesh L
    Hi Tom, It should surprise no one that congregations are going through a death cycle. Death is a natural part of life and as Christians we should know and embrace that fact tha without death there is no resurrection. There were so many congregations that were planted in the 1950's that expected their children to take them over. That did not happen The question now is which of these dying churches should we be pouring resources into to help a rebith and which should we help to die and redistribute the resources. I beleive that there is an emerging ministry specialty for "hospice pastors" that can help congregations come to grips with the fact that they are dying and then lead them through a decision process that helps them end their current ministry. This is the subject of my Doctoral dissertation and I would weclome comments and observations Thanks
  • Yasin Kucuk
    Your "church hospice" term is very apt. You might want to check out a new book coauthored by Stephen Gray called "Legacy Churches" that talks about this very topic. www.stephengrayonline.com
Leadership on the Verge

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Tom Harper
Tom Harper is president of Networld Media Group, a publisher of online trade journals and events for the banking, retail, restaurant and church leadership markets. He is the author of Leading from the Lions' Den: Leadership Principles from Every Book of the Bible (B&H).
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